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My Mother's Face

Rachel Levy Lesser

I’ve had my hair balayaged, which is a term used to describe the process whereby the top part of your hair is colored in a dark hue and then the bottom part is painted (with a special hair paint brush) in streaks and chunks of lighter tones. So basically, my hair is a canvas for my hair dresser, who is truly an artist.

Here is what I have done to my face in my life so far: Pretty much nothing. I have not had Botox or filler or any kind of a face lift or surgical procedure. I have not used retinol or chemical peels or microplanning, microdermabrasion or any kind of micro anything (or macro for that matter) on my face. I don’t even own foundation. And this is not because I have amazing skin, not in the least. I have a plethora of lines of my forehead, so noticeable and so growing in number that my children have been known to count them.

My father has on occasion told me to not to worry so much as he points out my scrunched up forehead and accompanying lines. I have laugh lines that, well let’s just say, I laugh — a lot. I have dark spots on my cheeks that can no longer pass for the cute patches of freckles of my youth. My neck, while I know is technically not my face, is covered up by a scarf 75% of my waking hours.

I have 100% considered doing things to my face. I really do think about it, some might say day dream about, quite often. I notice women in film – photographs and in real life – who look amazing having taken action against wrinkles of all kinds, age spots and the like.

Clearly I care what I look like (see above, what I have done to my hair) not to mention countless hours I spend reading/writing/talking about and shopping for the latest fashion trends. I practice yoga, take walks nearly every day and engage in other forms of exercise to stay in shape.

I’ve had those innocuous feel good facials where women with unbelievably flawless skin rub lovely smelling lotions and potions on my face as they explain the ingredients in each product as they apply them. I am asleep by ingredients four or five. I’ve also purchased a wide variety of lotions and potions from the aisles of CVS as well as the ones that magically pop up on my Instagram feed. I have been fairly loyal to Cetaphil, Neutrogena and that St. Ives apricot scrub, which I first discovered in the shower house at summer camp in 1988. Still though, I haven’t invested in anything of substance that would change my face.

Why not, I wonder? I have most certainly changed my hair in every way possible. “The great thing about hair,” my mother said to me after an unfortunate bob situation in 1994 “is that it always grows back.” Those words are unbelievably true and go down in my book as just some of the sage advice from my mom, who was wrong about very little, with the exception of refusing to buy me Guess Jeans in 1987, the same year as the unfortunate perm, which did in fact grow out. Speaking of growing out, I have considered letting my hair grow out to its natural gray hue. I’ve seen a lot of women do this during the past few years of living through a global pandemic. This certainly would have been an ideal time to go au natural. And yet I found myself right back in my hair dresser’s chair quite soon after getting the vaccine asking, almost begging, for my color, cut and blow out.

“When I am 60,” I told my husband the other day, even though he wasn’t asking, “I’ll let my hair go gray.” Sixty sounds like a good even number, and also it feels rather aspirational to me having lost my own mom to cancer when she was 57. I am told many women can’t imagine surpassing their late mothers in age.

I will turn 50 on my next birthday, and as I become closer to the age that my mother will forever be immortalized, it has become clear to me and just about everyone that knew my mother, that my face looks more like my mother’s than ever before. It’s actually a bit disarming. When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize me anymore. I see my mother, her face.

I tagged along on a work trip with my husband to a small beach town in southern California a few months ago. As I strolled by myself along the main street of the once hippy enclave now tourist hot spot, I thought of my mom more than usual, imagining her walking arm and arm with me and wondering which store she would like the most. At one eclectic boutique that caught my attention, I tried on a necklace with a gold chain and tiny green stone meant to represent peace and tranquility or so the shop owner told me.

“Hi mom,” I said to myself almost, and embarrassingly so, out loud. Look at us, I thought. Look where we are? Cute necklace, right? I smiled in the store’s mirror as my mother’s face smiled back at me. When my mother was sick, a friend of my parents very correctly told me that I will never see my mother truly age. I think about that comment – a lot. I want to see her age. I want to see what that face of hers, now somehow mine, will look like, really look like, without any interference on my part. I don’t want to change it. I know it can’t grow back. And so I am not changing it, for now.

TBD on the hair.

Rachel Levy Lesser is the author of Life’s Accessories, A Memoir (And Fashion Guide) as well as three other books. She is the creator and co-host of the Life’s Accessories Podcast where she interviews interesting and introspective people about meaningful items and the stories behind them. In her previous life, Rachel worked on the business side of Time Inc. on magazines including InStyle, People and Real Simple. When not writing, Rachel can be found baking, practicing yoga, knitting scarves and wearing them.


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