Welcome readers, especially the large crowd of boisterous newcomers! We’re in a wide open space, so no shoving, please, and no need to wear a mask. But please do tap that little ❤️ above, which generates a gentle breeze that continuously freshens the air.
This post comes to you with a wide Duchenne smile—that’s the one that engages your eyes, not just your mouth. You’re able to see the Duchenne smile on the subject below, because though she chooses to have bi-annual neuromodulator injections in her forehead, she refuses to minimize the crows’ feet around her eyes.
So when she smiles, the upper half of her face is engaged with the lower half. Why is this important? Studies show smiling can create a neurological loop that actually lifts your mood. One study showed that the Duchenne smile had the greatest effect (out of all kinds of smiles) in lowering one’s heart rate after a stressful activity.
Keep your crows’ feet. They’re the least unbeautiful wrinkles.
There’s also a selfish reason this post is delivered with a smile. Sure, I want you to feel happy. But a study has shown that, as Arthur C. Brooks mentions in a recent column for The Atlantic, happiness can increase our attractiveness, making it more likely we’ll be rewarded by others (hello, readers!). If this strikes you as one of those “no-brainer” study conclusions, me too. But when you think about it in terms of aging and attractiveness, there are some interesting implications.
Because if happiness increases attractiveness, aren’t we in a sinking boat if we feel, as many of us do, that our appearance is making us unhappy as we age? The more I considered this, the more I found myself drowning in an eddy of circular thinking and confusing emotions. What to do? What to do? When I finally came up for air, I still felt a little dizzy. Maybe because facelifts were on my mind.
I think if a facelift will make you happy, and you can afford it, then go for it; it’s a practical way to provide yourself with a temporary happiness fix. The same goes for less invasive treatments like neuromodulator injections, filler (if that works for you—but choose your injector carefully), and other in-office aesthetic procedures.
Though my personal goal is to have healthy-looking skin, there are aspects of my age (soon to be 72) manifesting like jowling and fine lines and wrinkles. Another manifestation of aging is that the corners of our mouth droop, making us look impatient or fretful when we’re not—intensifying, especially if we’re already prone to it, resting bitch face (RBF). That situation is exacerbated by an unfortunate combination of gravity, bone loss, and reduced soft tissue volume. Neuromodulator injections and filler can help lift the corners of your mouth, but I’m not into injections in that area, because there’s a slight risk of losing the ability to enunthiate thertain conthonanths. (I’m super low-risk on the procedures scale.)
I can see what many doctors—and probably you—would call “flaws” in my RBF (not to mention my neck, yeesh). Sometimes when I catch my reflection in a harsh light, it actually scares me; how can I be this person who looks so much older than I feel? The dissonance is jarring. But like a blue mood, it passes. When I need to goose its exit, I look into my own eyes till I can see myself again—oh, there you are! And then the thought of taking a knife to my face or neck feels like a beheading. It is not the thing that lifts my spirits.
I’ve pored over—as many of you likely have—before-and-after photos of women who’ve had various kinds of surgeries, including upper and lower eyelifts and facelifts. And often, though I can see a difference, the difference doesn’t seem significant enough to consider surgery myself. My friends who’ve had facelifts say they were compelled because they hated—hated, a strong word—one specific thing about their appearance, most often their neck (which shows aging quickly because the skin is thin and exposed); or they say they look tired or angry when they’re not. They’re all women who thoroughly understand the poisons of sexism, paternalism, and all the other “isms” that snake through our unhealthy, confining beauty culture. Still, their choice made them happy.
But I also want to point out something I’ve previously mentioned that’s critical: Research has shown that facelifts won’t necessarily result in happiness because you look more attractive—because maybe you will and maybe you won’t. Your pleasure will come from your own belief that you’re more attractive. And since confidence begets confidence, you may enjoy a cascade of positive effects thanks to your new conviction.
Another study found the biggest correlation between beauty and success was not with objective but rather self-perceived attractiveness. So what contributes most impactfully to success? Confidence. And where you get yours from—choosing a flash of skin-toning laser, choosing a facelift, choosing neither of those—doesn’t really matter, does it? As long as you know why you made your choice and you’re content with it. For now, I’ve made mine: In spite of the cumulative and unwelcome adornments of age, it seems I’m as attached to this face as I am to the heart that beats below it.
I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating, especially to the flock of new readers. Your appearance is not a good stock in which to throw all your investments. It has a predictable payout—and one day, you’ll lose most of what you put into it. My best advice: If you’re going to play the game, keep your portfolio well diversified.
I talk to my mother every day—sometimes several times a day.
She’s dead, almost four years. But I see her increasingly in my face and body, which, now that she’s gone, has fostered a new and unexpected (and complex) connection. If you’ve lost your mother, do you know what I mean? The comments section awaits your response. 🙏
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have asked if I get a cut from sales when I mention a beauty product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation.
How Not to F*ck Up Your Face is a reader-financed publication. To receive all new posts and support my work—have I saved you at least $50 in skincare?—please become a paid subscriber.
Book Club News: New book about a rich lady who lived a long time!
Though I’ve been a latecomer to audiobooks, once I discovered them I couldn’t get enough. I borrow them from the public library, but as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the library snatches them back before I can finish. So I'm happy to share I'm partnering with Chirp to organize an audiobook club of biographies and memoirs called “Unfiltered Women.” Two things: It’s free to subscribe and Chirp offers great deals. Plus, you obviously get to keep the book to listen to at your leisure.
Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick we’ll listen to together. You’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on the book a few weeks later and hear what other readers thought, too. My third pick is the biography Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend by the superb reporter Meryl Gordon. I’m not alone in wondering what it’s like to be remarkably rich (consider the success of shows about the Kardashians and the “real” housewives). I don’t watch those shows, but I do love to read about the wealthiest of the wealthy. For me, the story of Bunny Mellon—a serious, high-society horticulturist (she designed the White House Rose Garden), patron of the arts, and wife of multimillionaire Paul Mellon—is like a piece of chocolate cake; I don’t want a steady diet of it, but it’s delicious. How well-off was she? Though she owned many homes (in the Caribbean, Paris, New York, Cape Cod, and Nantucket), her main residence was a 4,000-acre estate in Virginia with its own mile-long airstrip to accommodate her private plane. Unlike some other socialites of her time like Slim Keith, Mellon was not a great beauty. But she surrounded herself with beautiful things: gorgeous table settings, magnificent bouquets, exquisite gardening outfits designed by Balenciaga and Givenchy. The most satisfying takeaway from this account of a long and privileged life (Mellon lived to 103)? In spite of the opportunities open to them, the rich are no happier than you or me.
To get started, go to chirpbooks.com/val and press FOLLOW to join my club. (Again, it’s free and there is NO commitment.)
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to email@example.com. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
So far I'm pretty ok with my aging face (I'm almost 61). I do get an occasional surprise glimpse of a stern stranger in a reflection and then I smile at her and she smiles back :)
I AM smiling as I read this, Val, engaging the upper part of my face . . . . and the lower part, also my ears, navel, and feet.
A wonderful essay today! Thank you!