Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Ask Polly: I'm Almost 30 And I'm Terrified Of Losing My Looks

Dear Polly,

I’m a woman who will soon be 30. I am terrified of watching my physical beauty deteriorate over the next decade.

I’m conventionally attractive. I don’t believe that being pretty translates to any tangible social power, but I do get positive attention from people, which I enjoy. I love being gazed at. I don’t mean street harassment or anything like that, but the way that people (of all genders) get these dreamy, enraptured looks on their faces when they see me. I think beauty has some magical quality to it, and it makes me feel alive. When I look at myself, too, I sometimes get the same sensation as when I behold an emotionally stirring work of art—shimmering, crackling, breathless. There truly is nothing like a beautiful face.

And so, the prospect of losing this—and I know I will lose it, everyone does—fills me with such crushing dread. I take care of myself as best I can in terms of a healthy lifestyle and sunscreen, but I know that every day that goes by, I am aging, and ultimately powerless to stop it. (I don’t have much faith in the ability of cosmetic procedures to keep my face looking exactly the way it does now, so that “option” is of little comfort). It’s like I’ve been given this precious gift with the stipulation that it will be yanked away from me before my life is even halfway over. I don’t know how to cope with this. I have these horrible moments now in which I see older women around me and feel a visceral sense of disgust and pity—obviously a projection of my own fears.

The prospect of looking older is sometimes so intolerable that I sometimes plan ways to commit suicide in the future. Because I realize this sounds/is crazy, I looked into a treatment program for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I was told, however, that I don’t qualify because I don’t currently hate my appearance. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist, but neither diagnosed me with anything, they essentially said that “most women have these concerns” and I’ll probably “age well anyway.” The psychiatrist offered to prescribe a sleeping pill if the thoughts kept me awake at night. The therapist suggested that I read feminist literature. My mother told me I must have things pretty good if I can spend so much time fixating on my future face.

Do you have any advice?


Dear Dorian,

I wish you'd attached a photograph, so I could gaze upon the emotionally stirring work of art that is your head. I don't know how else to conjure the emotion that's required of me at this moment. What are you going to lose, exactly, when you get older? Even when I picture you as Giselle, I remain unmoved. The enraptured gazes, the crackling, shimmering whatever… It's so hard to imagine. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

You say there's truly nothing like a beautiful face. That statement makes me imagine a giant plate of delicious nachos, a good book, and a cold beer. It makes me think about dogs with weird personalities, and funny children. It makes me think about the sound of rain on the roof when you're taking a nap in the afternoon. Pretty faces can go fuck themselves, compared to peanut butter cups.

If none of that makes sense to you, then let me just say this: Your priorities are going to change drastically. Even if you keep living in this bizarre airless room where you gaze at yourself all day like the evil queen in Snow White (there's a reason they make fairy tales with big, important lessons about vanity), you're still going to mature over the next decade and find that all of this pretty face bullshit just doesn't have the weight that it once did, not even to you.

In the meantime, though, you really need to find something else to occupy your mind. You don't sound stupid, but you do sound extremely bored, and very depressed. The world is so much more engaging and incredible than you're making it seem. What's kept you in this two-dimensional realm of the mirror? Who trapped you there? What's at stake? Are you lonely? Do you feel like you're running out of time to find love? There's something else to this picture that you're not addressing, and without knowing more I can't tell you that much. You should definitely find a therapist who's interested in delving into this question with you, who seems determined to dig through all of the dimensions of what your experiencing.

Mostly, I have to tell you that time doesn't run out as fast as you think. Most women I know looked like they were 29 for about a decade, honestly. And yes, things change in your 40s, but mostly, if you're living right, you just want more time to do stuff. Even when you start to have to make adjustments to the tired-looking woman in the mirror, you find ways to love that person, too. The hideous old face you imagine now isn't yours. The face that is yours might disappoint you sometimes, but it won't be as devastating as you think.

You need to listen to that Alanis Morissette album, the one where she thanks India and proclaims that she'll be good even if she gains ten pounds. Alanis is just the ticket for you right now. She'll make you see how poisonous your superiority complex is. You may hate the old, ugly person you think you'll become because you're not sure what else you have to offer, besides your face. You should dedicate yourself to becoming someone whom you'll feel proud of, without or without the shimmering and the crackling. Haven't you ever met anyone who wasn't conventionally attractive, but who was incredibly charismatic and enviable? If not, you really need to get out more. Instead of gazing at your own heart-stopping face, you should throw out your mirror and dedicate yourself to something that feeds your soul and makes you feel even more alive than, I don't know, admiring your own image? It's a bad habit. And apparently it makes you feel powerless, because you're getting off on something you feel you're about to lose.

Here's the truth, and you're just going to have to trust me on this: You're not nearly as old or as beautiful as you think you are. And even if you are the most ravishing woman alive, I'd advise you to imagine, instead, that you are very young and very plain. Then walk out into the world, and be a regular person among the other regular people, with your whole life ahead of you. You'll be surprised at how good that feels.

You pity the old ladies. What you don't know is that they pity you even more. They know what a burden you're carrying around, and they know how bad it makes you feel, to think of losing this thing that's actually a crutch that keeps you from maturing and connecting with the real world.

I know you're just being honest. I don't want to give you shit for that. I just think you need to get a bad haircut and eat a big piece of cherry pie and join the rest of us. When you do, you'll see the truth at last: Life is beautiful. Pretty faces are a dime a dozen.


Dear Polly,

I'm in my early 40s; an aspiring writer and graphic designer; have been in a relationship for over ten years with my 'fiance'; desperately desiring a child and feeling like I've run out of time.

