The Things Our Mothers Never Meant To Teach Us

I’ve never had a good poker face. In fact, my animated expressions have always betrayed my emotions, displaying my every feeling from elation to despair, before I’ve had the chance to vocalize, and sometimes even realize, them myself. But more than offering a window into my current state of mind, my expressions and the lines they leave behind are an indication of my lineage. Whenever I catch my reflection, the familiarity of it all astounds me—the laugh lines at the corners of my mouth, gentle creases across my forehead from incredulous eyebrow raises, and the dip between my eyebrows from a thinking-furrowed brow—they’re all from the face of my mother.

Most of the personality traits I am happy to have inherited come directly from my mom. Things like our sarcasm and fierce love of reading are so deeply ingrained in my identity that it’s easy to forget where they came from. My facial expressions are more obvious, as are my constant worries that the wrinkles they’re slowly causing will eat away at me for years to come. That’s because one of the most unmistakable facets of my mother’s being that will forever be etched in my own is vanity.

My mother never explicitly taught me to adhere to a rigid personal maintenance regime, but her complex fixation with always looking put together before she dared step outside was duly noted. I picked it up as strongly as I did her lessons in reading and writing. My mother has always maintained that I was beautiful and perfect and needed no extra accoutrements (and that it’s the reason I’m an only child: “Why try again?”). But what did that mean, exactly, since I felt the exact same way about her?

My mom’s affirmations that she’d happily have work done to fix all her physical foibles became my own obsession, only I wanted to prevent them before they happened to me. And I’m not alone in this kind of thinking.

In 2014, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported an upswing of minimally invasive procedures being performed on 20 to 29-year-olds. Botox, fillers, and face reshaping became as ubiquitous to young ladies as eyelash extensions and bra stuffing.

Like many women, my mom looks at photos of herself from past years and laments the changes that time has made. Sometimes when we Skype, she’ll pull the skin on her face taut, looking at her own picture, until I mimic the gesture back, pulling my eyelids into a faux cat-eye. Whenever she catches me complaining about my skin or body, she lets me know that in 20 years, I’ll regret selling myself so short when I was young and perky. Why, then, wouldn’t I want to fix things now so I’ll have less to bemoan later?

The thought of getting chemicals injected into our faces used to be considered drastic, but the procedures have achieved radical normalization through constant media coverage, and a culture that thrives on sharing. A once-dirty secret of older women trying to recreate the fullness of their youthful faces has turned into something so common place that it’s no longer a taboo to divulge. Actress Amanda Seyfried had Botox when she was only 25. How do we know? Because she told us.

In fact, Botox and fillers have become so trendy that parties are being thrown for the procedures with the same informality (and prevalence) as the Tupperware parties of yore. Not long ago I was invited to such a party and, to be honest, I seriously considered going. Many young women do. That’s not a fact that sits well with leading Toronto dermatologist, Dr. Julia Carroll. “There’s no confidentiality, it’s not in a clinical setting, and it’s not at all on the same level of sterility as there would bein an office,” says Dr. Carroll. “A lot of times there is alcohol [involved], which lets down someone’s guard and actually increases bruising. I’ve had many clients come in with Botox gone bad from those parties.” But in an age where millennials want everything delivered to them as fast and easily as possible (and as fast and easily uploaded on Instagram), Botox parties are a dream come true. Consequences be damned.

Audrey Garcia* is one such millennial. With a job in media, she is constantly photographed at events. After seeing her face in magazines and newspapers, she decided it was time to take the syringe plunge. Garcia has already been injected a couple of times in the past year, and even though she’s only in her mid-twenties, she’s already thinking about the larger, more invasive cosmetic procedures she might undergo in the future. At the moment, though, she’s satiated with Botox and loves that the stigma is disappearing so quickly. Though she’ll stick to the clinics instead of Botox parties.

“I think [these procedures have] become so mainstream that they’re almost a point of pride now,” says Garcia. “As long as people of influence continue to be open about their own treatments, the rest of us will act accordingly.”

Still, it’s tough to argue about Botox with my mother, no matter how mainstream. As my literal creator, she’ll never see the imperfections I stare at with a magnifying glass, so she’ll never understand or support my need to fix them, or to prevent what’s coming. But, our similarities clearly go beyond our brown eyes and our high-pitched giggles—they reach deeper into our psyches than we realize. The sadness she projects sometimes when she looks in a mirror, zeroing in on every imperfection, could well be my future…if it’s not already my present. Suddenly, it’s not enough to worry about what I’ll look like in 30 years; I find myself prematurely haunted by what changes I might experience during pregnancy. Not everyone glows, you know. The possible breakouts, stretch lines and weight that could be hard to shake envelop my thoughts whenever my mother excitedly talks about grandchildren.

To be fair, my beautiful mother hasn’t had any work done to date. Not a poke, peel or ’plasty has touched her fair skin. So, in a way, she is teaching me how to age gracefully, through her actions in spite of her words and, I suppose, in spite of the pulled-taut expressions she tests. She wears sunscreen every day and would die before going to bed with makeup on. Her habits to preserve her looks are flawless, and I can’thelp but aspire to keep up.

My mom is the woman I respect the most in the entire world, and not Oprah, Michelle Obama, nor Kate Middleton will ever take her place on my list, either. So when she says that the lines on her face make her feel old, I look at the baby ones on my own face and know that I will feel the same in no time. Though where my mother stops short of doing anything surgically to fix them, I know deep down that I probably won’t have the resolve to let myself age quite as gracefully. While physical traits tend to dilute as generations continue on and on, it seems that the vanity my mother and I share is only getting stronger.