Welcome to the rush of new readers who’ve landed here in the past couple of weeks! Please help yourselves to a drink, have a look around, and if you think you want to hang for a bit, tap that little ❤️ above. It takes you out of yourself so you can feel One with the magnificent colors of fall.
Speaking of which—feeling One, not foliage—there was a story in The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago that coincides with a point I’ve made here early and often. In his “How to Build a Life” column, Arthur Brooks discusses the implications of self-objectification. I’ve written about the way self-objectification relates to how not to f*ck up your face—and I’m bringing it up again because it’s important to something that’s important to me: your happiness.
From the time we first look at ourselves in a mirror, we (girls, mostly) are encouraged to see our faces as something—thing being critical here—to be manipulated in order to please an outside observer, likely the male gaze. In that way, we learn to objectify our face and—to telescope a somewhat complex process into a fine point—disassociate our personhood from our reflection. Here’s what Brooks says about one of the consequences of self-objectification:
Seeing yourself as an object rather than a subject can…lower your performance in ordinary tasks. Researchers have found in learning experiments that people are less likely to try new things when they are focused on themselves.
And on the subject of mirrors:
…mirrors are not your friend. They help even the healthiest people objectify themselves; for people with self-image-related maladies, they can be sheer misery. In 2001, researchers studying people with body dysmorphic disorder (those who think obsessively about perceived flaws in their bodies) found that the longest time the participants spent looking in the mirror (and thus focusing on the source of their distress) was 3.4 times longer than the longest mirror-gazing session of those who didn’t have the disorder.
Though Brooks suggests we simply eschew mirrors—an idea far more practical (if not socially-rewarding) for a 58-year-old man than for most of us—we can learn to look at our reflection in a way that nourishes rather than starves our self-esteem. It’s called mirror meditation, and you can read about it here. After you’ve read about it, Just Do It. Then, Just Do It again. And again, till you actually see the person who lives behind your face.
You’ll find a great benefit of not seeing yourself as an object to be admired (or criticized!) is that it allows you to become an active gazer rather than a passive gazed-at. What does this mean? It means becoming engaged with the world in a new way. This, for me, was one of the brilliant results of becoming a looker rather than only a looked-at. To start with the basics, you may have noticed already that our eyes are a magician’s trick (though if you’re like me, think too long about how eyes work and your head will explode). A wonderment, no? This brings me to another of Brooks’ points:
In his research, the UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner focuses on the experience of awe, which he defines as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” Among its many benefits, Keltner has found, awe diminishes the sense of self. For example, in one study, he and his colleagues asked people to consider either an experience in nature that was very beautiful or a time when they felt pride. Those who thought about nature were twice as likely as those who thought about pride to say that they felt small or insignificant, and nearly a third more likely to say that they felt the presence of something greater than themselves.
If you came here just to learn about skincare, treatments, and procedures, I want to point out to you that this information might be useful to you, too—maybe even vital. Because you’re a lot less likely to want to fiddle with your face when your face is in front of, say, the Grand Canyon, or Walden Pond, or these Fabergé Imperial eggs. I thought of the eggs because when I find myself unhappy with the face I now have, unwillingly decorated with the influences of age, I hightail it over to the art museum near my home. There, instead of looking at my old grown-ass face, I look at the magnificent 19th-century Fabergé eggs, or the ancient studly Greek statues, or the portraits of people, so alive-looking, who now exist only in a remarkable arrangement of pigment.
I always feel better when I leave the museum, as if the beauty of the stuff has seeped into me, commingled with my blood, and made me beautiful, too. And in a way it has, the way taking a deep breath oxygenates you, with its attendant happy effects on your nervous system.
You don’t live near a museum? You can discover loveliness right where you are. Often on a walk, I find the music I’m listening to so perfectly synthesized with what I happen to be looking at that it feels like some kind of miracle. Which of course, in our awareness and ability to appreciate it, it is. The poet Mary Oliver put it this way:
…I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
You could lift your face to the sky.
A quick word about retinoids, the vitamin A derivatives I mentioned in last week’s post. Doctors have told me noncompliance is one of the biggest problems with patients using a retinoid. Because it can initially irritate the skin, many people stop using it before they see any benefit, which can take up to six months. That’s why it’s important to use only a pea-size amount and to ease into it, starting once a week and gradually increasing usage. Another point an astute reader brought up is that the prescription-strength drugstore retinoid gel I use these days is marketed for acne treatment. That’s right, but the retinoid—adapalene—offers the same benefits as other prescription retinoids. I happen to like a gel rather than a creamier formulation. As always, if you have questions about your skincare, write to me at email@example.com.
👁️ 👁️ How Not to F*ck Up Your Face is a reader-financed publication. To receive all new posts and support my work—especially if you’ve found it helpful; have I saved you at least $50 in skincare products?—please become a paid subscriber. Thanks.
I rediscovered two favorite things recently. The Onitsuka Tiger sneakers are popular in Tokyo and I’ve bought a few pairs there. I find these slip-on sneakers look great with almost anything, because they’re pretty sleek. They don’t have much support, so they’re not great for long walks—but they’re comfortable enough to wear around town on errands or out to dinner (always in an outdoor hut 😨). The fact that I can easily slip them on and off is a big plus since I remove my shoes Japanese-style indoors.
And while I relax shoe-less at home, I’ve again taken up writing “Get out the vote!” postcards through the Reclaim Our Vote Campaign at the Center for Common Ground. At least I’ll have an answer when my granddaughter, M, asks, “What did you do in the war, Grammie?”
🙏 🙏 🙏
A quick but heartfelt thank you to the whipsmart and very industrious women at The Spread newsletter, who generously mentioned their pleasure with my recent adventure as a guest on the Everything Is Fine podcast.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have wondered aloud to me 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. All posts and the archive are free; there’s currently no paywall. I rely on readers for financial support, so please consider becoming a paying subscriber if you can.
This post reinforces why I subscribed to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face. It so deeply resonates with me. Thank you for articulating my thoughts so well.
My dad likes to philosophize with this question: "What do you see when you look in the mirror?" Answer: A reflection of light.