I put the word fiance in quotes because we've been affianced for almost ten years now, with no prospect of actually getting married because he's been there twice and is 'done with that shit.' I've been married once before too, and while I respect his decision, I kind of feel unhappy that it's his decision and not ours.

I've waited all this time for him to come around to having a child with me, but he's always put it off (he already has one [with a previous partner] and he's not ready for that responsibility again; one of us was in the middle of jobs; we were renting; we owned a place of our own but it was an apartment, not a house), and now it feels like my biological clock struck midnight a long time ago and neither of us noticed. Because now he says he's ready to think of having another kid. Yet many times these past years, whenever I've brought up my wanting a baby, he's pointed at my cat and my parrot and made Old Crazy Cat Lady jokes. I never found them funny.

I left my steady job last year to go back to graduate school—I'm pursuing a degree in graphic design. We talked about this before I made the move because it was a drastic career change for me (I was middle manager in a major retail chain); he had promised to support me/us while I did this. It seemed only fair to me since he had quit his job four years ago while he tried to 'find' himself. During those two years, I bore the brunt of our household expenses, insurance, etc. (The little savings income he had went to child support.) Even after two years of soul searching, it doesn't look like he has any idea of what his driving passion is. I, however, know what I want to do, finally, and wanted to go for it. We moved to a cheaper city near my university last year. He had told me he had interviews lined up; when we got here, I found out two of those interviews were for part time jobs (and things he was vastly overqualified for) because, 'I figured I'd need some time to get used to corporate slavery again, babe.' In the meantime, our bills weren't getting paid. So I begged and pleaded with my old boss to let me back as a part-time remote worker to supplement what he was making. I had to give away my bird because she had a fungal condition and I couldn't afford the vet anymore. And this means that on top of being a graduate student, I'm working practically full-time because I constantly take on freelance gigs.

He's extremely handsome and well-built. Women swarm him wherever we go (he used to be offered modeling gigs when we were younger). I'm kind of average-looking-okay, and I have put on some weight in the past years. Also I was a blonde when we met, but I've gone back to my natural deep brown hair now. Which means he frequently makes —even in public—jokes about me pulling a 'switcheroo.'

He has no faith in my creative aspirations. I try to remind myself that he uprooted and moved to a new place for me. Which is totally a big deal. However, he keeps harping on the fact that he did this (which diminishes the sacrifice, am I wrong in thinking this?); but also he will make disparaging remarks about my projects and compare my achievements with others ("so-and-so won this award, how come you didn't? aren't you good enough?").

I know I've made him sound like a nightmare. But we have many sweet moments too. My last birthday he organized a surprise trip to Peru as I've always wanted to visit there (my favorite grandmother came from Lima). And I have to admit we have the best sex ever. Really. And after all this time we're both super attracted to each other. There's no denying that.

My friends and family almost universally hate him. One of my sisters cancelled her Christmas trip to see our parents at the last minute because she found out he was going too (he usually doesn't attend any family events). Two of my closest grad school friends are constantly pressuring me to leave. So much so that I've distanced myself from both. I love them dearly and I understand they want what's good for me, but it also feels patronizing that they're professing to know better than I do what's the right thing for me. I feel the same way about my sisters.

This is the longest relationship I've ever had. I feel like he's a good person, but maybe not good for me at this point in my life. But at the same time, maybe that moment, where our lives click together is just around the corner. I've invested so much here, given up so much of what I wanted to be with him, that I can't help but wait for that mutual moment to arrive.

Am I being impatient? Am I being wrongheaded? What can I do?

Maybe Knows What to Do But Not How to Do It


All these years together, waiting to get married and have a baby, and now he wants to have a kid and you're wondering if you should break up?

Your friends and sisters are constantly pressuring you to leave your husband? You know that's because you spend most of your time together telling them he's a total nightmare, right? And when they agree with you, and support you in your efforts to move on, you distance yourself from them?

You are an equal partner in the crazy life you've created. You've kept your husband around so that you will always have a scapegoat. (You work your ass off! You had to give your bird away! You just can't stop having great sex!) It really sounds to me like you're actively choosing to be locked into a long-term jail with this guy, and when other people try to help you out of that jail, you give them the heave-ho.

Are you asking if you should break up with him? Here's my answer: If he doesn't support your dreams, belittles you, and makes you pay for everything, then yes, you should break up with him.

Because I don't think this picture improves magically. It just gets worse and worse. But when you finally do break up with him, try to make sure that you haven't alienated every last friend you've ever had, because you're really going to need them to help you pull through this major addiction you have to a very good-looking, very condescending, very lazy man's contempt.


Do you have a long history of broken friendships? Do you want to know why? Write to Polly and she'll venture a haphazard guess or two!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo by Dan Cook. Cat photo by "Heather."

70 Comments / Post A Comment

GiovanniGF (#224)

I never worried about losing my good looks because I didn't think I had any to lose. Now that I'm in my 40s I realize that I should have worried. Getting old sucks.

@GiovanniGF : Good looks or no, I am vastly more worried about the possibility of losing any smarts I may have scraped together over the years. Dammit, I worked hard to be brainy, and it's like Time is just itching to turn me into the old guy talking to himself on the bus. *shakes fist at mortality, forgets grocery list / house keys*

@Gef the Talking Mongoose you are creeping me the fuck out

@Ron Mwangaguhunga : Among the lesser-known early indicators of Alzheimer's is "not realizing that someone earlier up the page has basically already written your post." Just FYI.

Alternate take : You mean to say that my hard-earned charm is already decaying into "creep"? Dammit, and I really hedged with that shit.

