This exercise, it’s probably not what you think. I mean, there’s no face yoga at Val’s beauty retreat. Why not? Because, though it might have a small effect, it won’t make an appreciable difference in your jowls or wrinkles.
So, ready or not, let’s start right out with the tough stuff: confronting your mirror demons. I call them the happiness assassins.
If you’re lucky, you’re going to live long enough so that no matter what you do, unless you have surgery (and even then)—or unless stem cell researchers figure out how to make skin and bone renew itself—your face is going to change with age. Whether now or in five, ten, or twenty years, you might as well accept that. You can do it hard, or you can do it—well, not easy—less hard. But I’m telling you, you can do it.
And the rewards of the process we’ll try together are incalculable. Or maybe calculable if you consider how much money you may save on products and procedures, and even makeup (though I love makeup; more on that later).
The history of my relationship to my face likely resembles yours. The common thread: believing what I was working with was subpar, experimenting with various promises of improvement from facials to foundation, and finally, in my twenties and thirties, getting to something I could live with. Soon after which the signs of aging started to appear. But that was also around the time I faced a few very difficult challenges that serendipitously changed the way I saw myself, literally.
Some years ago in O, The Oprah Magazine I wrote about learning to love my face and how it feels when you have done the necessary therapeutic work:
My mother would vociferously disagree, and I am happy to let her, but: I am not a beautiful woman. I won't bore you with the details, though I can give you an idea of what I mean. Recently I had the experience of being photographed next to the model Iman, arguably one of the most gorgeous women in the world and certainly the most gorgeous woman who has ever stood next to me in a picture. When a friend kindly (or unkindly, I'm not sure) sent me a print, I was struck by how different we looked. We're about the same size, she and I, not too far apart in age, and it was a close shot of the two of us talking, face-to-face. As I stared at the photo, I saw two flowers: Iman, an exquisite hothouse orchid, her exotic beauty in full, outrageous bloom; and me, a parking-lot daisy, still standing, firm but a little faded, late on a warm afternoon. I got a slightly disappointed feeling, looking at that photo, like the feeling you might get opening an unexpected bouquet to discover that the flowers are a day old. So I went over to the mirror to check in with myself. I took a good, long look. Then, "Hi, sweetie," I said. I felt enormously better. Because even though there are many women in the world much more beautiful than I, I love my face.
It wasn't always so. If you had asked me 20 years ago what I thought of my face, I would've said, "It's fine," in the same way you answer someone you don't know very well who asks how you are. Nothing to complain about. But the whole truth was, when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was most of all not-quite-as-pretty-as.
Then I got married, and then my husband began to have some serious problems that resulted in both of us reexamining our lives. For several years I worked hard with a therapist to come to an understanding about how I had grown into the person I was, and how I might recapture the parts of myself that I had once loved and lost.
One day, after I was being particularly self-critical, my therapist suggested that I spend some time—as much as I could take—looking in the mirror, not the usual way, but looking into my eyes in the way I might look into the eyes of someone I cared deeply about. Have you ever tried this? It isn't easy. It feels creepy, as if you're putting the make on yourself. But I diligently watched as I laughed (out of nervousness). I got teary-eyed (fear, I think). And then I saw myself. Standing at the mirror, looking into my own eyes, I finally saw the human being who looked out of them.
I recognized her, of course. Because I knew her intimately, knew everything about her struggles and her achievements, her aspirations and her disappointments, because I knew that she was, above all, well-intentioned and kind, I loved her. And seeing her face—my face—like that of a beloved friend's, always reminds me of that.
You might be thinking, “Very nice for her, but how does this help me?” I’m glad to tell you that I discovered there is science behind my experience, science that confirms learning to see yourself without objectification can increase your self-compassion, reduce self-criticism, and improve your sense of well-being. This exercise, it’s a thing.
We’re far from the shallow now, guys. A more thorough explanation coming in my next post. Also, lest you think I’m never going to get to your questions, I am—and thank you for sending them. I just want us to begin with a smooth and flawless foundation. See you Tuesday!
Till then, please enjoy this video of adorable non-humans seeing themselves in a mirror.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send me your beauty-related questions. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
Thanks Valerie for your honesty in leading us through aging. We should all be grateful we are still breathing after this difficult year. Our culture is so quick to judge beauty on the outside not inside. I personally do not think all the Botox faces and plumped lips are beautiful- too bad the rest of Orange County doesn’t feel the same.
Awed by your experience. Moved by the power of your words and emotions.