We learn in science class that skin is the largest organ in the human body. We learn through experience that skin is the first thing to announce our age to the world. The skin on our face, neck, arms, and hands reveals that we are not as young as we used to be, and that can be aggravating. Whether it’s the line from our pillow that stays on our cheek long after we have left the house in the morning or the texture we notice on the back of hands that we hardly recognize as our own, it’s apparent that our skin is changing.
For years we have heard that exposure to sun is the biggest culprit in skin damage and aging. But that wasn’t the case when we were younger. There was the ubiquitous Coppertone ad with the cute little girl whose swimsuit was being pulled down by her dog to reveal a tan line. The message was that getting some sun made you look refreshed, as if you’d been on an expensive vacation. People slathered on baby oil and laid out for hours on the beach or by the pool. Some held reflective screens around their faces to catch more rays. Later, many sped up the process using tanning beds. All in an effort to get that “healthy glow.”
But don’t beat yourself up about not staying out of the sun when you were younger. Even if you’d worn sunscreen, long sleeves, and wide-brimmed hats all of the time, your skin would age. Even if you never smoked or lived in a large city or experienced long-term stress, time would take a toll on your skin.
No matter how much you protect it, the years eventually show up. The skin on the back of your hands gets thinner. The skin on your arms and neck gets looser. Wrinkles run across your forehead and skin sags at your jaw line. Where there once was smoothness, now there’s texture. Where things once were firm, they are now far less elastic.
I prefer not to agonize over the changes to my skin. I know a certain amount of wrinkling and sagging is going to continue to happen whether I like it or not (unless I come into a boatload of money, but that’s for another post). The first time I saw my grandmother’s arm attached to my body, I was shocked. After a short panic, I realized I could either be upset or choose to be open to what was happening. For my sanity’s sake, I decided to do the latter. As more parts of my body revealed differences in appearance, the more I regarded the changes with nonjudgmental attention, the more my perception (and mood) improved.
Eventually I decided to view my new old skin like one of the wonders of the world. Instead of calling it ugly, I regarded the wrinkles and loose skin with curiosity and awe. When I let go of all judgment and simply observed it, I could see my skin as a work of art. There are all kinds of lines and interesting shapes—not unlike what you see in nature.
Think about it. People travel long distances just to marvel at the wrinkles in the sand and rocks at landmarks around the world. Those sites are viewed as spectacular. Photo worthy. Sacred. Wouldn’t it be great if we could regard the changes to skin as we age to be just as interesting? I know the idea of celebrating loose, wrinkled skin may seem farfetched. But how would it make you feel if you were able to perceive your older skin as a natural wonder? To appreciate it for keeping the rest of your body protected. Rather than resist what is, doesn’t it make more sense to embrace it?