Violetviolent (#245,746)

@GiovanniGF ok so I am thinking LW1 has serious issues that aren't really about aging BUT having had this discussion with several friends (we are all in our late 40s) I was shocked that one said she was sad how she is no longer "hot" and that she saw herself as the "hot" girl in her 20s, and now she is nothing. And she is crazy beautiful to me.
The rest of us all agreed that we never looked or felt better. I'm not kidding, I really feel more healthy,attractive, confident now.
Is it because I never really defined myself by my looks? Who know? I never thought much about it, but now wonder where does this come from? Our mothers? Our insecurities? This shit runs deep.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

I have a question for the writer of the first letter: do you read a lot of magazines and watch a lot of television? Because that shit is POISON. Not only are you being bombarded with advertisements, but you're constantly being presented with digitally manipulated images of surgically enhanced people. It sets up a ridiculous and damaging standard that is impossible to live up to, all in the name of getting you to go to the mall more often.

dj pomegranate (#201,598)

@Kevin Knox So much truth right here.

I went from reading fashion mags every month to now hardly ever watching TV or reading magazines and my conception of myself wrt "beauty" has improved DRASTICALLY. Now, when I see the magazines at the check out counter (the ones telling you to GET A SIX PACK and WIN HIM WITH THESE AWESOME MOVES IN THE SACK and GET LUSTROUS HAIR FOR SUMMER, the ones with photo-shopped humans on the cover) I almost laugh. I have no connection to that image, it's absurd, it doesn't *mean* anything to me, I don't want to have so-and-so celebrity's pouty lips. I like my lips! When I look in the mirror and see my (30 year old–Hey LW!) face, I usually think, "Yup, that's me, and I'm awesome!" because I don't feel I'm in competition anymore, and my face is not some gift to humanity that I'm required to maintain at any cost.

It's much easier to calibrate your self-image when you're not constantly being reminded of your "duty" to reach an impossible standard of "beauty."

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Yeah, when I was young I was terrified of how stupid I'll look going to clubs after I get older. Then I got older and discovered I didn't care for the clubs anymore. So, yeah, if you want to waste your time and make yourself miserable, keep trying to imagine yourself as an older person with your silly young brain which can't comprehend how can older people live with themselves.

@Niko Bellic I'd rather be defenestrated than be caught in a club at my age.

@Niko Bellic I never went to see much live music when I was younger, but now in my 40s its all i want to do. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are plenty of other middle aged humans enjoying all the same stuff I do, scattered among the candyflipping teens.

I stumbled across this and laughed out loud! The "good looking girl" needs to go to serious therapy, she has an inflated sense of self and a lot of that is in her head and being as "gorgeous" as she is it's strange she didn't post a picture lol. Girl #2 well, she knows what she needs to do but doesn't have the strength to leave the deadbeat boyfriend.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"when other people try to help you out of that jail, you give them the heave-ho"

I have advice for friends and family of LW2 and people like her: don't give her the satisfaction of listening to her shit. After a certain point, people get way too old for us to still talk about their "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" crap.

Stay in a bad relationship, break it up, have a child, don't have a child, whatever – you are not a young kid that needs advice anymore, you should be able to deal with these things yourself. Plus, nobody gives a shit! It's not like you have much of a life left in front of you to "throw it all away" or anything. Let your friends enjoy their time with you or leave them alone.

And what a great pairing with LW1. LW1, take a note: this is what you should be afraid of in your future: not maturing as you get older. Never mind losing your good looks.

laurel (#4,035)

LW1 makes herself sound pretty silly, but there's something else going on there and if I'm right I recognize something of myself in it. She's trying to ignore the messiness of life, the huge unknowable things, the real global threats and the regular life uncertainties. She's focused all her worry on the inevitable loss of this one thing. Its inevitability is its appeal: because she can't do anything about it, it requires nothing of her, except mourning.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@laurel Oh yes. That time we set aside to find something to be depressed about. But it can't be something we could possible fix, because otherwise it will not meet the requirement of being a thing to be depressed about! So, if someone found an elixir of youth, we'd just have to find another thing to be depressed about.

laurel (#4,035)

@Niko Bellic I don't think actual depression works that way, but yeah, it's daunting to always look directly at the heaving mess of life and deal with it as it actually is. Sometimes I turn toward abstractions or vague inevitabilities and just kind of stare at them, relieved that there's nothing to be done, just to get away from all the expectations.

Also, LW, if you want to develop some reason for people to like you when you're no longer beautiful, do what every other person not getting by on her looks does: be funny.

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

@laurel Yeah, it's less "actual depression," more of an "artistic temperament" thing.

shostakobitch (#1,692)

Blahblah rich inner person > hot person. Yet I'd leverage my stupid personality to get rid of this battered punim any day. But also it doesn't matter if you worry about losing your looks or not – either way they're inevitably out the door. You can either stress about it, maybe get some cosmetic surgery (that never looks right, particularly close up) or you can just enjoy what you have and play the hand you're dealt with confidence. I mean what the hell else is there to do. There's no way off this ride. And desperation will mar a pert body just as surely as a few decades.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@shostakobitch "Blahblah rich inner person > hot person. Yet I'd leverage my stupid personality to get rid of this battered punim any day."

There is nothing worse than having a brain of a beauty queen trapped in a body of an ugly person, I'll give you that.

shostakobitch (#1,692)

@Niko Bellic The only thing trapped inside my ugly body is gas.

FredBread (#245,743)

What's the ugliest
part of your body?
Some say your nose
Some say your toes
But I think it's YOUR MIND
I think it's your mind, woo woo

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@FredBread Zappa is like Oscar Wilde and the bible – a quote for any and every occasion.

