Whose Eyes Are These Anyway? By Debbie Leaman

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I'm not sure when it happened—the first time I looked in the mirror and didn't recognize what I saw. Who was that older person staring back at me? 

I'd always looked younger than my age.  At thirteen, I looked eleven.  At seventeen, I was taken for fourteen.  At my tenth high school reunion I was voted "least changed"—a twenty-eight-year-old who could have passed for eighteen.

"A baby face," my loving and fashion-conscious grandmother always said. "You'll love this as you get older." 

But that baby face wasn't an asset in my profession as managing director in a Manhattan brokerage firm.  While I dressed and acted the part—1980s shoulder pads and bowties—I felt like that high school senior playing dress up. Forget what my grandmother told me, I hated looking young.

In my early thirties, microscopic laugh lines appeared. Ten years later, after a cross-country move, two kids, a career, the sudden death of my father, and an ailing mother, life was carving its mark on my face. A sign of maturity — bring it on!   

I'm much older now, and a few months ago, when I woke up, a double set of bags, a second puffy layer, had nestled under my eyes above my cheekbones. Overnight I'd become a ghostly hologram of my great-aunts, Ida and Celia.  After all these years of looking younger than my age, I suddenly zoomed ahead two generations, winning the genetic lottery of my maternal ancestors. I'd gone from looking too young straight to the cohort of sensible shoes.

Visions of my great-aunts haunted me. With translucent skin and swollen bags under their eyes, they seemed so . . . old.  Was I destined to look like Aunt Celia and Aunt Ida? 

There had to be a solution to the puffiness. Maybe it was allergies. I tried nasal spray, hoping the bags would subside.  While it helped slightly, I visited my allergist who said, "yes, keep trying that, but, if they don't completely go away after a few months, I have the name of a good oculoplastic surgeon."  He smiled. "We all think we're younger than we are." 

What do I expect? While I'm almost sixty, I don't feel almost sixty. Living in the mountains, I hike for hours and ski as long as my knees can handle it. To me, being healthy and fit is what matters—until I insist that I wear sunglasses for any outdoor pictures taken of me.

I took the surgeon's name.

Over the next few weeks, I checked to see if the puffiness went away. But what about that slight droop of my upper lids in the mornings?  I considered tea bags, cucumbers and facial massages. Somewhere I'd read that Preparation H can reduce swelling under the eyes. I haven't tried any of those . . . yet.

Not at all ready to submit to surgery, I met with my dermatologist for another trusted opinion. "Not much that I can do on my end for your eyes, but I have the names of some great oculoplastic surgeons," he said.

When he left the room, the medical assistant pointed out that the furrow in my brow could easily be corrected with a few Botox injections, paralyzing the muscles so I wouldn't be able to frown. "Thanks for the suggestion," I said, offended, but for a nano-second intrigued with that idea.

I'm having a mini-existential crisis. Plastic surgery or other treatments were never on my “to-do” list. I’ve wanted to age gracefully and accept my wrinkles with pride. But what I didn’t count on were eye bags so puffy that nothing could hide them. While in theory I am loath to be Botoxed, nipped and tucked, what happens when there are aspects to aging that can easily be corrected? What if a minor tweak can make you look and feel a little bit better? Is that so wrong?

God knows I don't want to be young again—I don't want to "go back there." I'm much wiser and more content the older I get.  I just don't want to look in the mirror and be reminded of how old I'm actually getting.  My face is how I present myself to the outside world and I want to be brave, accept my years and forge ahead with dignity. But, what does "brave" mean?  Being proud of the changing landscape called my face, or caving in to our anti-aging culture and submitting to surgery?  And, if I don't choose surgery or other treatments, am I letting myself go? I've had a few facial laser zaps here and there, and I haven't let myself go gray. The difference is an invasive procedure—scalpels near my eyes gives me pause.  What if the doctor has a bad day?

Thankfully, my double-bags have disappeared so I haven't made an appointment with an eye surgeon. But if I see my great-aunts Celia and Ida staring back at me, I may reach for the phone and make the call. Or not.

 Stream crossing in Idaho last week . . . Look, no sunglasses! 

Stream crossing in Idaho last week . . . Look, no sunglasses! 

 

Do you have a personal essay on aging you'd like to share? If so, I'd love to read it.  Send it my way!

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