On Turning 35: Lines I’ve Never Seen.
Catapulting toward age 35, I’ve become increasingly aware of my physical appearance.
This has surely been made worse by the extra time on my hands, thanks to the quarantine. To be fair, it’s always been top of mind for me. Despite the fact that I wear little to no makeup, I’m surprisingly vain. This new awareness is different. It’s not about how I look in photographs, although I still have a critical eye on those. It’s about lines I’ve never seen until I noticed them on other people.
I follow an online community that focuses on skin care after 30. Posts abound about all sorts of lines I have never thought to consider: lines on your face from sleeping against a pillow, lines on your chest from shoving your arm up and under your head at night. Lines are created by letting your breasts hang tenuously unsupported as you slumber. If you put a pillow between them, it will minimize the damage.
Peering at a stranger’s decolletage, I nod to myself.
“Yes,” I think, “I see the ‘arm over the head’ line. I see that this woman has not properly supported her breasts while unconscious.”
I imagine the last time I lingered in front of the mirror, and can see in my mind’s eye the collection of ringed lines around my chest and neck. Truthfully, this is the least of the transgressions I’ve committed against my skin.
Scorching my pale complexion under the UV glow of tanning beds led to a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis at 32. Mohs surgery on my face resulted in a barely perceptible, silvery scar on my left cheekbone. I leave it uncovered, an insistent reminder to wear sunscreen year round.
Maybe it’s this experience that has shaped my response to the newly discovered lines.
Sleeping is so innocuous, so necessary to survival. I can’t choose to not fall asleep; it will overtake my body no matter how hard I fight to keep my eyes open.
Indoor tanning, on the other hand, was a conscious choice, one that I made after knowledge of the dangers was widely known. I had to make a decision to go to the salon, sign an agreement, hand over my credit card, take off my clothes, put on my goggles, and climb into the bed.
These new lines, however, have me perplexed. Has it really come to this? Have we become so committed to anti-aging that we must police our bodies even as we sleep?
Further, let’s think about who is included in this we who spend their time pondering how to keep their faces off the pillow at night. How many straight, cisgender men have noticed these lines on their bodies? How many have googled “skin care after 30” and found an online community that has hundreds of recommended products and routines?
Don’t get me wrong, I love skin care.
It feels truly luxurious to treat my face that was baked under carcinogenic rays with the respect it deserves. I have a daytime serum, moisturizer, and color-correcting sunscreen that I pat carefully into my freshly washed skin. I use a totally different moisturizer at night. I have an entire basket of face masks. I keep an industrial-sized tub of body lotion at the ready on my dresser.
My issue is not with skin care. It can be a beautiful form of self-care.
What rankles here is that society still places so much value on the appearance of people who are not men that creams and serums are not enough.
The internet would have me believe that really caring for my skin after 30 means being vigilant at all times about how my actions might be impacting my epidermis, and therefore my worth to the world at large. Simple, ordinary actions like being comfortable in my sleep have been deemed consequential.
I refuse to equate having cancer scraped off my face with lines on my chest. I refuse to buy into the idea that a breast pillow is as necessary as sunscreen. I refuse to believe that caring for my skin means avoiding any signs that I am a living being who uses her body. A living being who lets herself relax in her sleep.
Let’s be thankful for what we have: living, breathing, moving bodies that interact with the world around us. Let’s view skin care as self-care, rather than a necessity to put the brakes on aging and ensure our worth.