I posted something on FB about my longing for a lot of money to pay for extensive plastic surgery and my friend, Renee Thurber, sent me this experience from her own life. I think it’s worth a read:

Virtue would go far if vanity did not keep it company.
~Francois de La Rochefoucauld

I am a vain woman. Heck, I was a vain kid. on the morning of my very first day of kindergarten while I was primping before the mirror I felt a little confused so I asked my mom “am I pretty, or cute?”. obnoxious, i know. and the thing is – this was a serious question for me, one that I felt was weighty and consequential and deserved an honest answer. (Now, I find it amusing that my wisdomic mom’s response irritated me a bit – actually her cavalier answer absolutely annoyed me. “well, you look just fine Nay. and I’d say you’re pretty-cute!”)

Should time travel become a feasible option anytime soon, I do have a message I’d like to give to my little self on that first day of kindergarten. But—first let’s deal with the present, shall we?

Being a middle-aged woman in America today is an interesting thing. We spend a deplorable amount of the almighty dollar on the fountain of youth. And I am conflicted. Should I jump on the bandwagon and literally buy in to the anti-aging craze, or should I embrace the aging process with grace and dignity by shunning the miracles of modern medicine which aide in stalling the process? Why, the latter option of course. YES!! Age naturally – absolutely!! I will NOT succumb to the pressures of Botox and injectable and plastic surgeries. No way, not me. I mean I may be vain but I’m far too enlightened for such nonsense. Right?

A couple of years ago I noticed that one of my girlfriends looked unusually rested and peaceful. I should mention that she is a lovely woman approaching 50 with a whole bunch of kids – like 117 or something. Anyway I said “Gracie, you look fantastic!” I wasn’t searching for an explanation, that’s just not how my brain works, but she very easily responded “that’s because I got some botox between my brows and I don’t have that permanent scowl that made me look so unhappy and tired all the time.” As soon as she told me this I realized “Eureka! That is exactly why she looks so great!” She then went on to explain that there was a problem with the look, however, as her 117 kids didn’t know when she meant business. In fact, my friend gave me her “mad” face and I had to admit that is was pretty non-threatening. I guess everything is a tradeoff.

I should clarify that I have no issue at all with people who choose to incorporate these modern miracles and tricks into their beauty regime. My dilemma exists within the confines of my own mind and relates to my own personal experience. I’m not all judges Judy, that’s just not how I roll.

So here comes my confession: I did the Botox thing. Ok, FINE, I did it twice! Damn that groupon. Yes, I used groupon both times which is a little embarrassing and a tad curious but I suppose we all have our chinks in the armor. Apparently my moral resolve to resist the trappings of modern middle aged madness is built on a sandy foundation easily washed away by a smoking daily deal. And 89 bucks for $400 worth of vanity’s ambrosia is a screaming deals my friends. (Alas, I hang my head in shame.) (But whoa Nellie I was looking good – you know, in a frozen plastic kind of way.)

So a few months after a dose of toxins had been injected in to those well-earned feet of crows around my smiling eyes I bumped in to an acquaintance that I had not seen in nearly 3 decades. Her third sentence to me was part question part accusation. “WHY DO YOU NOT HAVE ANY WRINKLES?” retrospect tells me this was a socially odd beginning to our catch up session, but at the time I felt a heavy pang of guilt and nearly shouted back “BECAUSE I AM A FRAUD! A CHARLATAN! I SUCK! I CANT RESIST THE POSSIBILITY OF A RANDOM COMPLIMENT ABOUT MY YOUTHFUL PRESERVATION ANY MORE THAN I CAN TURN AWAY FROM A GREAT GROUPON!” Instead I just sort of sheepishly shrugged (and silently vowed to never ever ever again surrender to the ridiculous temptation of botoxing the lines away).

I’ve since kept that vow. but I had to remove myself from the groupon alerts – I’m only human.

