There is a header at the top of Neil Gaiman’s blog in which a photographic “bust” of him is perched looking out at the reader. He sports his trademark unruly hair and traditional rumpled vibe. But what captivates me at the moment I’m looking are his eyes.
He has bags under his eyes. A healthy portion of them.
And I think to myself how interesting it is that they are not Photoshopped, not minimized and it thrills me. It thrills me in the way that I’m thrilled by a plate of real food in the world of processed, fake garbage edibles. Or by someone who maintains eye contact with me during a conversation despite the fact that their phone is dinging with incoming text messages. Or by a friendly moment with a stranger in which you see some humanity instead of the jet trail they leave behind as they race past you like you don’t exist.
I guess I’m talking about authenticity. But particularly with the bodies we wear while we are alive.
There is so much energy and money put into holding back time, to pretending we are not what we are – seasoned, experienced. Weathered.
Neil Gaiman is weathered.
And it’s awesome.
So was Maya Angelou, Georgia O’Keefe.
So is Margaret Atwood.
But I look at their pictures and I find their faces beautiful because they tell a story.
Those are faces that have lived and seen and done things.
The faces announce, “I’m here and I’m perfectly fine where I am on this path toward Home.” To me there is something comforting in looking at a person like that.
There’s a perverse irony in approaching waning youth armed with scalpels and injectables and other horrors of the invasive shoring up of the body against the ravages of time. We’ve all seen the plastic surgery fails posts online. The harder you try to fix it, the more bizarre and less human the face becomes until you’re left with a strange mask that resembles much of nothing, a faint shadow of whatever dissatisfied person is left in there.
My favorites are the bodies that are like old journals, the supple leather ones that are creased and worn. The ones that when cracked open have a thousand scrawled pages of stories inside, that are interesting because they have spent their energy on living and earning every mark they carry instead of spending it on avoiding what is inevitable – that we carry ourselves around in a vessel that is subject to wear, subject to imperfection. Destined for eventual failure.
Some mornings under the harsh light of my bathroom mirror I gently touch the skin around my own tired eyes, nudging them smooth until they look ten years younger, then sigh and let it resume being what it is. Me.
Beautiful, real me.