Perhaps because of this, I've never really been one to be that concerned with my appearance. I wear glasses more often than contacts, I get my hair cut once or twice a year and I am generally more concerned with keeping my skin in good condition than I am about eyeliner.
Don't get me wrong, though. I definitely "dress for success" and I am always well-groomed when I'm out in public. I want to look my best, but I understand that my best is never going to be... Well, pretty.
The other day I was out to breakfast with my mom, my aunt and my cousin. My cousin is the "pretty one." Oh, she's smart and accomplished and a great mom and an amazing cook and just truly a wonderful person. But she's also model gorgeous - in fact, she was a model in her 20s - and at 50, she's starting to look like she's in her mid-30s.
So it surprised me when the waitress, who knows me, didn't recognize me at first.
"I thought at first you were (cousin's daughter)," she said. (Names not given for privacy)
I laughed. My cousin's daughters are even prettier than their mother. "Nope, I'm not that pretty," I replied.
The waitress gave me a funny look. "No, you're prettier than them."
I took this as a compliment - the waitress is incapable of dissembling. But I was a little taken aback.
At 40, I'm more comfortable with my looks than I ever was before. I know that my slightly-hooked nose is bigger than it should be, but it is perfectly suited to keeping my glasses on my face. My square jawline is only slightly softened by my chipmunk cheeks, which are finally slimming down in middle age. My eyes are big and wide open most of the time, unless I'm squinting because I forgot my reading glasses. In general, though, my features are just a little too strong for my petite build.
I posed the question to my best friend, Bean. We've known each other for more than 30 years and if anyone can be honest with me, it's her.
"No, not pretty," she said without hesitation. "You're more striking. Beautiful, yes, but striking."
And I thought, yes. I'll take that. I'm good with striking. Katherine Hepburn was striking. Meryl Streep is striking.
Because now that I'm middle aged, I'm thinking more about how I look. I can no longer rely on my youth, like I did in my 20s. Nor can I use my children as an excuse for not looking my best, like I did in my 30s. I'm wearing makeup more often to enhance my good features (eyes, lips) and play down my bad features (lack of color - thank you Irish heritage - and huge pores). I'm styling my bangs to cover the lines in my forehead. My skin care routine is extensive and involves a weekly schedule of exfoliation, moisturizer, sunscreen and deep cleansing masks.
And I'll ride striking for as long as I can.