I invested it all in my smarts. I thought that was a wise choice, that the people who let it all rise on beauty were playing a materialist, suckers game. BUT WHAT ABOUT ALZHEIMERS?!

KarenUhOh (#19)

As someone who's reached the age of eligibility to live in an Active Adult Community, I'm mainly terrified of losing my shit.

Multiphasic (#411)

@KarenUhOh And those around you are therefore presumably terrified of finding your shit.

@Multiphasic They are scared of discovering you're shit.

davidwatts (#72)

"Pretty faces can go fuck themselves, compared to peanut butter cups," is a pretty good mission statement for this column and its general view of humanity/human relationships.

BoatGirl (#245,744)

Anyone want to bet that all the people LW1 thinks get "dreamy, enraptured looks" when they see her are actually thinking about what to get for dinner / problem at work / whether they're going to be on time to their next appointment / etc.
LW1 – I agree with you that your issue (fear of losing your looks) is all in your head, but I also suspect that those looks themselves are. I'm basing this on your age, the strong smell of special snowflakism emanating from your letter, and the many 20-something women I've overheard discussing how desirable they are and how much better looking they are than others, when a realistic trip to the mirror proves otherwise.

Antennapedia (#161,290)

@BoatGirl Right??? I read "Dreamy, enraptured looks" and the less charitable part of me just said "Oh, Honey. That's BOREDOM you're seeing. Because you're BORING."

lemmycaution (#243,936)

@BoatGirl guys stare at hot women all the time. It is a thing.

melis (#1,854)

Ah, my face. My face, my face, my oldest and my only friend. Where were you when the mountains rose up out of the sea so they could admire their stern and rockbound reflections? Nowhere. But my face was there. Where were you when the mighty larch, the noble pone, the sky-bound sequoia thrust themselves out of the black and stinking ground to glory in the light of the sun? Staring, whimpering and afraid. But my face was there, looking amazing. When my face leaves, all wonder and joy will depart from the world, and I shall term myself Ichabod, for truly has glory left the house of Israel.

I will make myself a house of stones and leaves, and live by the river, and be silent, when my face has gone.

My beautiful, very beautiful face, that is so beautiful.

melis (#1,854)

lollll "the noble pone"

City_Dater (#2,500)

Jesus Christ, I thought poor Lily Bart killed herself, but apparently she time-traveled to the 21st century, dragging the fears of an early 20th century, unemancipated, unskilled, unmarried woman with her.

Antennapedia (#161,290)

@City_Dater Poor LW1 will end in debt and by laudanum following a failed attempt at millinery. Maybe they're gazing rapt at her hats?

Violetviolent (#245,746)

So. I have some opinions on LW1. As an expert aged person, I was once asked by my dbag boyfriend, who I am no longer with for reasons that will soon be obvious, if I felt bad that "all men are attracted to the younger women"
I sincerely answered with extreme irritation that No, this is not true for many reasons.
1. With age comes the gift of wisdom ( as in not giving a shit what men or anyone decide my attractiveness level is to them)
2. There is no competition or feeling threatened, I love women young and old. I had my turn being young with fresh skin. I look forward to being even older with character. I happen to find old very hot. And young baby face isn't my thing anymore.
3. Fuck him.
4. Fuck everyone that thinks there is a limited amount of sexiness we must all try to fight over.

sophiah (#13,210)

Two things strike me.

I don’t believe that being pretty translates to any tangible social power

It does, and you know it, or you wouldn't be prematurely lamenting its loss. You know you get favors and compliments, that people just treat you differently. My friend's little sister is one of the most beautiful people I've seen in person and though she makes occasional attempts at establishing a rich inner life, she keeps sliding back into allowing the males of her acquaintance to buy her things and do things for her so she doesn't have to ever really be independent, because why should she? Beauty is just about the only tangible social power a woman can count on, without having to do some serious work.

I love being gazed at

When someone really loves you, they will gaze at you when you're at your prettiest, when you're cooking dinner, when you are a sweaty mess after sex or giving birth to your first child. They will gaze at you when you are an unrecognizable pile of wrinkles, because those are still your eyes shining though, your heart showing. When you feed your baby it will gaze at you with total fascination and trust, and so will your dog when you're petting her as she lies down on her bed for the very last time. These are gazes that mean something because they see you, not your perfect, fleeting skin or good hair day.

I think you want that, and I think you've mistaken the gazes you receive now for that kind. You aren't your face. Who are you? Find out, and find someone who will look at that person and love her. When it happens, believe me, you won't care who else is looking.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@marenca Well, there you go. Because being pretty was a good enough reason to be gazed that, it ended up being the only reason, because why bother with developing others, when you have one ready made?

@marenca These are gazes that mean something because they see you, not your perfect, fleeting skin or good hair day.

So true. I just spent an entire week camping with my boyfriend. I didn't shower or bathe with soap the whole time (swimming in the lake only helps a little). My hair gets very oily when I skip even one day, but I only washed my hair twice the entire week. I got a lot of pimples from being sweaty all day and sleeping in a hot tent. And my body stunk big time. I didn't look or smell beautiful at all, but my boyfriend still got turned on looking at me.

sophiah (#13,210)

@Niko Bellic Well, yeah, that's how she got here, but she's figuring out pretty soon she's going to have to develop something else or be left with nothing, eventually. Or at least I hope she's figuring it out.

