debbie millman

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fifty

After several months of winter neglect, I recently scheduled an afternoon of beauty at my neighborhood nail salon. I treated myself to a manicure, a pedicure, an eyebrow wax and a ten-minute backrub in an upright massage chair. Though I was looking forward to being pampered, I was rather embarrassed by my unruliness. I hadn’t been taking particularly good care of myself; my hands and feet were unseemly, and my eyebrows seemed determined to finally, once and for all, intertwine into one long braid atop my face. I saved my brow wax for last, hoping the extra drying time would delay the inevitable smearing of my not quite dry nail polish. For the treatment, I was asked to lie down in a small private room furnished with a massage table covered in thin, crinkly white paper and a side table covered by a large bowl of wax that would be used to remove my errant eyebrow hair.

The cosmetician who had been working on me was petite and shy and I profusely apologized about my scruffy state as she heated up the wax. She demurely excused my bedraggled body as she lined my brows with the scalding wax. Then she quickly covered them with sticky tape and abruptly pulled out the hairs in one fell swoop. As she leaned into my face and tweezed off the few remaining hairs, she crooked her head and panned back from the table. Then she squinted and came closer. And with a sudden, triumphant smile she looked me straight in the eye and without missing a beat she boldly asked me if I wanted her to wax my moustache.

I felt my heart fall down into my stomach as my hands raced up to my mouth. My moustache??? I repeated. “Yes,” she evenly replied. “Your moustache.” And with that, for the first time in my entire life, I let someone pour brutally hot wax on the thin skin above my upper lip after which she ferociously tore the hair off of my terrified face.

I am now closer to 50 years old then I am to 40, and as my unwanted facial hair proves, I am changing in ways I never thought possible. My hair is grayer, my stomach wider, and I don’t even want to talk about my backside. I need stronger glasses every year. At night, I wear a splint for my right hand to alleviate my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and a mouth guard to protect my teeth from incessant grinding. I put on so much gear before going to bed that I look like I am going to play football rather than sleep. This, dear readers, is the peril of aging.

This is also new territory for me, this feeling old feeling. When considering what it means to age, I try to console myself with the knowledge that older is wiser. I recently read that the late great fashion designer Coco Chanel always lied about her age. But rather than subtract a decade or so, she told people she was 10 years older than she actually was. This way people would always think she looked amazing for her age. But I can’t help but wonder why older can’t also be better. With so many of my facilties beginning to falter, I can’t help but wish that age could be accompanied by a mandatory memory upgrade and an overall boost in perceivable value.

After all, there are so many, many things that we come to expect will improve with age and time. There is fine wine and marbly red meat and English gardens and Redwood trees and postage stamps and baseball cards and comic books. There is art and literature and technology and even the stock market, at least until recently. Even Barbie, who is now 50, is more valuable than she was when she was launched. And yet, as humans age we seem to get as crinkly and white as the cheap paper I was lying on in the salon.

As I navigate through these fears, I realize that after all the years of wanting, after all the years of feeling bad about who I was and where I was and what I had, I have recently come to the realization that I don’t want life to end. Ever. And though I grimace when I look at myself naked and I have given up trying to read the small type on a menu, I want to do want to continue to get older. So what, I am nearly 50. Big deal. Whether I am fat or thin, rich or poor or with more hair on my face than I have on my head, with each observation, with each day piled high on top of another, I am reminded that I still get to be right here as it all continues to unfold in front of me.

11 Comments:

Blogger Karin Merx said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/28/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Karin said...

Glad I'm not the only one:-))

Karin Merx (Netherlands)

2/28/2009 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gong said...

but debbie-dearest, if you went to google finance and did a quote lookup on symbol"MLMN" you will see your stock price is at an all-time high, and has been steadily tracking up for decades. it is, even in this crappy market, one of the best investment vehicles in the world. better than gold.

2/28/2009 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debbie, this is a wonderful piece and made for a great monologue. I laughed with you, cried with you -- it pulled my heartstrings. And you are not getting older, you ARE getting better!
Pam

3/02/2009 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Lucy Young said...

You really don't look your age. I've been downloading your podcast for a while and didn't know really what you looked like. I saw your flickr page and assumed you were around 38.

3/03/2009 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello,
grateful for your site, which I just discovered via SJ aiga event flyer.

I am just about your age but my perspective is completely different. I suspect much of the aging we experience as humans is a manifestation of the beliefs in our own minds. Look at pics of 40+ in the late 1880/1900, how much older they looked than we do at that age today. Also consider animals, and even plants: does an ancient tree "look" old? Or does it look simply very large and developed? Consider animals (not including pets) they don't get grey hair and hunch over, etc.

Every day your body is constantly at work building brand new cells, brand new bones, etc. Take good care of yourself. Don't continue telling yourself this story that you're growing older. Take healthy nutrition, exercise.

Enjoy~

3/03/2009 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give yourself a treat the next time you wax at the spa. Be youthful and tell them you want the full Brazilian.

3/05/2009 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger agrayspace said...

beautiful post debbie.

3/07/2009 02:46:00 AM  
Blogger Harpy said...

For what it's worth, I think you are a GAWgeous close-to-50-year-old, and would *love* to possess even a bit of your brains, looks or all around fabulousness when I'm your age. Plus, everyone waxes the mustacho these days, small beans. xoxo

3/09/2009 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger wee-fi said...

Hello Debbie!

I've never commented here before, but thought this piece was great! I have a similar experience salon - they always ask if I want my upper lip waxed and I say no (as if how dare you think that!) Then I go home and do it myself...ah the perils of being a woman.

-Fiona

3/13/2009 01:40:00 PM  
OpenID Jasmine Wabbington said...

I was like...OMG! She didn't say that?!?

I had a similar experience too - my first time actually! I think the lady said the word "cat" after looking at the strip she so forcibly (ok, I'm being dramatic here but it still hurt) from my face. Unlike getting my nails done and feeling as if I was Wolverine before she sawed it all done, I couldn't see what part of that experience was deemed sane. When they say beauty is pain...well the must have been talking about waxing!

3/15/2009 01:02:00 PM  

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Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for over 25 years. She is President of the design division at Sterling Brands. She has been there for nearly 15 years and in that time she has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she was a Senior Vice President at Interbrand and a Marketing Director at Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is President of the AIGA, the largest professional association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine, a design writer at FastCompany.com and Brand New and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet. The show is titled “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” and it is now featured on DesignObserver.com. In addition to “Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design,” (HOW Books, 2009, she is the author of "How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer" (Allworth Press, 2007) and “The Essential Principles of Graphic Design” (Rotovision, 2008).

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