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The Mama Monologues:
Wrinkle in Time, or Thoughts on Turning 40

I'm turning 40 in the spring. When I tell people that, they act shocked -- "You're 39? Really? I never would have guessed!" -- which is incredibly good for my ego, I have to say. It also makes it easy to assert that I am not the least bit bothered by turning 40, because clearly 40 isn't the death knell we all assumed it would be when we were 20. I have traded my perky breasts and rock solid abs for a stronger self esteem, a better sense of who I am and where my place is in the world. Like so many of us, I wouldn't trade this person I am, on the cusp of 40, for the person I was 20 years ago.

But sometimes, I wish that self esteem could come without so much sagging. Or, in my case, wrinkling.

Recently, the New York Times ran a piece about "mommy makeovers," plastic surgery packages marketed specifically to mothers, designed to erase the ravages of childbearing and give us back the bodies we had before we had the babies. I wrote about it for BlogHer, where I said, in part, that "the 'mommy makeover' doesn't seem to be about helping women get their grooves back; it's about reminding them that anything less than perfect is a complete failure." I believe this; I believe that our plastic surgery culture is one more way to make women feel like they are falling short of the mark, as mothers and wives and individuals. I cannot imagine myself having a boob job or liposuction or Botox, because I cannot imagine that those procedures will allay the fears that keep me up at night.

That is not to say, though, that I am aging gracefully, or that I can't understand why someone else might feel the allure of a little surgical assistance.

I have one wrinkle, over my lip, that is making me insane these days. I find myself, at night, staring at it in the mirror, applying extra face cream to that spot, in the hope that maybe it will go away. I know that it comes from gritting my teeth in frustration and stress, when the kids are wild or my husband is late or I am overwhelmed by work. I am currently carrying around the number of a highly recommended dermatologist, one who will NOT shoot me full of Botox but WILL prescribe something topical, something that might decrease the wee wrinkle, the one no one else can see.

I hate that wrinkle. I hate that it signals not a life well lived, like the wrinkles around my eyes (which have come of course from years of smiling and laughing) but from from years of fretting and worrying and grinding my teeth. When I look in the mirror, I see that wrinkle and I see all the times I struggled to be calm and happy and successful. I want being 40 to be about the successes, not about the moments I was so sure I was failing.

I feel a little guilty about claiming the moral high ground when the whole discussion of plastic surgery comes up, because while I would not change my breasts or my thighs, I am not entirely happy with my body, or with the way it is aging. This week, I have a date with a friend to spend an hour at Sephora, shopping for foundation and concealer and perhaps some new lip balm, something to make me look less tired and, yes, a little younger. I want to wear my age well, but I also want to keep only the parts that remind me of how far I've come and how successful I've been.

I hate that wrinkle, but I am hoping, in this 40th year of my life, to find a way to accept it. I am working to step back from the mirror and see my whole face, not just that one wrinkle. It's harder than I thought it would be, honestly.

column added on 2007-10-14 :: ::

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Susan Wagner
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Susan Wagner has a masters degree in English, with a focus on 18th-century British literature, which makes her your go-to girl for all things Jane Austen. Before becoming a mama, she spent ten years teaching literature, writing, and rhetoric. Susan lives in Oklahoma with her husband and their sons, Henry and Charlie; she is constantly on the lookout for the perfect pair of pointy-toed flats. Susan writes about fashion at BlogHer and Friday Style, about parenting at Blogging Baby, and about everything else at Friday Playdate.

Read more of Susan's The Mama Monologues column.

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