Did you know that we spend $20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics alone in this country? And that number doesn’t even touch what we drop on the increasingly popular menu of invasive beauty treatment options. That makes me sick because I get that there are real problems in the world. I know that there are those even in my inner circle who could use just a fraction of what I spend on beauty lotions and potions, friends who are suffering with real life issues much more pressing than lookin’ good.

Even if we remove money from the mix, there is something entirely screwy about a society that spends more time worrying about “fine lines and wrinkles” than about significant social and even moral and emotional issues.

And yet—–I admit that when I see a friend decide to ditch the hair dye and embrace the gray, I celebrate her freedom, commending her chutzpah with sincerity all the while thinking “good for you, chica bonita, but I’m off to the drug store cause it’s time to hit the bottle, baby”—ain’t no way I’m following suit. See what I mean about being conflicted?

George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin), a sassy, brassy and unconventional French novelist from the 1800′s who was known in part for bucking the traditional fashion trends of her time once said “vanity is the quicksand of reason”. Tell me about it, Georgia. Tell me about it.

They say 50 is the new 40 and frankly I have no idea what that really means particularly since 40 was once the new 30 and may still be who knows so I’m left wondering in Cosmo years and stuff just how the hell old am I anyway? Enough already.

This much I do know; I feel great. I mean, I feel better (dare I say even younger?) than I have in years and I can easily claim that I’d much rather feel good in my skin than look young in it. I don’t know if I deserve any points for that but let’s be real – having the energy to remain engaged in the stuff that floats our boats is awesome. And more importantly being healthy enough to enjoy those fabulous human beings with whom we desire to spend our energies – to really BE with the people we love most – that’s a super big deal! For me, good health is a blessing which I am not guilty of taking for granted. Shouldn’t we be more invested (both psychologically and financially) in feeling good than in looking good? I mean, when I’m healthy I’m able to connect with others – which is pretty much what I’m all about.

Looking like crap hasn’t stopped me fromm connecting with anybody ever, well at least not since high school. Ok, maybe a couple times in college puffy eyes or zits made me feel reclusive – I’m vain – we’ve covered that. And I’m suddenly reminded of my favorite Dennis Miller quote: “There’s nothing wrong with being shallow as long as you’re insightful about it…” heh, heh.

I guess the older I get the more I revel in the stuff of real meaning. The more I recognize the value of time wisely spent and the emptiness in money foolishly squandered. The easier it becomes to first see, and then to eschew the silicone lies that assail us today. I’m not sure if my own inner Botox-battle will ever know a full peace treaty, but I don’t see myself giving up the fight. When it comes to the strife in my mind, I’m no deserter.

Remaining engaged in the effort to find meaning in the way we choose to live is a good thing. In the case of vanity, dissecting those modern beauty messages (myths) is more worthy than blindly wandering to the surgeon’s chair without questioning the marching orders that lead us to such an action. Yes, that feels right to me – to remain engaged in the process of figuring things out. To be willing to change course when my inner compass seems askew. Those ideas appeal to my divine spark. the Gnostics teach of the divine spark, and the concept resonates with me…that spark being infinitely more relevant than how old I appear or how fabulously plump my kisser is compared to Angelina Jolie’s.

Oh and then there is that message to little Renee I’d deliver if the time travel thing were to become an option: “Dear 5 year old me, you know that confusion you have about being “cute or pretty” when you look in the mirror? It doesn’t matter. Really, don’t worry about it. You’re smart and kind and curious and thoughtful. You have a little feistiness that will serve you well. Your looks are what they are and that is just fine, despite the litany of messages you will be bombarded with which seem to link good looks with personal worth. Foster your inner beauty and develop your mind and your talents because none of the rest really matters. You are worthy of love, you are a good person, and you are beautiful; regardless of the way you look.”

Well I might not use that exact same vocabulary, but you get the gist. Oh, and I’d include a warning about avoiding Landon lambert in the 4th grade – dude’s trouble.