@fondue I mean, I'm a million miles away from having Dorian's problem (I actually have a very nice face but fat girls don't get non-creepy adoration from strangers), but my husband gazes at me like that all the time and has since I was 18 so I'm not really feeling like I've missed out on the Worship of the People.

glasstwizzlestix (#242,762)

I can't believe it took so long for someone (including 'Polly') to address this; OF COURSE being pretty translates to tangible social power – fairly so or not. You'd have to be either remarkably naive or disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

nadiahoney (#266,786)

@glasstwizzlestix While I do agree in part with this comment re tangible social power coming from beauty, this ONLY WORKS IF ONE BELIEVES ONE IS ACTUALLY PRETTY!!! I never ever thought I was beautiful but apparently I was — was often told this but never, ever thought so — and thus I developed my mind and personality. Sure, I still cared and still do immensely about my looks, too much so imo, but I would never ever have expected to be given something for what I deem as nothing. If I got something I earned it with my rapier wit or hard work. When all the guys were always staring at me and harassing me I assumed they were mocking me, just pretending, or something crazy like that. Yeah, I was an insecure idiot re my appearance. Now I kind of see that they were stupid enough to believe I was beautiful when I know this is not true and never was. Not on the outside, that is. My mind however is PRISTINELY hot. Hell I get turned on just thinking about it. So I love all the intelligent people on here for knowing how confusing our perceptions are, and for being wonderful enough to see beyond surface bs. AND… to those twits who think and act as if they are insanely beautiful and deserve everything, you CAN all go fuck yourselves and wither away if you think you deserve something for what is NOTHING and you know it. Give me an ugly hot brilliant man anyday, because otherwise I'd just buy a Ken doll and sit it up next to me in the bed and move it around in different positions and make it talk to me. Hey, am I creeping anyone else out here?

questingbeast (#201,738)

LW2: His 'good points': organising a holiday 'for you' isn't that impressive if you ended up paying for it (or paying for other things for you both because he was paying for that). So you're left with good sex, which seems like an adequate basis for a ten-week relationship. 10 years, not so much.

@questingbeast Yeah, and Peru has maggots that live in your ears.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

P.S. Dorian: Listen to that other Alanis Morissette song and go down on someone in a theater while your looks still make it worthwhile.

largemarge (#233,602)

LW#1- Amanda Bynes?

FlufferNutter (#245,764)

LW1 – I just watched the film "Away from Her" for the first time two nights ago. I suggest you do the same. Not only is it a brutally honest look at what happens when your mind fades – something far more terrifying than losing your looks IMHO – you will see Julie Christie's face and feel like you are looking at that work of art of which you speak. I was blown away by the woman's beauty in that movie, and she was in her 60s at the time. I hope you come to value the fact that our faces show experience and wisdom as we get older, and that adds enormous value to our real estate, it doesn't subtract. Age gracefully, and you will never truly lose your looks. That's what I think, anyway.

doraleigh (#239,253)

I have to admit to some empathy for LW1. I did not feel that way in my 30s — either that I was rapturously beautiful or for one minute about the fact that my looks were fading. However, now (in my 40s, married, with kids), I do think about it. Something happened this year (the death of an old friend) that sent me back to 30 — and remembering that I could sit in a bar and the best-looking guy would come over to talk to me. I know, it's silly, it's vapid, it's ridiculous, and it doesn't mean anything, but it felt . . . powerful. And I know I don't have that power now — and I don't need it — my husband desires me, my kids love me, but I have spent some time mourning its loss. (And I'm not decrepit — I look pretty good, just not in the same way.) That time is gone now. THIS time is honestly so much better — richer, more joyful, but it is also a fact that that time is gone. Now, in addition to distracting myself from this with thoughts of how great Peppermint Patties are (I really don't like peanut butter cups) or the sound of the wind in the grass at the beach, I have two other things I think: 1) it's not my turn — it was my turn (and I was lucky to have it), but I look at the 25-35s and think, it's their turn now, and soon it won't be; and 2) fueled, in part, because another very very dear friend died this year (in his 40s), I think about how LUCKY you are to get to be old.

All this being said, Jesus Christ, LW1, get yourself a better therapist! He/she told you to read feminist literature! For shame. (Not that there's anything wrong with feminist literature — there's a good deal right with it, but it's therapy, not women's studies.) Try again, and again if you have to.

jamesbond007 (#273,930)

@doraleigh Speak for yourself – i don't know why you cut off the age at 35. I'm 37 and still attractive and enjoying life.

Jesus Christ those are some big-ass cats.

The hottest girl in my high school (which is saying a lot because we were, and mostly still are, very good looking boys and girls, even in our 40s) has become a crazy cat lady. She's still hot. But she got so fucking sick of everyone gazing at her that she basically gave up on people. She is, as it happens, a physicist but her renunciation of humanity is by far her most interesting quality.

Jae Lee (#245,769)

"You pity the old ladies. What you don't know is that they pity you even more. They know what a burden you're carrying around, and they know how bad it makes you feel, to think of losing this thing that's actually a crutch that keeps you from maturing and connecting with the real world."

Ye gods, so much this. I'll be turning 31 in like, a month, and I wouldn't go back to my teens and twenties if someone wrapped them for a gift. Yeah, sure smoother skin and no cellulite, but also self-absorption and lack of any self-awareness. I admit, I kind of hated turning 30 but that's because I don't want to grow up/can't reconcile myself with being an adult, not because crow's feet and a saggy chin are the end of the world.

TheZulkey (#244,948)

Am I the only person who feels like she's getting better looking the older she gets? I'm sure a large part of it is just feeling a lot better about myself and knowing what I can and can't change. But I also know I aged, facially, probably 3 years in the last 1 (had a kid) but I also think it was for the best.

