My skin is changing. I am 34 years old, about to be 35, and it’s happening. Subtly, but I can see it. I don’t have to look closely to notice, but I’ve been getting close and personal with my skin and body. When you’re staring your body square in the eye, it’s hard not to notice changes. They’re not drastic changes, but there is a softening and loosening. I notice this on my neck, arms, and cheeks. On my legs and chest, too. I notice it all over my body.
The closeness derives from a curiosity and a desire to know. I want to know my body by sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound. When I know my body, I can better support my body. I know where it’s at, where it’s been, and I can do my best to decide where it’s going. When I know my body, I get to love it deeper, too.
Many of us have handed the complete knowing of our body and health over to someone else. We blindly step into this person’s presence and say, “Fix me.” “Care for me.” “Tell me what I need!” “Yes, I only know you for a few minutes a year, but tell me what I need. Make it easy for me.”
Of course, who doesn’t want an easy ride? But this pattern in our behavior causes me to ask: how could someone who interacts with us for only a glimmer of time know what is best for us?
Perhaps, we think we need to hand the “work” over to someone else because we don’t yet know what is possible in the relationship we can have with ourselves, including with our bodies.
Or we are scared to get intimate because what if we see what we don’t want to see: the stories that our bodies hold? The undeniable truths. Many of us learn to feel helpless in our health and aging process, so we may shut off our senses, completely detach, and hope for the best.
At times, I’ve detached, and I’ve neglected my body. For moments, I stayed far away from it, or at least as far away as one can remain while residing there. And because of this distance, I never felt at home in it.
When we observe, we gather information, and we know. We know because we see, feel, and get intimate.
So, over time, I have learned to look closely. To feel, caress, and touch. I graze my hands over every inch of me. First, with curiosity, then with love, sometimes with fear like, wait, it didn’t use to be that way. It used to be different. When did my skin change? Was this overnight? It couldn’t have been. Do I look old? Can anyone tell?
As a woman, I learn to fear the changing of skin as the elasticity lessens and my age continues to reveal itself. At least on the outside because somehow, internally, I feel 17. (The funny thing is, youthfulness always radiates through. The interesting thing is, what is youthfulness?)
I was scared when I first noticed this change in my skin a few years ago. It caused me to wonder if my youth was over. I heard murmurings about the expiration of women through the lens of a man. Sometimes people discuss the value of a youthful woman out loud, but more often than not, from my perspective, the images through our media tell us the sheer importance of youthful skin.
In my early twenties, this didn’t phase me. I looked forward to the idea of growing older. But as we know, an idea is different from a practice. It was easy to feel optimistic about gray hairs and wrinkles before I had gray hairs and wrinkles.
But when I finally noticed lines on my face and loosening skin, I was shocked. How long have these been here? I called my mom and asked. She said, “Oh, those have been there. You just haven’t noticed. But lines are normal. Your skin has to move!”
I was devastated.
Partly because I spent a large majority of my youthful adulthood under the influence of alcohol and detached from my body because of the constant need to escape from my body to feel safe. These choices led me to be unaware of my body. As I heal, I return to my body, and now I get to know it intimately as a grown woman. It can feel startling. Like, when did the time pass, and where the heck was I when it did? So I used to wonder, did I miss my “beautiful” years, and now I get nothing?
The changing of skin also partly bothered me because I had to accept that life moves on. It keeps going, whether I am ready for it or not.
I have sat with my wrinkles and lines for a while. Yes, I am only 34, but I have sat with them. I spent hours in front of the mirror and on the internet, seeing if I could reverse the signs of sun and time.
This search lasted on and off for a few years. I looked, I obsessed and I wondered what I could do about the passing of time.
And life kept moving. I sat in front of the mirror, and life kept happening.
I began to notice how I noticed other people. Did I pay attention to their wrinkles or any signs of aging? Notice? Yes. Pay attention? No.
Time and time again, I mainly noticed that an individual’s soul was what would shine through. The magic that radiates through a person’s being when they belly laugh, showing all their teeth, or even the missing ones, while their face fully expresses itself is a beautiful sight. In moments like that, age doesn’t exist. Or if it does, who cares. A moment like that exists outside of time.
When someone is kind or funny or sad or heartbroken or trying again and failing again, most of what I see is the heart and soul that goes into each movement. I see a human being. Souls shine bright.
And also, I do notice wrinkles, lines, (and gray hairs). If we can see, we notice these things. It is part of someone and their story. What’s not beautiful about that? Stories are beautiful. Bodies are, too. All of them.
So why could all of this not apply to me, too? You, too? The beauty, the existing outside of the time, and the souls shining bright? It can, and It does.
The media can sometimes attempt to tell us that youth is everything and it’s the best place to be, and we can convince ourselves that that’s what we long for but is it? I constantly hear people 10,20,30, and even 50 years older than me saying that they feel the best they ever have, that they are only just beginning, or that today is a beautiful day to be alive. Do we want to move backward and start again? Or do we want to embrace the wisdom that we have earned and the story that we hold even in the lines around our eyes? I guess I can’t answer that for you.
In this process of coming into my body, noticing my wrinkles, and hoping to find a product or lifestyle that could reverse these signs of aging, I learned to care for my skin, which of course, is the biggest organ in the body.
This process of care first began out of desperation, but on a good day, I would care for my skin with love because it felt hydrating and special to treat myself with this approach. Let me say there is a difference between caring for your skin out of love and nourishment for oneself and applying creams, hoping it will cause your history to disappear from your face. The intention and energy behind the action are different. The body can feel that intention and energy.
This love has opened me up to some realizations that have seeped into my being when I move slowly, intentionally, and with my breath.
I see the beauty in where I am and all I have experienced. Why would I insult my story by wishing I were someone else, somewhere else? My story is a joy, an honor, and a blessing. I am here for a reason. We all are. We have all seen some things and been through some things, and we keep going and loving and trying our best, which shows. It’s beautiful. Why not love on that journey and honor it to the highest degree?
My skin is a reminder of the impermanence of life. That can be scary but also beautiful. We are here on this planet for but a blip in time. I know that is a lot, but what if we fill it with love, adventure, and growth? It can be easy to deny that one day we won’t be here, but that is just denying the truth. (Don’t worry, we live on in a different form when we leave this planet) but while we are here, why not accept the truth of what is and allow it to help us to live more fully and be in the moment, and love our family, friends, and neighbors?
Would I ever look at a plant that has grown and changed and criticize it? There is wisdom in age. There is a story in the scars. Do we not admire a tree that has lived a life and has grown too big for us to wrap our arms around it? Why can we not apply that same love to ourselves? After all, we are nature, aren’t we? We are the same as a tree, a succulent, a river bed, or a stone.
Aging is a gift. Not everyone will grow old and have the opportunity to live life on earth for that long. I used to think, who cares? I didn’t understand why we were here, but now I know we all have a purpose here, and we get to use this time to fulfill it and share the beauty and love. We get to experience this time on earth.
I understand that this is incredibly optimistic and romantic, but why not? As humans, many of us learn to hate so much about ourselves and criticize every inch of our bodies. We detach, consume more, and hand the healing to someone else. We are told to feel ugly and buy products that will hopefully cure our woes and insecurities, but what if we slowed down, looked ourselves in the eyes, and said, “I love you.” and “thank you.” and “wow, what a ride.”
What if we moved with our breath, in and out, breathing in love for ourselves with all the lines and history?