Vanity

Farmland elementary school. Named for the vast and plentiful fields they bulldozed to build my neighborhood. Me: eleven years old, sixth grade. My class produced a play—a scene from an Arthurian Court. My role was the Court Page. My single line: “Ho, the royal nurse!” which I couldn’t say properly. I couldn’t pronounce the letter R. On a warm and sunny fall day, we practiced our performance outdoors on the recess field.

Our student teacher, blonde, thin, twenty-one, got my full attention. Awaiting my turn to recite my one line, sitting on the bleachers by the baseball field, the student teacher massaged my shoulders and neck. My summer skin—three months of tan and grime from beaches and bicycling through the woods—peeled off in her hands like pieces of dried mud. “Eww, don’t you ever use a washcloth?” All heads turned towards me.

No, I didn’t. Today, the back of my neck is a deep brown stain. I have bad posture, short hair. The dark skin is the result of a lifetime of sun (and possibly poor hygiene). A few years ago, I tried to rejuvenate my neck. I tried to bring the tone in line with the rest of my skin. I applied a product from the Walmart beauty section every morning. A chemical soaked round pad, similar to the ones I used as a teen to cleanse my face, the medicine I used to minimize zits. It kind of hurt—the stuff for my neck. I envisioned an acid burning away my old leather shell. Creating space for new pink skin. I never finished the pack.

Liver. Growing up I associated this word with old people. Post-menopausal women, my grandmother included, ate liver. And my grandfather, he had liver spots on his hands and arms. I’m not sure if the expression liver spot is still in use. I remember it from my childhood, the sixties. I think the accepted term now is age spots, although when I googled it, one of the synonyms was senile freckles.

As a child, I thought age spots were only on old people. What seems old to a six-year-old? I’m not talking old people like the ones who have kids. I’m talking about people whose kids have kids. When I was a kid, my grandparents were in their sixties. You know, old.

This morning, typing on my computer, I noticed the prevalence of age spots on my hands. My hands are not beautiful. They’re wrinkly. I have tufts of hair on each finger just above my knuckles. Scars show from ancient self-harm. Moles sprout thick white hairs. Veins and tendons bulge from my skin and squirm like worms when I move my fingers. And then there are the age spots. I suppose they’ve been there for a while. Maybe I’ve even noticed them before, but I never associated them with oldness.

I know they’re caused by the sun, and I’ve spent infinite hours running and bicycling outside. And weeks at the beach in the sixties and seventies—a time when sunblock was called suntan lotion. People wore SPF 4 or nothing. I should wear my age spots with the pride of an active life. But today for some reason, I just think they make me look old. The stain I wrote about earlier wraps around each side of my neck to the base of my jaw. Faint spots are visible on my temples and cheeks. Look at me, my skin is damaged.

I know there are procedures to rejuvenate skin. Chemical peels and microdermabrasion are two recommended for the discolorations I’m so concerned about today. With a chemical peel, an acid solution eats away at the skin. Dermabrasion seems more natural; the doctor just sands away the outer layers.

I’m sort of shocked to find myself writing about this. Historically I haven’t cared much about my looks. I’ve been more focused on my health, which with the exception of my eyes and ears (and I guess my skin) has been excellent. I’m guessing this vanity will pass. I spent a good bit of yesterday contemplating my age in an essay I wrote about mountain biking. I think I have a writing hangover. But more frequently, I’m encountering my mortal self. I’m looking for external validation that the aging process hasn’t yet hit me. But look at my skin, it has.

27 thoughts on “Vanity

  1. I’m unlucky enough to have liver spots/age spots right under my eyes, which give the appearance of constant dark circles/tired eyes. Spots are starting to appear on my hands as well. I don’t like them, I admit, but I’m trying to view them as proof of a life well-lived rather than something negative. Right…. Still working on that. Nice post, Jeff; thanks. A reminder that aging isn’t for wimps.

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  2. I super admire your truth and vulnerability in this post, Jeff. It’s comforting to know that we’re all going through this, the transformation of aging. We’re so hard on our physical selves, ego rules our society. We’re not allowed to age with grace/respect for all we’ve been through and learned. What a trip life is. I don’t have liver spots (yet), but I have grey hair and I carry more weight, (I used to have an amazingly fast metabolism). When I pass my reflection now I can see the image of my grandmother. It’s a bittersweet thing because I loved her but I don’t want to appear as a grandmother yet 🙂. But despite it all, I think there’s a humble kind of beauty that’s still evident in all of us aging folks; visible to those that are wise enough to recognize it.

