Like most people my age, my education in this world came from both sides of the mouth.

On the one hand, I belong to a long line of women—smart, wonderful, slightly vain women—who are prone to wagging around creams and lotions and quoting one-liners like “why look bad when you could look good?”

They told me that I was empowered and free to be whoever I wanted, but I heard, too, that I might be freer and more empowered if I made some minor tweaks to my body and face.  Sometimes I’m good at parsing those messages, and sometimes they end up sinking into my skin alongside my nightly moisturizer. 

I’m in my thirtieth year, and, right on schedule, my first resting wrinkle has appeared above my right eyebrow. It’s the one I tend to raise frequently: in play, in skepticism, in the middle of earnest explanation. The arrival of this new wrinkle sent me into an initial tailspin on Reddit threads, Instagram, and in involved conversations with my friends about their anti-aging routines, most of which feel like intimate simulations of the ads on my feed. 

The global skincare market has jumped by nearly 60 percent in the past ten years, with sales up 13 percent in the U.S. alone in 2018, according to a study by the NPD Group. The rise in skincare products far outpaces the sales of traditional cosmetics. 

Among my friends—who are mostly millennial, body-positive feminists—skincare is beginning to take up more space in our conversations and monthly expenses. Unlike makeup, which can be playful and expressive but which has a more obvious entanglement with commodification and the patriarchy, skincare has been exonerated by the wellness industry as a form of authenticity and self-love. 

Looking at my mother and grandmother, I’ve been thinking about the stories their faces do tell. Aside from genetics, one of the key factors in their formation is repeated expressions.

As we age, though, the way we feel—the way we have always felt, over and over again—starts to be visible. Our insides make their way to the surface: laughter and worries, the wry refrain of a raised eyebrow. There’s something beautiful about that.

At ninety-two, my grandmother is stunningly wrinkled. When she smiles (which she does all the time), her smile echoes across her face tenfold. Would she wave them away with a magic wand? 

Oh, maybe—probably. But I wouldn’t. 

And I wouldn’t erase the fluttering wrinkle of concern on my most sympathetic friend’s face, or the burgeoning crow’s-feet that have appeared on another—the lines that fan like sunbeams out from her eyes.

These days, when I find myself standing in front of the mirror rubbing moisturizer into my creases, I try (try!) to mix in a bit of gratitude for the only face I’ll ever wear, a face that wears me. 

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