I electively spent a lot of time at a dentist’s office in midtown during the former half of my freshman year in college. I was eighteen and recently broken up with and therefore insufferable but with a lot of recreational time to allocate toward doing the things the rest of the population puts off. Like taking care of a receding gum line.
It took a consecutive six Fridays to eradicate the oral damage I would have otherwise ignored and in that time, my dentist became my therapist. While probing at my gums with her instruments, she would explain that her best friend Cathy, or her Uncle Mark and even her own sister had been broken up with a significant other for [insert large time frame here] before one day, poof! They got back together.
I cherished the happily-ever-afters she told, hoping that one day she might be able to share mine, and on the last of my six visits (we were replacing a crown on one of my molars), I was sad to say goodbye. She told me I was wise beyond my years in spite of my tender age and I loved that.
As I waited for her to fix the final tooth, I thought that our journey together had been profound. It had now been six weeks since my heart and gums were first broken and I was beginning to feel alive, like an adult with a repertoire of manageable despair beneath her belt. But when a nurse walked into my room at the dentist office to verify my information and giggled as I confirmed that yes, I was born in 1988, she ruined everything.
“Honey, I thought you were 13! You can’t be really be turning 19 in a week? You look sooooooooooooo young!” Unwittingly, she devalued all the adult anguish I’d experienced. Mouth fixed, I never went back. Partly because my dentist was clearly an evil oligarch to have employed such a monster but also because she kindly requested I not return. You see, I less-than-gently informed the nurse her English — and eyesight — were [expletive] [expletive] [expletive].
Who wants to hear that they look 13? Especially before the ripening that comes with a 21st birthday, fresh wounds from failed love still irritating battered skin? But this was not a new qualm for me. I faced the majority of the first quarter of my life being told I looked much younger than my age.
When I was in 8th grade, my own school nurse thought I was in 5th. At my Bat Mitzvah, an old friend of my father’s thought I was the Bat Mitzvah girl’s younger sister. (I don’t have a sister). And when I had a fake ID, it never ever worked.
My mom used to caution that the time would come when I’d long for those days. I’m annoyed that she was right. At some point after my 21st birthday, the underestimations became overestimations; Twitter and its publishers aged me 20 years, commenters gaped at my eye bags and forehead wrinkles when held against the years my life boasted and then, one day last summer, a waiter at Le Pain Quotidien asked me in earnest if I was treating my daughter to lunch.
On that day, I was dining with my mother who, don’t get me wrong, is beautiful, but is also currently the inverse of my age.
I ransacked a beauty counter at a pharmacy in midtown that afternoon to find a seemingly reliable anti-aging cream plus supplementary serum. As a self-proscribed low maintenance individual, I hated the idea of skincare. Shouldn’t it care for itself? Look like a baby’s ass until I’m at least 65? Still, I bought both products and have been using them ever since. The result has left a lot of people asking me why I look a. sun-kissed b. well-rested (under eye bags be damned but not injected), and c. baby-ass chic.
The way I have come to see it is like this: if we’re consciously eating healthier and engaging in activities that are meant to support life-longevity and to preventatively protect us from the complications that make growing old seem so shitty, why not, too, protect our skin from being mistaken for a 50-year-old’s?
But the title question still remains. How early is too early to start using anti-aging cream? Or more ominously…how late is too late?
Ironically enough, I have three appointments set up with my dentist through the course of the next three weeks — she’s taking me back. There are like four cavities in my mouth and I pray that her nurse is still there to tell me I look 13.