I like to think I am the least vain person in the world. If anything, I am vain about not being vain. However, I have been thinking a lot lately about my face. Yep, that’s the sad truth.
My mum has always said to me ‘well, it’s easy not to be vain when you’re 16/18/24/28…etc’. She’s right. It’s also easy not to be vain when you have fairly unremarkable, but undeniably low-maintenance, looks. Being able to get ready in a hurry does not necessarily warrant a state of elevated moral smugness.
I sometimes put ugly pictures of myself on Instagram, just because I get annoyed at the levels of perfect-selfie vanity on there. But I’m as guilty of curating, and of vetoing a friend’s picture if I look fat, as the next self-obsessed idiot out there.
My Instagram profile picture is of me in a dressing gown with moustache bleach on my face. I will admit: this is a joke that seemed funnier when I first started it, because at the time I had a boyfriend who thought I was sexy and hilarious. The joke has started to seem less funny to me now I am single and followed by boys I fancy on Instagram. However, changing the picture out of vanity seems to me like selling out (always the big fear) and I have thus far resisted.
Like everyone, I have my little mental tick-list of ‘OK’ and ‘not-OK’. Armpit hair – OK. Wan hangover face – OK. Double chin – not OK. Cellulite – not OK. Now I’m 35 (and a half), a big consideration has started to be ‘old – not OK?’. For the first time, I look at pictures of myself five years ago – or even two years ago; it’s been a hard couple of years – and really notice a marked difference.
When Leonard Cohen (or, as I like to call him: God) recently died, I spent a lot of time looking at photographs of him (and posting them on Instagram). I was too sad to listen to his songs, but all I wanted to do was read his books and look at his face. And what a face. Interestingly, a face that just got better and better.
It occurred to me: I quite fancied LC when he was 33. He was fucking beautiful at all ages, of course. But I really fancied him most of all between about 45 and 60. And at 82 – yep, still would.
His was a face that was improved by age, that looked like it was always supposed to be a bit craggy; it went perfectly with his persona and his work that every experience (the wine-drinking, the women, the dark nights of the soul, the Zen monastery years) was etched there, a badge of honour for all the world to see. The elder statesman tone, the gravelly voice, the air of gravitas, the gentlemanly hat – and the battered, world-weary face. Perfect.
I wonder how much of this was possible because he wasn’t straightforwardly ‘handsome’ to start with (I mean, not in a Robert Redford way or a Jared Leto way, or a Paul McCartney way). His face was always more interesting than that. As Leonard himself wrote of Janis Joplin: ‘you told me again that you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception. And clenching your fists for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, you fixed yourself, you said “well, never mind – we are ugly but we have the music”…’ *
Which got me thinking, this rule applies to very few women. Many men are said to ‘get better with age’ – etc etc – but generally we like women to look like nubile youngsters – not craggy, world-weary troubadours. If you’re a pretty girl who becomes famous as a teenager – well, when you’re 30/40/50, the world will apparently be fucking furious with you for daring not to look like a teenager any more.
The only exception I can think of is Patti Smith. Is that because she kind of refused to play the game right from the beginning? Or because Patti Smith is a special magical being, more about art than sex, more shaman than woman? I am honestly not sure.**
It’s something I have been thinking about a lot lately because – to my shame – my own face has been troubling me. I look older than I used to. Obviously this is because I am older. However, events of the last couple of years have definitely changed me from ‘looking young for my age and people often commenting on this’ to ‘looking at least my age and like I’ve been having a shit time of it’. The frown line between my eyes has started giving me resting bitch face.
These are things I have never given a moment’s thought to before. Of course, that’s because I’ve never had to. I asked one of my best friends if she thought I should have Botox. Because she is a brilliant friend, she didn’t lie – she agreed with me that my frown line has become unusually extreme, but said because I have a fringe I don’t need Botox. This is the kind of logic that makes me love her.
Then Leonard Cohen died and I decided FUCK IT. I want my life to be written on my face. I don’t take any of it back. I have always been a person who has opted out, dropping clues so that the world knows – if I wear a pretty dress, I don’t brush my hair; if I wear a skimpy top, you get to see tattoos and armpit hair.
I want lines and gravitas and to be a great artist. On a whim, I wrote on the wall in my hallway the other day, where I will see it before I leave the house every day: ZERO FUCKS.
* As I commented to a handsome gentleman of my acquaintance recently ‘if anyone ever said “we are ugly but we have the music” about me, I think I’d be a bit cross’. His perfect response? To send me back an image of my own (pouting) face – a very flattering selfie that I had ‘ironically’ (read: ‘vainly’) posted on Instagram some time ago, captioned: ‘This for us ugly folks?’
** Interestingly, my mum is convinced that the only technically ‘ugly’ woman ever to be considered a popular sex symbol is Chrissie Hynde. People often say I look like Chrissie Hynde, so I’m not sure what we can take from this observation.