NB: I am not only not conventionally attractive, I have the kind of personality that for some reason makes men feel OK about telling me that I am unconventionally attractive.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@TheZulkey You're not the only one! I'm 32 now, FWIW, and I think losing the "baby face" makes me way hotter. I get hit on a lot more now than I ever did.

gidgetjones (#237,683)

@TheZulkey I do! I mean, I doth protest that I've never been particularly hit on but I decided for my sanity, at 34, to truly put up and shut up. I've been exercising and enjoying it and am in the best shape of my life. I'm doing it for myself. I don't push myself if I'm not motivated, I don't beat myself up over food, and for once in my life I'm both pleased with how I look and I find that I care less about how I look.

prosolarmechanic (#245,771)

I'm not Giselle, or anything, but letter writer #1, let's just say, I feel her.

And that wasn't really good advice.

(Disclaimer!: ASIDE from all of the things problematic about a cultural gaze that reduces women to their appearance.)

There really is nothing like it.

That humminahumminahummina that happens in cartoons; they do that in real life.

Men and women stop, get this dreamy look, babble, or stammer, or say something they didn't mean to say out loud, and you smile indulgently and make eye contact,
and then they try their best to give you whatever you want, as long as you are there in front of them.

OF COURSE it doesn't really mean anything, and it isn't a substitute for kindness or character, and you still have to have REAL relationships with everyone actually in your life.
But it really feels amazing.

So, LW1, I'm 45 now, and it isn't all gone. It still happens, but more with an
'age appropriate type' (teenagers, for instance, stopped around when I was 30).
I'm aging well, I'm taking care of myself, sure,
but as this constant slows to regular and then intermittent, other things that grow from comfort and self knowledge will come to gratify you more and fill the space.

Everything ends, good looks I'm afraid, most of all.

Enjoy what you have. It's a pretty good gift.
When it does end,
I think you'll smile to yourself, think how lovely it was, and go on to something else. Really.

dafuq (#245,807)

Oh man, the beauty issue, that is my thing, one of them. I was a basically-attractive-in-the-right-light girl but I always really really wanted to be beautiful. Because there are major social advantages. The social hierarchy is built upon that. I'm sorry but no – fairy tales are NEVER the thing to read when addressing femininity within the patriarchy/kyriarchy or vis-a-vis reinforcing the beauty tyranny for women (yes, cyrano, I know you suffered).

Beauty and femininity is a huge issue for women. To what extent… varies. But overall, "beauty" is like the "masuclinity" issue for men. ALL a woman has to do is be beautiful, and no matter what else she is, if she is not beautiful she is nothing. See that Dustin Hoffman video. Here's an enlightened, cool dude who is realizing how fucked in the head he is in viewing women thru a filter that diminishes the value of so many of them (while, flip side, increasing the value — for the wrong reasons!! — of others, like — it's good to be liked, but if you're liked for being rich, you're not being liked… poor little rich kid, but for reals.)

This is a thing. That is not in just YOUR head (pretty little or otherwise).

So, anyways… on to my story. As a social outcast, I could really have used a little of that panache that is bestowed upon the beautiful, a little bit of that carte blanche. And in particular when I moved to New York City, it's just shall we say, helpful, to be good looking. Although to be fair, at the end of the day this town appreciates talent more than looks. Still tho. Just in getting jobs. Status — it's a nice thing to have, and beauty automatically confers status, to women and men, but especially to women (who can always get a powerful man to do things for them/give things to them).

And, I could have jumped up a few grades solidly into the pretty category. And ooooooooooooh how I wanted that! It would just make life sooo much (actually for reals, in calculable ways) easier. And, I kind of needed it. As a weirdo, I needed that extra little bit of social aprobation that beauty gives you. Beautiful weirdo and weirdo are two very different things. So, when I was 17 my moms said hunny, plastic surgery for you? We got that. It was partially covered under insurance and they would pay for the cosmetic part.

I went to the doc we got a recommed for. Had a little talk with him. Asked him to level with me. This is what he said:

"Look, you're a pretty girl. But if you wanted to act you will not get the lead roles."

And with those words he cursed me to a life of non-beauty.

Because there was actually in fact no way that I could co-sign that. As much as I did want the protective coloring that beauty offered.

Because the protagonists of life are not a single narrow slice of humanity. That's some bullcrap. That is the most two-dimensional lame-ass way to view life, nothing against it but that is donkey-fucking bad. There was just no way. That is some old skool shit in the worst way.

Alas, I could not let this man make me beautiful. And even when I moved to the trenches of New York City, and had the dough to do it (and hells yeah still the desire), I could not. This man! *fist shakes!* In trying to sell me, he managed to say exactly the thing which would insure that I would be barred from entering into the world of the beautiful. He couldn't just have said, hey, you could be prettier if you wanted to. No. He effectively said: the only stories that matter are those of "pretty" people. You know, the big strong buff man on the beach, not the nerdy little guy who gets sand kicked in his face- fuck him. His story isn't important. The non-pretty girl. Who? Oh her. This is not beauty, it's cruelty of the basest sort. It has no charm, no allure. No sparkle.

Well, I also had some wee issues with love. I was a runner. A pusher-away. A seducer (remember, I wasn't bad looking, just not beautiful) and then an accuser. "You don't love me!" *gives cold shoulder disappointedly* I was, unloved. Too bad, so sad. Sux to be me. And I kinda arduously worked thru it, took on some of the responsibility for loving myself. I mean, not like I had much choice there seeing as how other people were failing at it, heartless bastards. Well, of course the heartless bastard was myself, who was running into other people's arms but offering cold comfort for myself. God forbid.

