Signs of Life
“Old age is no place for sissies.”
“Stop scrunching your face. You don’t want to give yourself another reason to get Botox,” says the man currently treating me to sushi. We are mid-conversation.
“Did those words seriously just come out of your mouth???” I ask, raising my eyebrows in shock.
“That! Don’t do that!” He physically wipes his hand down my forehead to try to smooth it. Stunned is an understatement. I knew I shouldn’t have said ‘yes’ to this stupid date.
A single comment can be so revealing. This particular moment unearths a goldmine of material, a treasure trove of baggage and judgment. Agism. Sexism. Past memories of my early days in LA. Present insecurities about being too old to be in Hollywood.
In one, thoughtless forehead stroke, I’m flashed back:
It’s 1999. I’m 20 and very, very fresh off the boat in LA. I do my first ever “modeling” shoot in Hollywood with an intolerant, douchebag of a Russian photographer. The entire process is uncomfortable and traumatizing for many reasons — not just the exorbitant price, the creepy “studio” and WHAT IS THAT SMELL A DEAD BODY OR BORSCHT? — but the thing that sticks out the most in my mind, now almost 20 years later, is his constant belittling of my many facial expressions.
He would yell, “Stop making those ugly faces!!!” or “Stop vrinkling you forehead, you look vridiculous!!!” Up until that moment, I have no idea I even do this, let alone have any idea how to control the facial muscles responsible for whether I do it or not. It’s just me being me. I leave the photo shoot in tears. It takes me years to step in front of a camera again.
At least now I know why Eastern European models look so expressionless and bored all the time. They’re trying not to age.
I’m choking back tears. Unbeknownst to my date, he’s triggered every bomb in the psychological minefield of this thirysomething wannabe in Los Angeles; my constant, personal battles against cultural expectations, industry discrimination, self-doubt, body dysmorphia, feelings of worthlessness, shame and uselessness.
Did I choose the right path? Am I too old to have kids? Did I miss the boat on my dreams? Should I chuck it all and go become a park ranger tagging turtles in Joshua Tree? Are they turtles or tortoises? I think they’re tortoises…I should have finished college…Is it too late for me?? Am I too old to die young?
Sushi Guy interrupts my runaway internal dialogue, “You’re adorable. It’s just that sometimes you look exactly like a cartoon.”
I LOOK LIKE A CARTOON????? WHICH ONE?? Like a South Park character, Hanna Barbera or are we talking Manga?
This is going downhill, fast.
“Well, no shit, Sherlock. That’s one of the many reasons I’m a comic and not a model, jackass.” If the sushi wasn’t so damn delicious, I would be out of here.
“I just want you to take care of yourself,” my date back-tracks, beginning to realize he’s rapidly destroying any chance of getting pussy that evening (or ever) yet still attempting to justify his offhand remark.
Are you fucking kidding me? Take care of myself? Really? I can think of at least one habit I should break that would be heading in the general direction of wellness. And it’s not furrowing my brow.
What drives me the most insane is the notion that the act of preserving my girlish identity well into becoming a woman — by shooting a toxin made from the bacteria that causes botulism into my face — is somehow beneficial to my health and well being. Never mind what chasing the dragon of eternal youth does to you psychologically.
It’s a philosophy based in LA culture; a shallow, decadent place whose ideals now permeate our entire globe. The cult of youth. The denial of death. We are all unconscious participants in (or in LA, conscious purveyors of) these completely insane, fucked-up values that, although they may preserve our smooth baby face, will absolutely lead to the premature downfall of an entire species.
Essentially we are all just trying to remain teens forever. Wit has replaced depth. 140 characters have replaced books. Followers have replaced friends. Text has replaced talk. Acronyms have replaced sentences. Eternal youth has replaced graceful aging. Pop-culture has replaced wisdom. Insanity has irrevocably replaced logic. And at this rate, it won’t be long before Silicon forever replaces Carbon.
Seven years ago, under the harsh glare of unforgiving overhead lights, my 28-year old hairdresser told me I should start getting injections now if I wanted it to appear like I never got them in the first place. “Preventative Botox” they call it.
“I know this girl, she’s great. She’ll give you a deal the first time you go….” she whispers.
Every woman I know talks about their “Botox hookup” like a drug addict talks about their dealer. Yeah, of course she will. Like any addiction, once you start, it’s impossible to stop.
Now 20-year-olds get Botox to prevent wrinkles although it won’t prevent them from needing Botox every 3–6 months for the rest of their lives. The global anti-aging market (which, by the way, should be sued for false advertising — you can’t stop the aging process all of this shit is like Febreezing your clothes instead of washing them — you’re still gonna get old) is on track to reach almost 300 BILLION DOLLARS this year. It’s yet another scam we all collectively buy into that enrages me. You can’t even get your eyes checked in LA without the doctor offering you “a little something for those crow’s feet.”
In fact, when I found out last year I had skin cancer the conversation with my dermatologist went something like this:
Doc: There’s no easy way to tell you this —
Me: — I have cancer?
Doc: Yeah, yeah but that’s a simple outpatient surgery, you’ll be done in 30 minutes. What you have is worse because there’s no cure yet and you’ve let it go untreated for years. See those lines on your face and those jowly cheeks? You need preventative Botox and fillers like, 7 years ago...
That’s right. I have a horrible, shameful disease. I have AGE.
In some cultures — wrinkles, crows’ feet, laugh-lines — they’re considered signs of life. Sagacity. Time done on Earth. The symptoms of age are revered and respected, much like their elders. It’s like being the oldest prisoner in the prison cell. You’ve seen some shit in your time. And you’ve survived.
One of the basic tenets of Buddhism states that suffering comes from a denial of reality. Well, newsflash, I’m not 24 anymore. I’m 36. That’s reality. Here’s another reality: 17 years ago I was lost deep inside heroin addiction. I weighed 89-lbs and according to doctors was pretty close to an untimely death born out of reckless decisions made in my teens.
The first week of treatment, a crackpot in the psych ward said, “You don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of making it to 21.” So now, when I see a gray hair or notice that I’m starting to show the telltale signs of aging, I try to remember that moment and remind myself to smile.
A genuine, crow-feet inducing smile.
Because this snowball ain’t melted yet. And I’m not about to freeze my face to try and stop that process from occurring naturally, either. Because I may be aging, but Holy shit — I’m still alive.
Which is nothing short of a miracle.