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      • Ha yes! I think being called Sir or Mam used to be a sign of respect, now it’s almost insulting 😀, I feel even sillier though when I’m called Miss by a younger person, I think they’re trying to be polite, ignoring my grey hair.

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  3. Reading about live sports reminds me of the commercials on TV for a magic vanishing cream. I wanted that cream so I could vanish my freckles which I hated all through my childhood and teens.
    Now I’ve got spots, moles, wrinkles, grey hairs… also “old lady bird skin” on my forearms. It tears a lot easier than it ever used to.
    How can all this be possible when in my mind I’m still 30ish? How can I have a daughter approaching her 31st birthday?

    When I DO think about the wrinkles and spots I tell myself they are evidence of a life well lived. It mostly works.

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  4. SPF 4 and only if it was an oil to help you tan. My dad used to have a boat and we would spend so many hours out on the water fishing. And neither of us ever wore sunscreen. I got my shrug for it from him. He just had skin cancer removed from his nose last year. And I have so many wrinkles forming way too early. My shoulders wrinkle like an 80 year old when I lift my arm and the wrinkles under my eyes – from just facing the sun looking for a tan. I can’t tell you how many creams and different wrinkle remover promises I have bought through the years. A lot.

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    • Hmm. Maybe you should write a vanity post too. I think what my skin has going for it is it’s sort of an olive Mediterranean skin tone to start with. Maybe better suited to sun. I don’t burn often.

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  5. “… a time when sunblock was called suntan lotion. People wore SPF 4 or nothing.” Lol so true!! I remember my friends and I slathering our skin in baby oil (!!!), their skin could handle it but mine sure couldn’t; but I purposely would burn since I figured that’s the only way I’d eventually get a tan. Brutal. And even Bob Marley died of skin cancer. 😢Now it’s SPF 50 for me on my nose and v-neck and shoulders every single morning, for about six months of the year.

    I got a pang of sadness reading about that student teacher’s behaviour. Very uncool!!!

    Old people rock.

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  6. Yeah, I’ve had liver spots and moles and basal cell carcinoma and more weird things for years now. I do hope you have a dermatologist check your skin at least once a year. Not-so-lucky me, I have strip down twice a year and let the doc inspect every corner of me.

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  7. Funny to read this today after my evening last night inspecting the bulging veins of my foot as I waited to tuck my son into bed.
    The looked horrific really, blue branching bulges of bloody rivers. I imagined slicing them open, not because I wanted to hurt myself but because they seemed like alien invaders just beneath my otherwise smooth skin. Just as I was stinking my nose in disgust my brain shifted. Those wonderful things, those bulbous, snaky sapphire things, are magical deliverance mechanisms. I couldn’t quite see them as beautiful, but like you, I saw them as something signifying something else. They’re my veins, unlovely, but mine.

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    • Did you take mushrooms last night? You’re right. There are many unbeautiful parts of the body that do beautiful things. I’m thankful that mine all still work, but they could try a little harder to look nice.

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  8. What. No crepey skin? That’s my issue. Years ago, when my skin was younger and I was teaching kindergarten, I had a student who loved to pinch that crepey skin on the older teacher assistant in my room. I didn’t get it then. I have tried it on my own arm once in recent years. I can see the fascination in watching the pinched ridge of skin peppered with senile freckles slowly retreat back to where it belongs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve got the crepey skin thing going on but not on my hands. Just my forearms and my shins. I swear that skin tears like wet paper. Any time you read a statistic on my blog, you should assume it’s made up, but I think I always fess up about that. It’s hard to make it as a blogger. I have another (anonymous) blog that I use to write “sensitive” content. Much of it is about autism. I thought using Autism and ASD as a tag was going to guarantee hundreds of readers. More like two. There used to be a weekly blog event called community pool where new bloggers shared their posts with one another. It’s where I met most of my initial followers. WordPress discontinued it a few years ago. I honestly don’t know why. I’m pretty sure it’s where I met Robyn.

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