And, even in my non-pretty state I was still pretty annoyed at the attention that I did get just by virtue of being pretty-ish… because it wasn't "me" just what I looked like. I could not feel the love, the way LW so obviously does… all I could do was appreciate how shallow people are. Like Jesus dressed in rags…. Or a successful person who has an unsuccessful stretch in Hollywood… it's then you see who your real friends are. And who is just an asshole who doesn't GAF about you. It's sobering. And maybe nice to live in that little bubble. But it's inauthentic. So, in otherwords, it's not as nice as it is to live in the free world, not to be the bubble boy, to be able to actually reach out and make genuine contact with people. That's so much yummier. So much more juicy. fresh squeezed compared to that reconstituted crap that passes for orange juice that comes in cans, where you add water. It's actually even a way bigger difference than that. It's a world of difference, and way better.

In the end, I have to thank that plastic surgeon. By saying just the wrong/right words he steered me away from making a change that for me, while making some external things go a bit more smoothly… would ultimately have created drag and delay in me being forced (kicking and screaming, bitching and moaning the whole time) to check in with myself so that I can actually be loved (something that was pretty high up there on my list) and not trapped in my own body/mind. It was hard work, I didn't love doing it (although sometimes I did!) but it's so much better than the alternative! I really hated being that bitch who was pointing saying "you don't love me enough!" (omg, you can imagine!) shaking my head at the people around me, and their inability to reach me (when I, of course was totally down and boss, and it was everyone else who was just "not up for it"). Yes, I was kind of a jerk. A sweet, caring jerk but still basically pretty jerky. Which I totally still am, but less so than when I started, which I count as progress.

My point here is that being beautiful is not the end all be-all. The only truly beautiful person — like absolutely drop-jaw stunning person I ever banged was a friend's younger brother, who was also totally brilliant. And one of the several pearls of wisdom I took away from him — at 18 he was remarkably wise — was that people are actually shifting and new in every moment. Like a river, we flow and constantly change. A person can appear beautiful in one moment, and tawdry and shabby in the next. Likewise, someone we never perceived as beautiful can shine with beauty in a moment. Life is make up of moments, and of this flowing river of shifting moments. Just because you consistently "present" as beautiful does not mean that's the realdeal of what's going on. You have to look a little deeper, a little closer, to truly perceive the beauty of life, not just the tacky rhinestones. I mean, I love me some tacky rhinestones girl, don't get it twisted. But just don't try that with a laser because that shit will melt like the plastic it is.

So, my advice to you, LW1 is yes read some feminist literature, yes, hells yes, get a new therapist yours sound like they should be barred from the profession, and take it from someone on the other side of the fence who has struggled hard with this issue. Deeper beauty is way more valuable… would you care if you lost a nickel if you found a dollar? Probably not. Just because society is telling you that that nickel is way more valuable than the dollar… it's a wooden nickel, baby and that's just straight fact. Your life is precious. It will not last for ever. It is a rich and vivid experience. Enjoy this dream of life while you have it, make the most of it. Don't, I'm sorry to say it, but don't be an ass. Or a lame-ass. Because it's you're life, and you only get one. I do not recommend that you spend it at any time listening to Alanis Morrisette. But whatever, that last part is up to you.

p.s. It's super awesome to get what you want, and when what you want is love, well, it's just the bestest! It might be awesome for people to be awed by your beauty, but that get's double awesome when it's for the beauty that is you — within you, your soul. That's like amplified a superbunch. It's not power in quite the same way, but it's power in a different way. A more fulsome, touching every fiber of life, way. Basically tripping balls. Boobies, or whatever.

nadiahoney (#266,786)

@dafuq LOVE this writing style! You rock.

summerie (#245,812)

It's trite to say those older women are looking back with pity at this younger lady. In real life that is often not the case, as anyone knows who has felt the wrath of coldness or hot hate from a woman who does not enjoy the privilege of prettiness and youth. There is a real, and all-too-common thing that happens between women, in the same way that men jockey for position and can (in bad company) always be trying to one up each other and put other men down. Women do this too, except their options are more limited. As ornamental, their purpose is served by looking good. They peak young and then wilt and do not go gently into that good night, but go cursing their cruel fate, and passing on the hate.

Now– is that most women? Honestly I actually think it depends on where you are… in a progressive city or college town, I think older women are more likely to think they themselves are the bomb, and not to be threatened by young beautiful women, to look smilingly and compassionately upon young lasses' beauty and folly. Or to just be straight admiring. Not all young people are stupid, some people (actually many, sadly) reach the peak of their interestingness in their twenties, and thereafter become dull, life having not burnished them but merely burdened them.

So, often times an older, or just less attractive, woman will look with envy, perhaps some fear, and a bit of resentment (the last of which they are well-entitled). Could boil down even to hostility. Which, all of that? Not a good look. And not a nice one either.

Yes, there may be some older women who are simply bemused, but because we value youth so highly, especially in women (while at the same time mercilessly criticizing the young) often people actually in real life become more bitter as they get older and are no longer valued. This is obviously very stupid and we need to change this. But if life is not nurturing you then your best days *are* going to be when you are younger, before life "got to you". And if we value superficial beauty so highly, but ignore how people are actually feeling inside then people are not going to grow up into being "more wonderful" and more happier, more interesting and more wise. They are going to instead both lust/long for and seek to crush youth.

