how not to f*ck up your face

Dear Beauty Marketing: Stop Telling Me How to Look Younger

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

My intention with the How Not to F*ck Up Your Face column has always been about helping us feel more generous about our appearance as we age. So when a reader was recently disappointed that she didn’t find more advice here about how to look younger, including specifics about poutier lips and that kind of thing, it made me wonder, Should I try to appeal to a different audience? The more I thought about that, the more inauthentic I felt — and the further I drifted from my mission. As you might know, I’m not against taking great care of your skin or receiving aesthetic treatments, in-office or otherwise. But it isn’t easy to stay balanced and upright while navigating the slippery slope of managing expectations in a beauty culture that prizes youth and hypersexuality. The way I see it, if you have a face, you’re going to have lots of feelings about it — and the point is to learn how to be comfortable and familiar with all the feels.

But marketing is in the air we breathe and the stuff our dreams are made of. (Don’t believe me? A recent headline from WWD online: “What to Watch: Space Is the New Frontier for Luxury Brands.”) And if you’re temporarily unexposed to marketing, as I once was while on a trip to rural India, it can look a lot like something else when you return to it. It looks more like a sickness. Persuading, coaxing, enticing us to want, want, want more, more, more — more youthful skin, more perfect skin, fuller hair (or just more hair), whiter teeth, prettier nails, etc., etc., etc. You’re already aware of this. But I bring it up here because I want to remind us that marketing can reduce not only our financial resources but also our spiritual ones.

We might be amused by the creative ways beauty marketers attract our attention (and magically open our wallets). Most recently, I received an email from a PR person advocating something called “the Fit Face,” which, in conjuring up the vague notion of “fitness,” unfortunately suggests we must think of our face as something requiring a workout. (The idea isn’t new; did you break a sweat at FaceGym?) You’ve probably heard of skin cycling, moisture sandwiching, situational cleansing, doughnut nails, and, speaking of 🍩, glazed skin. The inimitable Jessica DeFino has pointed out the relationship between many of these marketing ploys and the beauty industry’s insatiable appetite for comparing us to foodstuff. Such a smart strategy: Consumers consume! And aren’t we delighted to be on the menu!

But absorbed in such a feast, we can become hungry ghosts. Because though consuming this junk may momentarily fill us up, it ultimately distracts us from our most reliable sources of happiness and contentment: presence, nowness, the beauty of being right where you are.

Again, you’re already aware of this. But do you, like me, keep forgetting? A friend of mine says it’s the hardest thing to have one foot in both worlds, meaning the corporeal and the spiritual. That is especially true in the beauty arena (also, every arena).

Maybe it’s then wise to think of the beauty industry as a circus. We go there to be entertained, to marvel at the transformational sideshows like butt lifts and eye jobs; the procession of clowns squirting “youth-renewing” creams and lotions from fancy fake flowers; and the multi-diploma’d experts cracking the whip at the loud, ferocious threats of aging. But when we leave the big top, let’s remember it’s all a distraction — and, blinking our way into the bright light of day, focus on the majestic pageantry right before our eyes, which includes you! And you! And you! For better or worse, that focus seems to be what we’re marketing here at HNTFUYF. I hope you’re buying it.

Now, an unusual reader query:

Q: The lower lids of my eyes (what I think you’d refer to as the “waterline”) have begun to look slightly red for the last couple of years. I just turned 65, and nothing I do seems to relieve the issue. I always notice it in photographs, and it just makes me look very tired.

My internist suggested allergies, but no meds have made the redness go away. The ophthalmologist sees nothing amiss and prescribed drops for dry eye, but still no effect. (My overall health is excellent.) I’ve noticed this in older folks for years. Is it just part of aging?

A: I know exactly what you mean, and I’ve noticed it, too, on a few other mature people I know. So I called one of my favorite plastic-surgeon friends, Alan Matarasso, who had a couple of ideas.

First, he proposed that if you were younger, you might be diagnosed with blepharitis, or inflammation of the glands of the inner eyelid. The cause is unknown, he said, but you can treat it with warm compresses, gently massaging the eye area, and irrigating the eyes with artificial tears. A major caveat: Visiting a doctor is mandatory if you’re having visual difficulties.
Then he suggested that the lower lashes might be irritating the eyes; this can happen as we age. Sometimes older people’s lower lids can begin turning inward toward the eye, which causes the lid and lashes to rub against the eyeball. Ouchie! If your eyes don’t hurt (and I hope they don’t), that’s probably not what you’re experiencing.

The likeliest cause of your issue, said Matarasso, is that, again, as we age, sometimes the lower lid gets weaker, droops slightly, and no longer meets the iris of the eyeball. This can cause the visual effect you mention since this droopage exposes more of the inner lower lid.

Surgeons gonna surgeon, so Matarasso advises that if the condition is troublesome, a doctor can put a tiny stitch in the outer corner of the eye that will increase the tension in the lower lid, pulling it up slightly. That may be a fine solution if the issue is really bothering you. But — not to get all Pollyanna — you could also practice your best Duchenne smile when you’re in front of a camera, which would lift the lower lids naturally.

Valerie Monroe was beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the monthly “Ask Val” column for nearly 16 years. Now she writes the weekly newsletter How Not to F*ck Up Your Face. Her goal continues to be to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion and to learn how to be loving witnesses to ourselves and one another as we age.

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Dear Beauty Marketing: Stop Telling Me How to Look Younger