“No way! You’re fifty?” the college coed working behind the counter at Sephora was practically yelling. Surely, this girl must have been a cheerleader at some point in her life, because her voice boomed off the glass counter tops and against the white walls reverberating her statement to the whole store. “You don’t even look that old! You’re older than my mom!” She gleefully handed me my bag, and I halfheartedly thanked the twenty-year-old. I left the store carrying my black and white bag filled with supplies to ward off the effects of being older than the cashier’s mom.
Aging is a mean sonofabitch. About the time a woman learns to really love herself, the hands of time have pulled and stretched her skin to where she barely recognizes her reflection.
There is a new woman in the mirror. This woman looks like my Mother. There are even moments where she reminds me of my Grandmother. Last June, I became the age my Grandmother was when I was born. My Grandmother Ruth was 50 years-old when my Father telephoned the bowling alley and had her paged so he could tell her I had arrived. My parents already had two toddler boys, so celebratory drinks were ordered and winning strikes were thrown–all in honor of this little pink skinned baby girl. In 1965, to my modest family, I was big news.
I am reminded of another 50-year-old woman who made news this year. Her name is Tess Christian. Who is Tess Christian? She is a woman whose story went viral when it was reported that she had not smiled in 40 years. At the age of ten, Miss Christian began training herself to withhold expression, thus preventing the creases that would eventually become a holding pattern for wrinkles. No need for Botox or anti aging cream. No reason for her to spend hours trolling websites or wandering the isles at Sephora—an expressionless face was her Fountain of Youth. Her story, which circulated the internet included photographs, and not surprisingly, she was and continues to be an attractive woman.
As if that justifies anything.
I began to think of interactions that are affected and altered by a smile. I narrowed it down to the three S’s: Self, Squad, Stranger.
Smiling for SELF: Smiling is one of the simplest things we do to make ourselves feel better. Countless studies researching the effects of smiling have shown that smiling elevates a person’s mood and boosts their immune system. This woman’s choice to not smile, was a choice to rob herself of a happier disposition and healthier her. There is a solitude joy that comes from smiling, and she missed it for 40 years. That is a tragedy.
Smiling for SQUAD: We don’t get to choose everyone on our squad, but we are all a part of one. We have parents, friends, children, siblings, nephews and nieces. We are someone’s favorite Aunt, or someone’s silly Uncle. We have mechanics, teachers, coaches, coworkers and beauticians. We live in community with one another. The non-verbal cues we send to one another when we make a request is completely altered when it’s accompanied by a smile. When my husband walks through the door after a day spent slaying dragons, my smile says, “Everything you did was time well spent. Thank you for returning to the Kingdom where you are loved.” Yep. I say all that with a smile. To rob him of that for the sake of my own appearance would be one of the most vain things I could do.
Smiling for STRANGER: We don’t teach babies to smile the way we teach them to hold a spoon; it comes naturally. Smiling also crosses every border—or at least every border you are likely to cross—making it the universal sign of happiness. It is a nonverbal form of acceptance and to withhold it from a stranger is selfishness. Pulling those lips up into a smile may cost you a wrinkle, but it is an investment that will make the world a more beautiful place.
So, yes, I am fifty, and yes, I have wrinkles, because, honestly, I can’t smile without them.