Skin Deep


In fourth grade, I had a crush on George. And he was my crush in spite of his comments about my “goose bumps” – the acne I was plagued with at nine years old. Okay, it wasn’t so tragic, but it felt like it.  So, that year, I started wearing makeup, foundation, to cover the blemishes. Thankfully, Mom allowed that in order to preserve my fourth-grade self-esteem.

I don’t know if George noticed my smoother-looking skin after I started wearing foundation, but I definitely got his attention in other ways. One day, my classmate Tracy and I pulled his chair out from under him as he sat down. He landed smack dab on the cold, hard floor. My goose bumps and I felt vindicated. Our teacher, Mrs. Thomas, who needed a humor transfusion, looked up from her desk just in time to see George’s crash landing. Without missing a beat, she bore holes in the perpetrators’ eyes with her laser-beam glare and said, “Girls! This is unacceptable!” Being incredibly shy, I wanted to sink through the floor. I had planned on her thinking George was clumsy and brought this upon himself. Instead, when she saw that we had instigated, Ms. Thomas betrayed our feminine camaraderie, as if there were any.

For those of us who fought acne on a regular basis while growing up, there should be some kind of Congressional Medal of Honor for the Battle of the Bumps. We were in the trenches 24/7 while simultaneously trying to survive childhood and puberty. No matter how much Mom advised me to wash my face "for a full minute" on a regular basis, I knew more than she did. We stayed well stocked in every manner of skin care, including liquid face masks. Using the latter, I dipped a brush into what looked like melted Red Hots, then applied it to my face. True to its color, it burned like Red Hots. I walked briskly up and down the hallway to create a breeze, to soothe the inferno. It was the price to pay for better skin. But I didn't battle alone; Mom was an ever-present companion on the road to clear skin. Through the years, we added to the profits of Noxzema, Merle Norman, Clinique, Mary Kay, and Arbonne, to name a few.

I suppose for valiant efforts alone, or because God tired of my pleas for deliverance from the Cyclops zits that often took up residence in the middle of my forehead, my complexion improved during my 20s and continued halfway through my 30s.

Then pregnancy came, bringing with it blemishes, because heartburn and extra gas weren’t enough to experience the full glory of the condition. But every pimple was worth the welcoming of my little darling into our family. A few months after Cowboy arrived, my face cleared up again. It was a glorious time on both counts.

Then, my skin world was rocked again when I was 43; my younger friend Katie called and told me she’d been using anti-aging products. She was a baby, 31, with skin like Snow White. Clearly she has too much time on her hands, and skin care is a hobby for her, I thought, as I steered clear of any talking mirrors. I knew who was fairest of them all in that scenario. According to Katie's proactive approach, I was 12 years behind the curve. I’d been so busy keeping the bumps at bay, I'd hardly noticed that crevices were rapidly multiplying on my facial landscape.

Quick intervention was needed, so I proceeded with a high-quality anti-aging line of products. The results were incredible; soon people were commenting on my younger face. Even my nephew Neil asked one day, “Aunt Kim, what did you do?”

“What do you mean?”

“That deep line across your forehead, the same kind that plagues everyone in our family - yours is gone.”

Ah, it was music to my ears. All was right with the world.

Then my mid-40s hit, landing on my face.

“Why do I get these huge, painful bumps on my jaw line?” I asked my much younger doctor.

“Oh those are very common for women to get in their menopausal years. They are linked to hormones.” Of course they are. Everything dark and dreary is related to hormones. I’m blaming all turmoil in the world and increasingly worse rush-hour traffic on hormones.

Now in my 50s, my strategy is to turn back time so I will look young enough to still have acne. Unfortunately, the clock is not rewinding fast enough. It’s unsettling that the “Guess My Age” game is yielding higher-number responses these days. It used to be fun to ask strangers to guess, but they no longer say I look twentysomething or thirtysomething. It’s quite rude.

But recently, three little words lifted my spirits, if not my jowls: “You look 40.” I jumped up from my chair in a local diner and hugged my waiter, asking if he and his wife were available to come to dinner the next night. Clearly, they were honest, discerning souls who would be great company. Now, at 53, I’m working hard to keep that 13-year age gap going; I’ll look 47 when I hit the age of 60. Mom doesn’t have to remind me to take care of my skin at this point; vanity is my watchdog.

“What are you doing?” Flash asked as I stared at my face, an inch from the mirror, inspecting every part like a monkey picking off fleas.

“Looking at my wrinkles. They look smaller and shallower. My crow’s feet are now a size 4 instead of a size 7,” I said proudly.

Then I showed Flash, pointing to wrinkles one by one, that they were, in fact, shorter. He indulged me as he strained to get out of my grip.

The next day, Flash walked in during another inspection. I explained I was using natural oils on my face to help reverse the clock. “I spent 30 years using products for oily skin; now I pay money for oils. I should’ve extracted my own oil and bottled it for later use.” Flash listened as I continued my Daily Facial Report. “These dark areas above the equator could be the result of many factors, including insufficient sleep; the bagginess results from an increase in fluid from below the surface and lack of elasticity. Forecast is a severe aging storm. Our only hope is to pour oils and creams into the area, increase hydration, and pray to God this thing dissipates under the ocular islands.”

Flash turned and walked away as I used my index fingers to lift the skin on my forehead while using my thumbs to lift the under-eye baggage up and to the sides.

“No wonder people have face lifts,” I called out to nobody present, “it takes years off!” Not wanting surgery, I could go through life with my fingers holding up my face like that, but it could be problematic for driving and eating and blowing my nose and hugging. I need four arms.

“You’re looking older,” I sometimes lovingly tell Flash.

“I am older. Every day, I’m older.”

You’re older too, I hear him think, so I give him my back-off-buster-and-don’t-say-it-aloud look.

“But you don’t have to look older. I gave you all those skin creams for men, to help.” I know my advice is falling on growing-hair-out-of-them ears. Flash’s idea of skin care differs greatly from mine.

“I don’t know why you spend time and money with pedicures. Look at my heels; the skin is smooth.” He sticks his feet in my face as he proudly explains, “I just went out and scraped them on the back cement porch and got all that dead skin off.”

I wonder where he came from and how he landed on earth.

“Flash, have you seen my feet? It would take weeks of scraping, not to mention, I’m not a Neanderthal.”

“I could get the sander out.” Any day now, I expect to walk in and see my beloved smoothing out his forehead crevices, compliments of Black and Decker.

Flash and I are products of growing up in the 60s and 70s; we didn’t think much about SPFs and wrinkles later. All I cared about was whether the suntan lotion smelled like coconut. My friend Magellan and I would climb the tree in her backyard to get to the roof. It was the best place to tan, since we were that much closer to the sun. With baby oil on our legs, we baked at 350 degrees for 2 hours, turning once halfway through.

So, I’m trying absolution through night cream for the sins of my youth. If I continue to beat the clock, one day I’ll be carded just to buy cooking wine. People will think Cowboy is my younger brother. AARP will stop sending those nasty invitations to join. I’ll have to prove to Social Security that my birth certificate is not fake, to get benefits later. Oh sure, I’ll miss out on all the senior specials at Denny’s and will never be able to rent a car, but those are small prices to pay for living in my skin Shangri-La.

I eagerly look forward to the day, when I’m 90 but look 20, when all bumpy flaws have vanished from my face. It will be glorious. It will be astounding. But, if heredity has anything to do with it, it will also be post-mortem. Mom, 89 years old, now gets whiteheads. When I look upon her countenance, I see my destiny.