I love Nora Ephron’s book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. I have been feeling bad about my neck since I was about 55. As the years passed, my feelings grew as my weight increased and my necked sagged. All my photos are full face – no side shots allowed.
At 62 I had a consult with a plastic surgeon. When I told him I wanted to lose weight, he told me to wait on the surgery until I reached my weight loss goal – no point in sucking out the fat, cutting the muscles and stretching the skin just to have it sag again on an otherwise svelte neck – assuming I actually lost the weight.
Soon I’ll be 68 and my weight loss goal is almost complete (btw, eliminating alcohol can do that for you). So I decided it was time to head back to the plastic surgeon (who btw, seemed to have gained the weight I lost). I learned that the procedure would cost $8500 and I’d need to spend at least 2 weeks recovering. Incisions would be made to suction out the fat, tighten the muscles and pull back the skin. There would be pain and suffering and I’d have to keep my head bound and elevated even during sleep – assuming I was lucky enough to catch a few winks in such an altered state.
So now that I’m just about ready to go under the knife, something unforeseen happened recently while reading in bed.
As I do most nights, I was lying on my side in bed reading my kindle before going to sleep. Rather than pull my nightgown sleeve down to avoid looking at my arm (the reason I wear long sleeves to bed), for some unknown reason, I pushed it up and began to study this appendage as if it were not actually mine but rather part of a sculpture in a museum.
I noticed that when I lowered the hand, certain veins popped out. I also noticed random wrinkles lining the skin over its knuckles and finger bones. I followed the patterns the brown spots made around the web between the thumb and forefinger and around the wrist. The recently suntanned skin accentuated the changes wrought by time and the little wave-like wrinkles covering the part of my forearm that sagged while held upright.
Looking at the hand reminded me of looking at my mother’s hands years ago. I remember how I liked all her wandering rope-like veins, spots and almost translucent skin. I would tell her how much character her hands conveyed. She’d retrieve her hands and shoo me away with a comment about wishing she could cover them with gloves.
As I studied my hand, I noticed the same crisscrossed vein that my mother had. It was in the same spot on each of our right hands. Why was it that I thought this vein design was beautiful on my mother’s hand but ugly on my own? Why was it that “character” in an aging body was a badge of honor for others but shameful for me? Maybe I was looking at my body through the wrong lens. Maybe it was time to change my perspective. Maybe it was time to appreciate rather than criticize.
Contemplating my new insight, I remembered a pencil sketch that I bought many years ago at a roadside stand in Baja. It was a portrait of a wizened old man wearing a sombrero and smoking a cigarette. Deep lines circled his eyes and jutted out from his mouth telling the story of a life lived hard in Mexico’s sunbaked climate. I loved that drawing because in the face, and particularly the eyes, one could imagine the story of how a young boy became an old man – a tale of survival in each crevice on his face.
It occurred to me that no one gets old without his or her body showing wear. Smooth skin, without the marks of living, has no tale to tell. Sun darkened skin with spots, ruts, veins and wrinkles could be considered the map of that person’s life journey.
Having stumbled upon this new truth, I am beginning to learn how to embrace the body that has carried my spirit these past 68 years.
I wish to embrace the legs that helped me explore the world while I walked, biked, skied and danced.
I wish to embrace the hands that clapped, wrote stories, trimmed sails and held other hands.
I wish to embrace the arms that held my baby when she was born and my father when he died.
I wish to embrace the face that has laughed, cried, and witnessed love and loss.
I wish to embrace the body, both naked and clothed, of a 68-year-old woman who is still able to enjoy a full life.
And lastly, as my perspective is changing, I wish to embrace my neck as it holds my head high savoring my last act (and spending that $8500 on new adventures both near and far).