Thinking of Having Some "Work" Done? Read This First.
Plus, an "Ask Val" Q&A, VOL. 1
Today, we’re going to try an exercise that can help you feel more beautiful as you age. Yes, I said today, to those of you who’ve already agreed to try this someday. You remind me of a time at O, The Oprah Magazine, when we tried to get readers to sign a pledge promising that they’d be more mindful of their proclivity to criticize their appearance and to stop it. I think we even offered a certificate. Sadly, it wasn’t our most successful beauty initiative. Why? Because it’s hard.
But we can do it together.
From the time we start recognizing ourselves in our reflection, we (females, mostly) are taught to objectify what we see—in other words, to treat our face (and body) as an object to be evaluated and adorned. This is called the theory of objectification. So, instead of actually seeing ourselves the same way we see people who aren’t us, we only see what we think others see. If that’s not the opposite of a good idea, I don’t know what is. And because what’s promoted as attractive or beautiful in our mainstream culture is still limited—overwhelmingly Caucasian-featured even when skin tone is dark, and very youth-oriented—we might find it increasingly difficult to avoid being critical about what we see in the mirror.
It’s what you project onto your reflection that determines how you evaluate it. For example, have you noticed that you are, like me, generally fine with how you look when you feel accomplished and respected but worried about looking raggedy when you feel insecure?
If you can unlearn what you have learned, if you can look at yourself without objectifying, your face becomes just another face—with small blue eyes or large brown ones, a ski-jump nose or a long narrow one—that no one is judging. And when you can look into your own eyes long enough to allow emotions to rise up and to stay present with them, you will have the same response to yourself as you would when looking into a friend’s eyes as she confesses her most intimate feelings. If you’re the kind of friend I think you are, what you’d be doing is called deep listening. It’s one of the kindest things you can do for another person. Only today you’re doing it for yourself. It’s about time.
Now for the fun. Mirror gazing (or mirror meditation) encourages you to remove the other, the inner critic, who’s with you whenever you look in the glass. Once you get past the initial self-consciousness, skepticism, and reluctance (keep at it and you will), I think you’ll find this small exercise to be a life-changing experience.
Here’s what you’re going to do. (I’ve adapted this from Healthline.com)
1. Lock yourself in the bathroom. (Oh, you already have? Ahead of the game!) Or find a quiet spot with a mirror where you can easily see your eyes. (Don’t use a magnifying mirror; you’ll want to tweeze your eyebrows.)
2. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes.
3. Look directly into your own eyes. You’re going to find that you’ll switch looking from eye to eye, and you may want to move closer or further from the mirror to be comfortable.
4. Track your thoughts and feelings. The first time I did this, my thoughts were something like, “You’re an idiot, this is going nowhere, etc.” But practice this exercise consistently and that will change. When I did it just now, tears came up right away: pent-up Covid grief, I think.
Did you try it? Congratulations! You just took your first step toward seeing yourself with loving awareness. As with any exercise, you’re unlikely to detect results right away. You have to be disciplined. Do it when you get out of the shower or before bed. But do it consistently.
Tara Well, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Barnard College in New York City, studies the effects of mirror meditation. She’s found that 10 minutes a day can increase self-compassion and self-awareness and, not incidentally, increase satisfaction with appearance. Translation: You, too, can learn to love your face.
Find out more about Dr. Well’s work here.
Finally! Some questions! Yes, you, Miss? The reader in the back with the fancy razor strop.
Q: What’s the best way to deal with facial foliage, aka kitty whiskers?
A: You may know that the ratio of estrogen to testosterone changes as we age. Diminished estrogen levels mean more unopposed testosterone, so we grow more hair where men do, namely on our faces. It happens. So, though there are many reasons to be alarmed these days, seeing more strays on your face isn’t one of them. And by the way, if facial fur doesn’t bother you, do as the Beatles say and let it be, let it be.
But if every once in a while, or even regularly, you’re unhappy to find a few dark (or white) hairs on your upper lip or chin, it’s fine to whack them off with a blade. (Don’t tweeze them; that’s more likely to irritate your skin.) I like these because how could you not, with a name like Tinkle?
One morning at an O, The Oprah Magazine editorial meeting, one of my magnificent colleagues happened to mention that many women where she grew up in the South regularly shaved their faces. I wish you could’ve seen the reaction of the other 12 or 15 of us. I, for one, suddenly saw this Southern belle very differently.
Since then, I’ve met many women who’ve shaved their faces (often in the shower, often in secret) all their adult lives. If you’re one of them, and you’re happy with the results, bless you.
Shaving your face in secret, though, makes me think of shame—and about why having hair on your face might make you feel ashamed. I want to refer you to an earlier post and to encourage you to contribute to a conversation in the comments about what you think about this. I’ll start: Anything that doesn’t conform to mainstream ideas about femininity can make us feel like deviants. The beguilingly hirsute naturalist Charles Darwin might say hair growing where it wouldn’t typically grow on a female—no matter how old she is—sends a mild shock through our hard wiring because it indicates something “off” about fertility (and advancement of the species). Interesting idea, Chaz. You’ll be hearing more about him later.
Once in a while, marketing geniuses, unawares, save the day. Not too long ago they replaced the word “shaving” with “dermaplaning,” the result of which was that the act of removing hair from your face became an acceptable—even coveted—beauty treatment. There’s no downside (or should I say, downyside) to shaving or dermaplaning says New York City dermatologist Doris J Day, MD; the hair on your face feels soft because it’s been there forever. Shave it and it might feel a bit coarser but not appreciably.
Laser hair removal works only for some of us. It's not effective on white, blonde, red, or light hair (that’s a rabbit hole for another time), and you’ll need up to six to eight treatments along with occasional maintenance appointments. Please see a bona fide MD because you must have an evaluation before any session with a laser. And if you’re olive- or dark-skinned you have to be extremely careful because the wrong type of laser can cause post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (a dark stain) or a burn. But the 1064 NdYag laser works well to remove dark hair on dark skin says Brooke Jackson, MD, a Durham, NC, dermatologist. It takes three to five treatments and then maintenance treatments every few months.
Electrolysis—a procedure in which the follicle is destroyed by heat through an electrical current—is a good solution for stray hairs, but it's not great for large areas, because…ouchie!
Dara Levy, founder of a hair removal and exfoliation device, says she developed the Dermaflash because it’s designed to remove vellus hair—the fuzz women have on their faces—rather than coarse terminal hair, which is what men have. She is an extremely persuasive proponent of the device and I noticed on Dermaflash’s Instagram that there seem to be many women (of all ethnicities) who are happy with their results. I personally can’t vouch for it as I haven’t tried it, but if you’re uncomfortable with your facial fuzz, it might be worth a look. She’s offering a 20% discount for one week on the Dermaflash Luxe Anti-Aging, Exfoliation & Peach Fuzz Removal Device with code VAL20 at checkout.
Another beloved dermatologist once told me that if you can’t see the hair on your face from an arm’s length away, don’t bother with it. I used to agree, but not anymore. Why? Because the things I can’t see now from an arm’s length away are vast and legion. Who knows? I could be obliviously sporting a van dyke. A quick bi-weekly check-in with a magnifying mirror and my dainty Tinkle does the trick for now.
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