I’m in a small cottage in Wales, and dawn is breaking over the mountains outside of my window. This is not my house, but it will serve as my residence for a few weeks for work purposes. With all the chaos of my job and the incompatible shifts of my loud (and often drunk) temporary housemates, I’m averaging around 4 hours sleep a night at best. Years ago I would have thrived on the adrenaline and probably enjoyed the deprivation, thanks to that sense of euphoric invincibility experienced during late teens and early twenties. Sadly my equivalent ‘euphoria’ is now best brought about by long walks, good wine, books and an early night, so I’m in for a challenging experience out here to say the least – in fact, for the first time, I feel quite intimidated by my age.
One feature that I’ve noticed about myself in recent years is how accustomed I’ve become to routine – in fact, I would reckon that the vast majority of my mornings have been almost identical for quite some time now. It’s a terrifying thought, but what made me notice it is even more terrifying…
When I awoke this morning to the beautiful mountains, I was in a rush, and had around thirty minutes to run a bath, wash, dress, eat and put my ‘slap’ on, as my mother would say. I’ve got this routine down to a tee in London, but in this house, where objects and their locations are unfamiliar, everything becomes disturbed. The taps in the bathtub change temperature regardless of how I set them, my clothes are all bundled together in a suitcase in no particular fashion, my breakfast is a Co-Op stuffed carrier bag in the corner of the room with whatever I could find on the shelves before it closed the previous evening, and, most worryingly, there are no mirrors. The ‘slap’ part of my routine has become a long, drawn out panic with me racing from my dressing table to my window every ten seconds using the shiny bit of a mascara wand to gauge what I look like in different light. At the end of it all I leave with a deep sense of insecurity and the added assumption that I’ve probably got uneven eyebrows or some ‘unblended’ patches of concealer that make me look ridiculous. Interacting with people becomes a struggle as the majority of my day is spent in direct, beaming sunlight for more than twelve hours straight – enough to melt even the most perfectly applied ‘slap.’
What should I do? Go without the ‘slap,’ you say? All very well in theory, but I’m exhausted, I’ve got dark rings under my eyes, my skin has broken out around my chin, and I’m working face-to-face with some pretty high-profile characters at the moment, so, in a house without mirrors and an outdoor job, I’d prefer to be insecure knowing that I have something on, than insecure knowing that I have nothing on. I’m under no illusions that this is not a healthy mindset, and is a consequence of an idealistic, unrealistic society, but that’s how it is.
It’s sad, isn’t it.
I’m now back in London, and my morning routine can go back to the way it was. In In fact, I’ve got a large mirror in front of me right now as I type, so that if ever I feel that something might be out of place, rest assured that I will spot it by simply looking up from my laptop whenever I care to. How wonderful! Except that it’s not. It’s terrible. What is the point of all this self-monitoring? What am I managing? What is this ‘face’ that I am cultivating every morning, and why am I using it instead of the one I own? The one that came for free? The one that doesn’t wash off? More importantly, what will the value of either face be forty or fifty years from now? What if the face I own is ruined tomorrow, and there’s no amount of cultivation that can reverse the damage?
A beautiful face is a sign of fertility – it’s a sign of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, microbiota, oxidative stress, cortisol, adrenaline, and more. A beautiful face is not a sign of personality – it’s not a sign of kindness, generosity, spontaneity, intellect, punctuality, responsibility, dedication, empathy, nor many other features that endure into and throughout old age. In short, fertility lasts as long as it lasts, then it’s gone, and you’re left with the infertile person that remains. What is the value of an infertile person?
One day I expect to be married, and I expect that whoever chooses to marry me will instinctively do so on the basis of signs of fertility, as is human nature. Of course, they will hopefully have made the decision on other bases too, but very few people decide to marry on grounds which are exclusive of physical attraction. What I hope, more than anything, is that whoever decides to marry me sees a beautiful personality, regardless of face. I hope that this person imagines walking aimlessly with me when we’re old, and looks forward to the conversations we will have, and the ideas we will create together. I hope that this person admires me for my actions and principles, and enjoys seeing me implement my beliefs at every opportunity. I hope that this person sees my dedication to others, and my desire to contribute to others’ thriving. Above all, I hope that when this person looks at me, they no longer see a face at all, but a unique soul that is forever growing and learning, and that they would like to grow and learn with.
Look in the mirror nearest to you. What do you see? Is it really you, staring back? Or is it a temporary biological trick to lure a suitor, that will fade away in years to come, and leave no trace behind but for old photographs that no one cares to see. Your days are numbered, as are mine, and faces are temporary and fleeting objects. Never make yours a priority, as I did. Instead, why cultivating something deeper – why not start a new morning routine, waking up to learn a new skill, to help someone in need, or simply to love someone who sees you for who you really are: the person you will be in years to come, who only gets better with age, and never wrinkles.
By Emma Langley