But having seen a good amount of the real reality of older women being injured by life and their status and treatment as they get older… I think you have to be really strong to thrive in the face of that (no pun intended). And, yes, thankfully there's plenty of strong women. But that doesn't mean it's the majority yet… So I don't think we do ourselves any favors to pretend that life is different from the way that it actually is. Some women may be pitying beautiful young women who are trapped by their beauty, but there are just as many if not more who are envying them and feel threatened. Because that is what we value: superficial beauty. And who doesn't want to get those "positive strokes"? Versus the "fear and disgust" that the LW1 is (perhaps covertly) shooting these older ladies way? I think LW1 sounds really honest, and I appreciate her honesty. She deserves the same. This is something that ladies of all ages struggle with, being judged and valued for their looks (above all else). Gay dudes of bygone eras have known this struggle. And yeah, I think there's some issues of self-love involved… to go beyond the exterior. If LW1 is so artistic I am sure that she can find many works of art that are even more compelling that the human figure. Beauty is transcendent, that's the whole point. It isn't locked into one little box.

Jolly (#245,185)

Dorian: get a fucking hobby.

serahfray (#245,844)

there is only one way to curve this fear my friend and its to find a guy or girl to make you feel timeless to appreciate your growth into a more beautiful being maybe a poet as is my boyfriend

cendare (#245,885)

LW1 reminds me of how I watched Chocolat twice, separated by several years. The first time, I was sooooo into the Johnny Depp character, and I was mournful like "he's so gorgeous and beautiful and I'll never have anyone like that in my life, why god why?" The second time I was all "Yep, he's Johnny Depp, he's good looking and stuff, but his character is a little boring and confusing." I guess I'm saying beauty gets put in perspective. It is just a thing; there are other things. Diversify your portfolio.

Datdamwuf (#242,925)

LW1, you remind me of Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" quote about the Rodin statue – he wrote that in the 1950s. You really need to value who you are, not what you look like. Here's a link to the statue and the quote:

rural 14 (#246,915)

Quite shocked at a lot of this.
I'm 53
A transplanted New Yorker.
A man, so yes, far different BUT hear me out -

Periodically, for work, I lose that last 10 – 15 lbs, and from working outside, get really tan & quietly muscly. & with my full head of genetically lucky thick hair / no baldness- my wife and I are treated far differently – we get the 'celebrity treatment' , fancy tables, comped on clothing sometimes, extra this and that, right past the velvet rope…and it's not because we're so feckin good looking, but it's that we're a little different looking, but that we seem to beam our happiness with each other out beyond each other / and the combination is what people respond to (the wife likewise from doing the same work gets fit; we often get asked if we're from Iceland! & if she is Bjork, which is feckin' hilarious). This both in New York City, and in other big cities, less so in our own village where people know us and like us (or not) for who we are, rather than for the projected handsomeness / beauty.

And it's awful….we both feel on the spot, on display; people are not interacting with the real us, but with an image of how they perceive us ("beautiful people"). And so both of us are oddly grateful to recede back into the morass of normality in the US, slightly rounded, not tan out of season, etc etc.

To turn the high beams down.

Being singled out for your looks is a horrible feeling; and so weird that we're able to turn it on and off.

Far better to be happy with the one you're with. The world is horrible and shallow / validation comes from within

I am Onika from U.K I want to give great appreciation to the great man named prophet Abayotor who helped me in getting back my love who left me for 3years within 48hours, after been scammed by some fake spell casters which made away with my money. i was watching my television when i saw a woman giving thanks to this great man for what he has done for her, although i have been scammed by so many spell casters but i still decided to contact him.I told him everything that happened and he just laughed over it and told me that my love will be back within the next 24hours at first i was full of doubt until the next 48 hours i had a call by unknown number i did not even think if he would be my love the next thing i could hear on the phone was my love pleading and begging me to forgive him and he promised not to hurt me till the rest of his life. I was so surprised and at the same time i was filled with joy and happiness, i did not waste anytime in accepting him because that was what i have been looking for, after calling, in the next 2hours time he came to my house and still pleading and begging me to forgive him the must surprising thing was that he gave me access to his account and everything that he have, for me to know that he is not going to leave me for any reason. Now we are living happily than ever before. So i want to use this opportunity to let the world to know that there are people in this world sent from God to help people to get back there husband e.g people like Prophet Abayotor, sir you are a great man. In case you want to thank him for me or you need his help you can contact him through his private mail: Once again thank you very much sir.

jamesbond007 (#273,930)

I really think that the OP who wrote the question of worried about losing her looks in her 30s! I was say the best thing to say would be 'get used to it' – and it's only your opinion that you're 'conventionally attractive" – that surely is one of the most vain, deluded things I've ever heard. What does it mean exactly? You're only conventionally attractive if everyone thinks so, but trust me there will always be people out there that don't think you're attractive. Looks don't last forever anyway, so you need to get used to it and get a life. Harsh but true. What's the alternative? Pathetic really. There's even women in their 40s that are good looking – Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Beckinsale, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Mariah Carey, Sandra Bullock, Tina Fey. I could go on and on, but I won't. Hope you're not self loathing as you're now 31.

jamesbond007 (#273,930)

I really think that the OP who wrote the question of worried about losing her looks in her 30s! I was say the best thing to say would be 'get used to it' – and it's only your opinion that you're 'conventionally attractive" – that surely is one of the most vain, deluded things I've ever heard. What does it mean exactly? You're only conventionally attractive if everyone thinks so, but trust me there will always be people out there that don't think you're attractive. Looks don't last forever anyway, so you need to get used to it and get a life. Harsh but true. What's the alternative? Pathetic really. There's even women in their 40s that are good looking – Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Beckinsale, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Mariah Carey, Sandra Bullock, Tina Fey. I could go on and on, but I won't. Hope you're not self loathing as you're now 31.

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ashley76 (#280,524)

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