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As I was getting ready for bed tonight, I was staring at my face in the mirror. This is nothing new for me, this obsessing over my reflection. It’s especially easy during my nighttime routine, which currently involves a vitamin c cream (to lighten up any areas that are darker due to sun damage or age; I have a few near the left side of my jaw that have been bothering me lately) and a firming cream. Sometimes I mix things up and use retinol (to fight off any encroaching wrinkles) and various other serums. Lots of magic in little bottles, or at least that’s always the hope. The nature of these products causes me to focus on the areas they are meant to improve. While I’m staring (often in a magnifying mirror, which I cannot in good conscience recommend), I often notice other flaws… hairs in places I prefer they not be, areas that look less firm than I wish they were. I am glad products and tools to improve all these perceived problems exist, but I do wonder if it’s possible that they cause women to focus on the negative a bit too much. They’re certainly never advertised as existing to “improve your already stunningly gorgeous face.”

Ad admission: objectively, there isn’t much wrong with my skin. Yes, I am 44 years old, so my skin doesn’t look like that of a 20-year-old, sadly. But it’s relatively firm and mostly wrinkle-free. There are some fine lines on my forehead that bother me a bit, hence the retinol. But seriously, I have little to complain about. Good genes. As much as I tried to screw up my pale Irish complexion with repeated episodes of sun-drenched torture, I didn’t quite succeed. I can pretty much guarantee that no one else notices the things I do, especially given that no one else on earth is looking at my face with the aid of a magnifying mirror. My skin is still fair, and the fat I wish would vacate other areas of my body does me favors in my face. While I have never adored its round shape, I admit it makes me look younger than I would otherwise.

My skin has always been my friend, even if I was too naive to realize it. I never struggled with teenage acne (and rarely even had a pimple), and I have always looked significantly younger than my age. It makes me sad now to remember myself at 15, staring in similar mirrors with so little joy. I had friends who would have killed for my skin back then, and probably still do. But then as now I tended to only notice the flaws. Are we all like that? Do most teenagers stare in the mirror and revel in their current glory? I tend to doubt it. When someone remarks with surprise over my age now, I smile and say thanks, but inside I am thinking that I used to look so much younger than my true age… sometimes up to eight years younger. Now if I’m lucky people think I’m a few years younger. I should still be grateful for that, and I try, but it’s difficult. Vanity.

What hit me tonight was that I had better learn to revel in what I’ve got, right now, because I am in fact 44 years old, and magical bottles aside my face isn’t going to improve from here. I mean, I suppose if I had money I could consider plastic surgery, but from what I have seen that rarely truly improves things. And don’t even talk to me about Botox. I watch TV shows in which the foreheads of the actresses never move, and I find it disconcerting, and sometimes creepy. I’m also a total needlephobe, and the idea of someone sticking a needle in my face is very, very frightening. The stuff of nightmares. Not for me. So from my angle, it’s all about acceptance and seizing the moment. I don’t look 44… on a good day I don’t even look 40. I shouldn’t complain.

A long time ago, a recovering anorexic who had returned to a normal weight was telling a story about coming to find acceptance with her new, healthy body. She said she was in the dressing room glaring at herself in the mirror when she suddenly realized this was it, this was the body she had now, and that was a good thing, even if it was hard for her to deal with it. So she looked in the mirror again, bent down and hugged her own legs. “You are my legs, and I love you,” she announced out loud to her reflection. She then made a habit of doing that, giving her new body those much-needed affirmations. I never forgot her story. It really struck a chord.

“You are my face, and I love you.” That wasn’t so bad, was it? Maybe if I say it a few hundred more times….