Ask Polly:I’m Almost 30 And I’m Terrified Of Losing My Looks
I’m a woman who will soon be 30. I am terrified of watching my physical beauty deteriorate over the next decade.
I’m conventionally attractive. I don’t believe that being pretty translates to any tangible social power, but I do get positive attention from people, which I enjoy. I love being gazed at. I don’t mean street harassment or anything like that, but the way that people (of all genders) get these dreamy, enraptured looks on their faces when they see me. I think beauty has some magical quality to it, and it makes me feel alive. When I look at myself, too, I sometimes get the same sensation as when I behold an emotionally stirring work of art — shimmering, crackling, breathless. There truly is nothing like a beautiful face.
And so, the prospect of losing this — and I know I will lose it, everyone does — fills me with such crushing dread. I take care of myself as best I can in terms of a healthy lifestyle and sunscreen, but I know that every day that goes by, I am aging, and ultimately powerless to stop it. (I don’t have much faith in the ability of cosmetic procedures to keep my face looking exactly the way it does now, so that “option” is of little comfort). It’s like I’ve been given this precious gift with the stipulation that it will be yanked away from me before my life is even halfway over. I don’t know how to cope with this. I have these horrible moments now in which I see older women around me and feel a visceral sense of disgust and pity — obviously a projection of my own fears.
The prospect of looking older is sometimes so intolerable that I sometimes plan ways to commit suicide in the future. Because I realize this sounds/is crazy, I looked into a treatment program for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I was told, however, that I don’t qualify because I don’t currently hate my appearance. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist, but neither diagnosed me with anything, they essentially said that “most women have these concerns” and I’ll probably “age well anyway.” The psychiatrist offered to prescribe a sleeping pill if the thoughts kept me awake at night. The therapist suggested that I read feminist literature. My mother told me I must have things pretty good if I can spend so much time fixating on my future face.
Do you have any advice? Dorian
I wish you’d attached a photograph, so I could gaze upon the emotionally stirring work of art that is your head. I don’t know how else to conjure the emotion that’s required of me at this moment. What are you going to lose, exactly, when you get older? Even when I picture you as Giselle, I remain unmoved. The enraptured gazes, the crackling, shimmering whatever… It’s so hard to imagine. It makes me tired just thinking about it.
You say there’s truly nothing like a beautiful face. That statement makes me imagine a giant plate of delicious nachos, a good book, and a cold beer. It makes me think about dogs with weird personalities, and funny children. It makes me think about the sound of rain on the roof when you’re taking a nap in the afternoon. Pretty faces can go fuck themselves, compared to peanut butter cups.
If none of that makes sense to you, then let me just say this: Your priorities are going to change drastically. Even if you keep living in this bizarre airless room where you gaze at yourself all day like the evil queen in Snow White (there’s a reason they make fairy tales with big, important lessons about vanity), you’re still going to mature over the next decade and find that all of this pretty face bullshit just doesn’t have the weight that it once did, not even to you.
In the meantime, though, you really need to find something else to occupy your mind. You don’t sound stupid, but you do sound extremely bored, and very depressed. The world is so much more engaging and incredible than you’re making it seem. What’s kept you in this two-dimensional realm of the mirror? Who trapped you there? What’s at stake? Are you lonely? Do you feel like you’re running out of time to find love? There’s something else to this picture that you’re not addressing, and without knowing more I can’t tell you that much. You should definitely find a therapist who’s interested in delving into this question with you, who seems determined to dig through all of the dimensions of what your experiencing.
Mostly, I have to tell you that time doesn’t run out as fast as you think. Most women I know looked like they were 29 for about a decade, honestly. And yes, things change in your 40s, but mostly, if you’re living right, you just want more time to do stuff. Even when you start to have to make adjustments to the tired-looking woman in the mirror, you find ways to love that person, too. The hideous old face you imagine now isn’t yours. The face that is yours might disappoint you sometimes, but it won’t be as devastating as you think.
You need to listen to that Alanis Morissette album, the one where she thanks India and proclaims that she’ll be good even if she gains ten pounds. Alanis is just the ticket for you right now. She’ll make you see how poisonous your superiority complex is. You may hate the old, ugly person you think you’ll become because you’re not sure what else you have to offer, besides your face. You should dedicate yourself to becoming someone whom you’ll feel proud of, without or without the shimmering and the crackling. Haven’t you ever met anyone who wasn’t conventionally attractive, but who was incredibly charismatic and enviable? If not, you really need to get out more. Instead of gazing at your own heart-stopping face, you should throw out your mirror and dedicate yourself to something that feeds your soul and makes you feel even more alive than, I don’t know, admiring your own image? It’s a bad habit. And apparently it makes you feel powerless, because you’re getting off on something you feel you’re about to lose.
Here’s the truth, and you’re just going to have to trust me on this: You’re not nearly as old or as beautiful as you think you are. And even if you are the most ravishing woman alive, I’d advise you to imagine, instead, that you are very young and very plain. Then walk out into the world, and be a regular person among the other regular people, with your whole life ahead of you. You’ll be surprised at how good that feels.
You pity the old ladies. What you don’t know is that they pity you even more. They know what a burden you’re carrying around, and they know how bad it makes you feel, to think of losing this thing that’s actually a crutch that keeps you from maturing and connecting with the real world.
I know you’re just being honest. I don’t want to give you shit for that. I just think you need to get a bad haircut and eat a big piece of cherry pie and join the rest of us. When you do, you’ll see the truth at last: Life is beautiful. Pretty faces are a dime a dozen.