My friend Erik slathers on face cream every night before bed. He can easily lose an entire day to cosmetics boutiques in Cherry Creek, examining tiny, elegant jars of lotions, unguents and moisturizers with all the gravitas befitting an alchemist
hoping that this next concoction will finally be the key to uncovering the philosopher's stone. Slickly coiffed women with unlined faces beckon to him siren-like while extolling the virtues of seventy-five dollar ounces of goo that promise to revitalize and renew and rescind the ravages of time. Erik is not yet twenty-five. This new obsession of his was prompted by a cursory glance in the mirror six months ago that revealed to him a certain tightness around the eyes. Terrified of the advent of crow's feet
, Erik can spend more than I make in a week on a single trip to Aveda
. On our last shopping trip I was left exhausted, irritated and hungry long before Erik finished asking questions about lipids and lipisomes and other 'l' words that made my head spin. Finally, boredom overcoming any veneer of politeness I possessed, I crankily interrupted the bottle blonde who was proclaiming the rejuvenate virtues of an avocado and olive oil mask infused with the antioxidant
power of pomegranate juice and I asked Erik, "Why do you bother with all of this face crap anyway. Why don't you just get botox?"
Erik turned his head in uffish
thought, apparently missing entirely the snarky tone of my inquiry, and replied, "Well, I've thought of that. But right now I'm in prevention. I'd rather wait to use botox
after I've got some serious lines, you know?"
I was astounded by this and said, "So that complete lack of facial expression thing doesn't bother you?"
Erik shrugged in that fluid, boneless way he has, "Some. But it's better than looking old."
Why anyone would find resembling one of those placid, creepily serene ancient Egyptian statues preferable to looking human is beyond me, but Erik isn't alone in his obsession, nor is it a particularly new one. According to legend, Antinous (the lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian) drowned himself in the river Nile at the tender age of twenty out of fear of losing his boyish charms to advancing senescence. If face lifts were available to the Romans, might Antinous have lived until thirty? Our real life Dorian Grays need nothing so cumbersome as an eldritch painting; for them it's just a quick trip to the surgeon and voila! the visual traces of vices that wreak havoc on their physiques and faces vanish after a nominal recovery time. Keats got it wrong. If truth really were beauty, would bronzer cream sell so well? Beauty is youth, youth beauty -- a truer axiom for a time when twenty-five year olds spend small fortunes on green tea enhanced exfoliation scrubs.
But isn't there something attractive about the lack of self-consciousness it takes to reject the pressure to be an eternal adolescent? Peter Pan may not have ever grown up, but isn't it that same longing for something more that drew him to Wendy in the first place? Maturity and honesty are also beautiful, and they're a lot less ephemeral than the perfect unblemished face and the perfectly toned gym body. Let's face it, gravity always wins. There's something intrinsically sad about a thirty-five year old man who still refers to himself as a boy (or worse yet, a boi, an overly precious term that makes me die a little inside each time I see it spelled out). Youth is beautiful because it is transitory. It inspires admiration because it is the brief period where innocence, arrogance and a sense of wonder all seem to converge at once. Hanging onto the facade of youthfulness without any of the underlying factors that make it so compelling only cheapens it.
There's nothing wrong with growing up, or growing older or even growing old. These things happen to everyone. There's nothing wrong with trying to look your best either. Why should looking your best necessarily mean looking like you did ten or fifteen years ago? If that Socratic sound-bite about unexamined lives not being worth living holds true, then how is "turning back the hands of time" desirable? Aren't we denying who we once were by ignoring the lives we've lived? If you spend so much time trying to avoid change that it becomes an obsession, I think you're missing out on who you are now. Anyone who has self-consciously said, "I'm thirty -- that's like eighty in gay years," is missing the point. Thirty isn't dead. You can't be twenty again, but why do you need to be? Twenty was an awkward, confusing, awful time for me and I wouldn't go back if I could. And even if it had been a fantastic, wonderful time, that certainly doesn't preclude me from having a good time now.
When my antinoesque pal Erik and I left the shopping center, he turned to me and said in that enviably naive way of his, "You know, you could pass for a lot younger than you are," he eyed me as if pricing a diamond or evaluating the amount of marbling on a prime cut of meat, "A lot younger. In the right lighting, you could probably pass for twenty-one or twenty-two. You should lie about your age."
Why would I? I've earned every year.
"Gravity Always Wins" first appeared in the April 2006 edition of Metromode magazine. I retain all rights.