I was channel surfing the other day when I came across a Dr. Oz show that caught my attention. I think the segment was called "Beauty Secrets Debunked" or something along those lines. I stay tuned because I thought I might learn a thing or two, and I did. But boy, was my education depressing. For example, did you know that plucking a gray hair from your head damages the follicles so severely that hair may not grow back there at all? And if it does, not only will it still grow back gray but it will also sprout in the opposite direction as the rest of your hair, thereby making the gray even more noticeable? I think back on all of the hours I've spent, cross-eyed, leaning in close to the bathroom mirror, plucking away at those stray grays. And to think, I've been hastening the balding process, pluck by pluck... oh, pluck!
In addition to my eager tweezing, I've been sleeping on my side for over a decade now -- ever since my OBGYN told me it was the best thing for pregnancy. Now Dr. Oz enlightens me that side-sleeping causes delicate facial skin to wrinkle. Well, drat! I'll spare you the sagging breast question Dr. Oz fielded from an audience member. Suffice it to say that the makeshift model he used to demonstrate the way in which nursing a baby and the mere passage of time impact breast tissue was nothing short of horrifying. I cringed and cupped my breasts in the same way a man reflexively grabs his package each time he watches a video of a crotch-hit.
So, last year I hit the big 4-0 milestone. Anyone who proclaims that age is nothing more than a number has not yet begun to physically fall apart for no apparent reason. For me, at least, 40 is when random ailments started plaguing me -- nothing that would be considered a medical disaster but highly aggravating nonetheless.
For example, I used to be able to ride in the car for long distances without any problem at all. Last summer, however, I exited the passenger's side of our Toyota 4-Runner after a 500-mile trek and noticed that my back was ridiculously stiff. I wasn't shocked given that I had contorted my body into unusual and uncomfortable positions in order to make floor room for our kids' snack bags, toy trucks, and various electronic devices. I shrugged it off, assuming the stiffening would subside in a day or two, but instead I battled chronic back pain for several months. All because I dared to ride in a car.
That same summer, I did something else that I'd done numerous times before. I jumped off the back of our boat's swim platform into waist-deep water. When my heel hit the sand-bottom lake, a piercing pain shot through my right foot. It turned out to be plantar fasciitis, which required six months of intense physical therapy.
This past year I also suffered from tennis elbow despite the fact that I never play tennis. This supposedly came about because I sleep curled on my side (as evidenced by my wrinkly face) with my right arm tucked beneath me. Bending the arm is apparently a ligament no-no; it's better to sleep with the arm outstretched, especially when a tendon is inflamed. Man, I miss the days I could just conk out, willy-nilly, and awaken feeling rested instead of wounded.
Honestly, I think all of these irritating injuries are karma for the ribbing I gave my grandparents when I was a kid.
"Whaddaya mean you don't want to ride the roller coaster?" I'd ask Grandma and Grandpa. "It's not that bumpy!" I insisted. (Meanwhile, the wooden death machine whipped around the tracks so violently that my earrings popped out.)
Every time Grandma and Grandpa visited our house, within an hour of arrival, they made a beeline for our sofa. "You're seriously going to take a nap?" I'd ask with disgust. As a youngster, I could not, for the life of me, understand the appeal of sleep during daylight hours. Now, of course, I start to salivate if I know I have a shot at 15 minutes of shut-eye.
My grandparents knew a good thing when they saw it (an empty couch, for instance). They also never edited their thoughts. I remember Grandma used to tell me, "You're so pretty you'd look good with a burlap bag slung over your head." It sounded like a back-handed compliment at the time. Now, what with the wrinkles and wily stray grays popping up here and there, the burlap bag doesn't sound like a half-bad suggestion.
With age comes wisdom, and now I understand the meaning of Grandma's message. I look back at my teenage pictures and I was a hottie! But I never thought so at the time. I only focused on the zit or the freckle or the number on the scale. As a result, I didn't appreciated what I had when I had it. Now that I'm older, my perspective has shifted, and I recognize that the "here and now" all too quickly becomes the "there and then."
Grandma encouraged me to embrace my beauty, brains, health and wellness (just as Dr. Oz has encouraged me to embrace the invention of the support bra).
Grandma "got it," and now I get it, too. My Debbie Downer optometrist tells me that my excellent vision will deteriorate within the next two years because "that's just what happens to 40-year-old eyes." Alrighty, then. So I'll appreciate what I see and hear and taste and feel right now. That's my beauty secret (well, that and keeping the burlap bag handy for bad hair days).
Read Christy Heitger-Ewing's new book "Cabin Glory" (www.cabinglory.com). Visit her author website at http://christyheitger-ewing.com/.