At 43, I should be the anti-aging industry’s ideal mark, but I’ve learned to circumnavigate its more specious promises. I’m embarrassed to admit that in my early 30s, I succumbed. (Why hello there, La Mer.) I’ve never tried a “cosmetic intervention” and don’t plan to, but my natural beauty arsenal is a serious thing to behold.
My painstaking regimen includes gently pressing argan facial serum onto my forehead and cheeks morning and night. I make DIY body oil from rose hip, avocado and jojoba, with a secret essential oil blend. I lovingly handcraft artisanal raw honey masks.
© Stefanie Iris Weiss
In lieu of injecting botulinum toxin into my forehead, I swear by Frownies—a beauty secret passed down from my great-grandmother, whose porcelain skin still glowed when she was 85. I learned from the best—not just about the tools of the beauty trade, but also about the ugliness our vigilance can mask.
Her daughter, my maternal grandmother, was gorgeous and glamorous, and had a dressing area to match. She’d stare into a massive beveled mirror hanging on the wall behind a marble vanity. I’d run my fingers over her carefully curated selection of crystal bottles artfully positioned on an antique silver tray. One afternoon as I watched her prepare to put on her makeup, a worried expression crossed her face. She pulled her right cheek back toward her ear, sucking in her breath.
“Do you think I need a facelift?” she asked me. At the age of 10, I didn’t know what that was, but she gamely explained. After briefly recoiling in horror, I told her she was beautiful and completely bonkers.
Turning Back the Clock
When she was young, my grandmother was routinely mistaken for an actress—what she not-so-secretly wanted to be. When she turned 50, she began her public age reversal, subtracting a year for every calendar year that passed. By the time she died way too early in 1990, of a complication from gallstones, her fake age was 26. It was our family joke, but it wasn’t always funny to her.
© Stefanie Iris Weiss
When I was about 5, she took to calling my hands “paws.” We were an animal family, always surrounded by Pomeranians and rescued cats—it was a deeply affectionate designation. My wrists were tiny, the backs of my hands delicate and fair, with long, thin fingers. And, she often told me as she examined them, pressing little kisses onto my knuckles, they looked just like hers.
As an adult who is also a freelance writer without a dishwasher, my hands have suffered major abuse in the intervening years. I’ve probably clocked thousands of hours at outdoor Manhattan cafes in the last decade and a half, tapping away at a series of keyboards, the tops of my hands exposed to the elements. (I only recently figured out that they, too, require sunscreen.)
Because my “paws” are always directly in front of me as I work, I am constantly forced to contemplate their condition. Even before they began to show signs of age, I always felt a little off when in need of a manicure. I’d run to my local salon mid-deadline just so I wouldn’t have to continue looking at peeling polish and imperfect cuticles.
A Legacy of Vanity, With a Soupçon of Feminism
I’m often mistaken for a woman in her early 30s. Whether it’s the genes or the argan oil, I do not know. This twisted compliment thrills me, yet that spark of joy is almost immediately replaced by something far more unsettled. I minored in Women’s Studies, I remind myself, and wrote a book for teens called Coping With the Beauty Myth: A Guide For Real Girls. Give me a podium and I’ll give you a spontaneous lecture on the history of the male gaze. I suppose this is a case of “Doctor, Heal Thyself.”
When I meet people who think I’m a decade younger than I am, I do not consider lying like my grandmother did. Not because I’m morally superior, but because I love dropping that truth bomb: “No, but I really am 43!” I relish the shocked expressions. This is my legacy of vanity, with a soupçon of feminism.
Yet the delicate “paws” of my childhood, always translucent and blue-veined, have become the mark of my true age. Someone once told me to sit with my fists balled on first dates, to smooth out the wrinkles.
For my Nanny and Granny (and my mother, who is alive and well yet somehow more sane and less vain than the rest of us), I will not ball up my fists. I will raise my hands and let people see them in all their crepe-y wonderfulness.
But just so you know, you will not be able to pry the Frownies out of these hands until they are both cold and dead.