Kintsugi

‘You’re a writer, you need a furrowed brow.’

A friend said this to me after I told her about the beauty therapist who suggested I soften my frown lines with botox. I told the therapist (all 23 years of her) that if I wasn’t so anxious about injecting something (what, exactly?) between my eyes — perhaps.

As an interim arrangement, to stop the furrows getting deeper, she suggested I start using my eyes to express myself, not my whole face.

‘If you want to smile, smile with your eyes.’

She showed me how, and she was really good at it.

(By corollary, I should frown with my eyes, not my forehead).

We revere age in most things except our faces. In nature, we celebrate rebirth and rejuvenation, but we bow before that which is timeworn. Think of the wonder of standing before an ancient tree. It’s roots may be mangled from burrowing deep, it’s crown misshapen from searching for the light. But we’re entranced by it’s beauty and feel grounded and humbled in it’s presence. We climb mountains that have stood for millennia so we can feel connected to the sacred and the divine. We’re awed by the vast and unknowable ocean from which we came.

In our homes we love storied, vintage stuff. Lived-in sofas we can sink deep into. The curiosities that breathe life into our spaces are not from cookie cutter catalogues; they’re heirlooms with chinks and kinks that are layered with history. Shiny, intact ceramics are less intriguing than pieces that are wonky and chipped.

Kintsugi is an ancient Japanese art that uses gold to repair broken ceramics. The gold, it’s believed, both strengthens the object and makes it more beautiful. The scars are enhanced, not hidden — it’s a celebration of the beauty inherent in brokenness and imperfection. As Rumi wrote (and Leonard Cohen sang), the crack is where the light gets in. Every crack tells a story.

Our faces tell a story too, except, as women, we try to erase most of the chapters.

My pigmentation tells a story about mixed genes, of East and West, and hours spent on the beach. My frown lines, a story of squinting into the sun on my travels, and the deep thoughts I have about life. Like the blotches on my skin, there have been blotches in my life. Moments I’m not particularly proud of, but that have become woven into the fabric of my story, inseparable from the things I love and am grateful for.

They say youth is wasted on the young. Perhaps it’s one of nature’s clever designs. We don’t get to be collageny and firm and ripe, as well as wise and experienced. Maybe the world just wouldn’t cope with such potency. So we have to let go of one thing while being bestowed with another. The ebb and flow.

Our bodies become more brittle but our minds bend to accommodate more complexity. Our joints less limber, but our views more flexible — we surrender to the ambiguities of life, soften our stance. Our brows get more furrowed, the lines deepen. But so does our experience, and our wisdom.

Yet we still we fight the ravages (gifts) of time. When I got my first grey hairs I plucked them out furiously, even though a friend warned that for each hair I pulled, eight would come to their funeral (I was willing to risk it).

And without wanting to go too deep down the rabbit hole of gender wars, there’s a double standard when it comes to ageing, one which I totally buy into. My husband has gone completely grey since I met him. He wouldn’t think of dyeing his hair (why would he, he’s my silver fox), nor would he smooth out his laugh lines with botox (it’s a lived-in look I love). I prefer him wild and woolly to smooth and groomed. Men, it seems, do get to be like a piece of pottery — more interesting and textured as they age.

My sister shaved her head recently and said it’s something every woman should do at least once as most of us hide behind our hair.

Much as I’d love to face the world bald, naked and bare faced, it is nice to have a little buffer between us and all that scrutiny. A burst of colour and some lippy to lift the spirits on an otherwise dull day. A shimmery frock to give us some sparkle when we’re not feeling so sparkly. A heel to give us a literal lift when we’re feeling ever so slightly downtrodden. It’s fun and frivolous and our unique style is just one of the ways we express ourselves in the world.

But back to the therapist and her botox suggestion. How slippery is the slope? I feel like I’m perched atop, peering over the edge, and I worry that if I make a move I’ll go careening down.

And without even meaning to, maybe the beauty therapist was just echoing what Roald Dahl said about how you can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

I’ll keep working on those good thoughts. Maybe they’ll buoy me once the grey starts coming unabated and the unrelenting writerly thoughts deepen my frown. Maybe not. I’ll check back in and let you know.

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