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I’ve Finally Found the Limit to My Vanity

Woman’s hand holding a syringe Photo: Getty Images

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I’ve done a lot of things to my face. I’ve dermaplaned it, shaved it, waxed it, plucked it, run hundreds of needles across it, lasered it, peeled it, squeezed the pores on it, injected Botox into it, self-tanned it, shone lights on it, masked it, rubbed my own plasma all over it, slathered Retin-A on it, and pulsated it with micro-current. Most of this was for my job, but really, that’s just a convenient excuse. I would have done all these things voluntarily anyway. You see, I’m vain. But I recently hit my own version of beauty rock bottom in my dermatologist’s office a few weeks ago.

Vanity about one’s own appearance is generally not perceived as a positive thing. There’s a reason the so-called French girl aesthetic is so popular now. It seems effortless and gives the illusion these women don’t care about their appearance. But they do. Laura Mercier (who is French) said at a talk I went to a few months ago that French women love to get compliments on their beauty looks or outfits, but then won’t share whatever perfume/hairstylist/makeup brand/store it is that they’re using. They want to keep these secrets to themselves. I loved this. It’s vanity, make no mistake. Obviously it’s a generalization about an entire demographic, but so are a lot of things about female beauty.

That serious women shouldn’t care about their appearance is another gross generalization. Ditto that women should aspire to age gracefully. This topic has been tackled a lot, but what does it even mean? I suppose that you should accept your lines and grays and saggy body parts. I’ve seen enough breathless celebrity coverage, however, to know that in our society it means that once you are out of your 30s, you should still look like you’re in your 30s (at the oldest!) but without looking like you’ve done anything obvious to yourself. Jennifer Lopez, 47, is the poster child for this. Gwyneth Paltrow, 44, and Jennifer Aniston, 48, are runners-up.

Countless headlines have been written — always shouting out their ages, by the way — about their admirable agelessness. Last year, W magazine ran an eye-popping feature about how much upkeep it takes to maintain this type of appearance; many celebs spend between $25,000 and $50,000 a year for a steady stream of appointments to look like they’re 32. I’m lucky that I’m comped quite a few things for my job, and I have disposable income to indulge in some treatments on my own, but that kind of time and money is totally out of reach for me, as it no doubt is for most women.

I am two years younger than J. Lo. And I do not want to look like a crone. There, I said it! I wish I didn’t care (I aspire to this mindset one day), but I do. I’m working on it. It’s taken me many years to be able to admit my age publicly, but I now work with a lot of twentysomethings and in an industry where youth is king, er, queen, so I think it’s important to not lie about it. I’ve done a lot of stuff. I know things. I’ve made mistakes. I look at my age as an asset, finally.

My crepey under-eye skin, however, is another story. Which takes us back to my vanity and my dermatologist’s office. My derm is wonderful and has never pushed any treatments on me. I’ve been getting Botox for a while now, but she refused to give it to me around my eyes for several years until I finally begged. I hit her office a few weeks ago for a skin cancer check and started bemoaning for the umpteenth time the lines that go from my nose to the corners of my mouth and the general droopiness of my cheeks, and she said, “Well, do you want to try a vial of Restylane?”

Ugh, I did but I didn’t. Restylane is a hyaluronic acid filler. Just the word “filler” FILLER is, pardon the pun, loaded. It literally changes your face shape. My derm said that some patients use up to seven vials at a time chasing that youthful plumpness, so one didn’t sound so bad. Before I could really think about it, I said, “Yes, let’s do it,” and a few minutes later, she was sticking a needle over and over again into the top of my cheekbones. (Filler, when deposited strategically, can act as scaffolding and lift everything up.) Unlike Botox, whose effects take a week or two to see, filler makes itself known immediately. I could feel some tightening in my cheeks, and also a few weird nodules under my skin.

When I finally looked in the mirror I saw… not that much difference. Perhaps my lines were pulled a bit more taut and my cheeks slightly more cherubic, but it was very subtle. Unlike the other treatments I get, which I often photo-document and then send to all my friends right away, I didn’t tell anyone about this one until now. It felt like I had stepped over a much bigger personal line somehow than with Botox.

I’m not judging anyone who chooses to get fillers, by the way. I have a friend who has had some moderate success making and selling organic face oils. She told me at dinner recently, “I look this way because of my filler, which I love. The oil is like the icing on the cake.” She looks fantastic, not filled. But it just wasn’t for me. The thought of having this foreign plumping substance in me — sitting there, shaping me — was just too surreal. Potentially deadly toxin? I’m fine with that for inexplicable reasons, maybe because smoothing seems less extreme to me than actually changing the shape of your face.

Is this what self-acceptance feels like? I have no idea, but I’m happy to know my vanity has found its limit, at least for now. Ask me again in two years, though.

I would love to hear about your struggles with or blissful acceptance of aging. Drop me a note at cheryl@racked.com.