Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Jack Benny, 1974 (80 years old)
Not long after my twenty-third birthday, I ducked into a restaurant bathroom and noticed something odd in the mirror. I squinted and leaned across the sink to confirm what I was seeing: a pair of epidermal parentheses bracketing my mouth. Isn’t twenty-three a little young for laugh lines? I wondered, gently prodding my cheek. But there they were, integumentary interlopers on my otherwise youthful skin.
Since then, these facial punctuation marks have cropped up with surprising alacrity. If I have a long conversation over coffee, there they are. If I smile and chuckle at a family Christmas party, they’re unmistakable.
I’ve tried very hard not to care. I reassure myself that wrinkles are the inevitable byproduct of collagen’s tug-of-war with gravity. And laugh lines are basically joy tattoos, the emblems of a smile-filled life. Besides, I’m an independent gal who’s confident in her own appearance, dammit. I won’t fall prey to glossy magazine ads featuring twenty-year-old girls holding jars of age-busting miracle cream that cost as much as my last airplane ticket.
When a friend commented off-hand that Carrie Fisher “didn’t age well” before her recent return to the Star Wars screen, I bristled to Fisher’s defense. “She faces this criticism every day,” I snapped, “just because she doesn’t hide the fact that she existed for fifty-nine years, birthed a human being, ate food on a regular basis, looked at the sun once in a while, and occasionally smiled. So what, she doesn’t look as good in a bronze bikini as she did at twenty-seven? She’s a human being!”
I firmly oppose the attitude that aging is something to fight or cure or disguise beneath layers of spot-erasing foundation and magical eye serum from bee hives in the Himalayas. I raise a glass to women (and men) who let their hair grey, don bifocals, embrace stretch marks, and ignore cellulite.
But now I have laugh lines.
I turn twenty-five in ten days, and the years are creeping up on me in other subtle ways. My knees crunch when I walk up the stairs. My arches ache and my ankles crackle. I have suspicious moles, quirky arm hairs, weary hips. My cousin tweezed her first grey hair at twenty-seven. I’m trying not to look for my own.
The other night in my aunt and uncle’s woodstove-warmed living room, I set down my tea, pushed back in my rocking chair, fluffed the beginnings of a caramel-colored shawl I was crocheting, and realized that I’d essentially become an eighty-seven-year-old.
So be it. These laugh lines aren’t going anywhere. Before too long, they’ll be joined by crow’s feet and forehead furrows. I’ll slip orthotic inserts into my shoes. I’ll purchase reading glasses and avoid driving at night. I’ll spy that first grey hair in the mirror. And I’ll try to leave it alone.
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.