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The story is the same for me and my female patients. It’s a story that repeats itself several times a day.
My forty or fifty-something year old female patient will sit across from me and proclaim, “What the hell is this?!” More recently, a woman in a monotone, quiet voice said, “it just sucks, it sucks so bad.” (excuse the language, but that’s the exact verbiage she used). We laugh together, but sigh at the same time as we begin the task of deciding what her treatment goals and options are. We recognize that we still have so much to be thankful for – to be healthy enough to sit in my treatment chair, a body that isn’t failing us in the right ways, the fact that they are seeking treatments is a cause for celebration to some extent as we fight the good fight against father time. Yet, it’s difficult to reconcile the physical aging process with our youthful spirits and otherwise healthy, strong bodies.
Usually, my patients point to the neck area, brown spots, extra skin folds on the face, or the crepey skin found in many areas of the body. I often become uncomfortable as my patients slowly pick apart everything they don’t like about their appearance. When they finish, I quietly describe the features that I find lovely that work to our benefit – high cheek bones, a pretty Cupid’s bow on the upper lip, a strong bony rim along the upper eye – all of us have these features to recognize and appreciate.
Even I get perplexed at how the aging process sneaks up and pounces on us in such a short time. I often refer to a house of cards wherein one card barely moves, but it creates a cascade of events. We proclaim that our cheeks fell overnight, our neck became our mother’s neck within a year, the brown spots came out of nowhere and the melasma struck us while on a sun-filled vacation. The list goes on. Sound familiar?
I recently approached Dr. Kaplan, my Medical Director, who is a facial plastic surgeon. I did the infamous two hand move to pull my lower face back and stretch the neck upward. Why, I asked, does this happen mostly to women…quickly I might add.” The answer was, in part, hormones. Yep, sneaky little hormones. Is there anything good about them? In our practice, we can blame them for acne, excess hair growth, cellulite, melasma, spider veins, stretch marks, and now crepey skin and a sagging neck. Let’s not forget good ol’ perimenopause that causes hot flashes, weight gain, etc.
I have an internal check list in my head when I discover another sign or symptom that the aging process is gaining ground. For example, I recently discovered that I had crepey skin above my knees. My knees for Pete’s sake! Can’t I at least have good knees? I was the first staff member to quickly volunteer to try out a new skin care product for crepey skin. My right eyelid and brow are descending. My sun spots are routinely lasered as they develop. I have filler in my cheeks to re-position what gravity is causing. See? I’m the patient as well. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know what it’s like to see our bodies changing even though we still feel like we’re 30.
I attended a laser conference awhile back that had premier surgeons and aesthetic physicians from around the world speak about current trends in aesthetic medicine. When the panel members were asked what their most daunting challenge was with female patients, this is what one said and the rest agreed with. “The forty-something year old women used to demand that we help her look good in her clothes. Now these women are demanding options to help them look good naked.”
I snickered out loud thinking they were making light of the issue and joking. They weren’t. Really? I mean, REALLY? Has it come to that? I’m pretty certain that I had a good body at age 20 and still did not recognize that fact. I’m even more certain that the current goal of looking good, at age 52, in my clothes, is good enough.
In that moment, I achieved balance for myself. I’ve come to terms with my looser skin and cellulite, but I will still seek safe and effective options for my neck. I can laser my sun spots, but shrug off having only “improved” crepey skin. I can put filler in my hands to disguise the veins and bony structures, but shrug off my failing vision and hot flashes. I’m comfortable in my skin, and I want my patients to find that balance as well.
At age 52, or any age, there is much freedom in having grace for ourselves and a sense of humor as we keep pace with the changes father time brings. As my best friend, Heidi wisely once said,
“Time can be a kind friend…unless it’s on your face.”
That made me laugh.