When Your Face Feels Like Home

The 10 Year Challenge Redux*

“I think I’m going through an identity crisis,” my 14-year-old said on the way to church this morning. “I look at my face in a mirror, and I wonder who that person is. I talk, and my voice doesn’t sound like it should belong to my face. I think it’s strange that my friends look at this face and hear this voice and think it’s me. I don’t. I’m trying to find out who is me.”

That kid was me. And that story is how my mother started Chapter 8: A New Beginning—A New You in her book titled, Single Again, This Time With Children.  Even if she hadn’t memorialized my experience in print, I would still remember it. That same feeling came and went for more than half of my life.

In my twenties, when my hair was short and then, even shaved, I would give up jewelry for Lent. For a full six weeks, I would face the world unadorned with no earrings and minimal makeup. It was my attempt to give up vanity. My thinking was simple: this is what I look like. Nothing can change my face. I was learning to feel comfortable in my skin. But it took years. Decades.

Now my hair is slowly turning grey though friends say they can’t see it even when I point it out. My eyelids are drooping and there is some sagging in my neck. But the truth is, I look the same. I look like I’ve always looked.

I’ve heard women joke about Covid 15, meaning the fifteen pounds gained during this pandemic. I’ve gained ten but it feels like twenty. I feel heavy.

Then I look at old photos and laugh. I was so thin!

Now, I’m normal. I’m exactly the weight to be expected for my age.

I haven’t been on Facebook much lately so I was surprised last week when I saw so many of my female friends posting two photos with the hashtag 10 Year Challenge. One photo from today and one from 10 years ago. Funny how I’ve only seen women do this. Is this because women, more typically than men, think about their looks more? Because many of us have felt estranged from our bodies? Because we have manipulated, tugged, plastered, and peeled our faces for decades all in an effort to achieve beauty – beauty as defined by some crazy cultural norms?

Or is it because while men always seem to be accepted as they age, their grey hair deemed distinguished, handsome, even sexy, women are ignored, ostracized, and discriminated against as they show signs of age? And we women internalize this scrutiny. We judge ourselves. I am as guilty of this as everyone else. The judging started when I was maybe twelve or thirteen and by fourteen I was having an identity crisis.

I’ve spent my entire life learning to accept my nose, my mouth, the scar on my bottom lip, the hole in my right eyebrow, my slightly crooked teeth, and my thin, clumpy, short lashes. Seems silly now but honestly, it’s been a struggle. And I know I’m not alone.

So when I looked for photos from ten years ago, I kept looking. For ten years before that and ten years before that. Six decades of photos. I was surprised by what I found. I expected radical changes. But I was wrong.

2021 and 2011

2001 and 1991

1981 and 1971

Turns out, I haven’t changed much at all. What these photos don’t capture are all the crazy looks between every ten years. The haircuts, the perms, the shaved head, the bangs, the highlights, the outfits, the makeup. But they do capture my face. This is who I’ve always been.

I challenge you to do the same. Not as some sort of beauty challenge – a “did you age well” challenge, but more of a “welcome home to your face” challenge. Embrace who you are, who you have always been.

Therein lies the beauty. Therein lies home.

* I thought about using the word redeux, which is a slang twist on redux. The Urban Dictionary cites redeux as another way to say remix and I like the idea of remixing the #10yearchallenge. But redux comes from the Latin word reducere, meaning “to lead back.” The Romans often called the goddess Fortuna, Fortuna Redux, trusting that she would bring those who were far from home back safely. This is how I use the word here. With the hope that we might all come safely home back to ourselves and find home in our own faces.

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