I went hiking with a bunch of ladies over night at a cabin up the Duffey. Most of us had kids, so the hardest work of the weekend was just getting out of the house.
By the time we were on top of the mountain, we were giddy with freedom. Or altitude. That’s where we stumbled on the subject of 60 and 70-year-old women we knew who were getting work done — botox, plastic surgery — trying to look pretty by forfeiting the expressiveness of their faces.
We were not judging. We were confronting the ravages of time ourselves. But aunties, come on. You’re invisible, anyway. Let’s be honest: once women reach a certain age, we all become unseen. Instead of that being liberating — look, now you can be the way you want to be, dress how you want, say what you think, care only about the people you care about — are you so addicted to being perceived as a pretty thing that you’re injecting your faces with paralyzing agents?
Okay, maybe I am judging.
But I’m disappointed. And afraid.
I’m afraid, because I am confronted by the state of my own face.
I spent months thinking about face and my own resting bitchface, and I blame it less on aging and more on Ryan Proctor.
Proctor, a long-time, top-quality Whistler guy, had agreed to let me write about his recovery from a mountain bike crash, which saw him implode his face on impact. His face was rebuilt, quite remarkably, but he looked different. He shot a self portrait every day, like he was trying to reconstruct his relationship with himself, and every few weeks into his post-recovery, we’d chat about his accident and his surgeries, about selfies and social media, luck, mirrors and coming to terms with having a new face.
I snapped a selfie one day, inspired by him, inspired to capture a great mood and freeze-frame the memory. I was studying it, scrutinizing my face. I was in the gondola, by myself, so I could be unselfconscious about my curiosity: wow, that’s what I look like. My eyes are completely different sizes, my nose is really large, my wrinkles have gone gangbusters… but still, it’s my face. It’s my self, even, or maybe because of, the things I love to hate, because that’s part of the package.
Proctor’s humour and storytelling had distracted me — as I looked at my naked face, it struck hard, how difficult that must be, to have your face change.
Reconstructed Proctor looked the most like himself when he was smiling, or wearing a toque. “It’s more my resting bitchface,” he told me, that’s confronting. “I have more resting bitchface than I had before.”
“You’ve heard that before? That thing, I think girls talk about it — when you’re looking normal and your face is just relaxed, and you look like a bitch.”
That’s so hilariously close to home that it hurts.
I also look like someone who has experienced a childhood full of sunny SPF-free days, seasons on the mountain squinting into alpine weather, and two sleepless years as a new mama. I’m also kind of surprised and relieved to see that the laugh lines are more etched than the frown lines — a sign the tally of experiences were kinder than not.
But here’s the truth that we circled around that day as we stood on top of a mountain breathing in our good fortune: approaching middle age is really freaking disorienting. And we are all looking for a few good role models on this adventure.
If a 30-year-old guy can address his changing face with grace and humour, can’t we all?
Aunties, show us 30 and 40-somethings how to do this gracefully. Show us aging is not something to be afraid of. Something possibly to even revel in.
It’s brutally ironic that just when I got comfortable in my own skin, it would start to sag.
Come on, love. Show me your naked face and all your honest expressions. I’ll show you mine. Wrinkles and all.