A couple years ago, my mom was telling me a story when she stopped mid-sentence and said, “It’s time you had one of these, follow me.” I felt like I was eleven again, after telling her I had discovered blood in my underwear and she showed me the drawer where she kept the pads, using those exact same words.
She led me into her bedroom and, as though in preparation for dental surgery, she sat me down in a reclining chair positioned strategically between her dresser and a large window. She unveiled a collection of tools on her dresser, all meticulously placed on a white cotton handkerchief: various pairs of tweezers (one with a curious curved tip), folded tissues, a tiny bottle of tea tree oil and a woodpile-like stack of cotton swabs. I looked around for a needle, drill, perhaps a collection of teeth.
“You have a chin hair,” she said with a look of concern on her face.
“Oh?” I said, trying to keep the sound of panic out of my voice as I grazed my fingers along my chin. There it was, jutting out like a stiff piece of straw from an ornamental lawn. Without warning, I felt an urgency to get rid of it so I pinched it between my fingernails and gave it quick, tight tugs.
“That won’t work, it’s too thick,” my mom said. “Here, take this.” With a dramatic wave of her hand, she passed me the tweezers with the curved tip. The curved tip! What did this mean? “It’s fine, totally normal,” she said in a calming voice. “And I have something else that will make your life much easier.”
She handed me a mirror.
“I can just do it in the bathroom mirror,” I said.
She grinned at me with a look of excitement, “but the bathroom mirror can’t do this!”
I readied myself for some ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ badass queen magic.
“This side zooms in on things,” she said.
On things? I took the mirror from her and examined the magical side. But what my eyes beheld was merciless. Oh, cruel mother, why hadn’t you prepared me for what I was about to witness?
Just like my mom had told me that having babies was a walk in the park, she neglected to tell me that looking at my face in a magnifying mirror in my forties would leave me in a fetal position beside her bed.
Images of my childhood, my flawless skin—flash—images of my zitty, teenage skin—flash—images of my skin during pregnancy, again glowing and rosy as from childhood—flash—and now, an image of my forty-year-old skin with hairs, pores, peaks and valleys that I didn’t even know existed.
After regrouping myself, I took a deep breath and examined my face.
I was both fascinated and horrified that something I look at in the mirror almost daily had developed its own ecosystem. The magic mirror reflected a family of microscopic creatures, the mother putting a baby to bed in a very large pore that left room for triplets.
“It’s a little shocking the first time, isn’t it?” my mom said, laughing at my reaction. Now I felt like we were having the ‘losing your virginity’ talk. Yup, both were shocking, but also a bit painful, awkward, and very disappointing.
As I watched her laugh, I realized that she wanted to witness the shock on my face that was likely on hers twenty years earlier. We were bonding over chin hairs. We could now clink them together like wine glasses, even high five with the extra long ones.
“Holy shit,” I said, not able to peel my eyes from the mirror. “I don’t want to look anymore, but I can’t help it!”
And then, it started. I began to pluck hairs on my face, turning this way and that, gasping each time I discovered a new one at each angle; the stark daylight was both my friend and my enemy. I marveled at the complete masochistic satisfaction I was deriving, especially from plucking the thick ones with roots like turnips. I even ventured to my upper lip and realized that I was sorely mistaken when I thought it was under control after a couple years of waxing.
And so, started my plucking era; I seized it with a vengeance and compulsively honed my tweezing skills on my husband’s ears, my teenage daughter’s eyebrows, off-coloured threads of my shower mat, a hair from my neighbour’s dog’s furry mole, and even a small patch of my lawn.
I also discovered that there was yet one more magic mirror: the rear-view mirror of my car. Even after believing I had gotten every single rogue hair on my face, my rear-view mirror magically revealed several that I had missed, like the true friend who privately points out the booger in her friend’s nose.
Now, I know there are things like electrolysis if I really wanted to get serious, but so far, I’m managing well with tweezers. After the unexpected love affair with my rear-view mirror, I purchased a magnifying mirror, which I totally understand why you would not want one, after reading about my experience.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Or perhaps you’d prefer to cultivate your chin hairs for the greater good of, say, donating them to hummingbirds for their nests—all the power to you.
But I’ve actually gotten used to seeing not only my hairs, but my skin close up too; it may have even brought me to a further acceptance that yes, my skin is aging. It’s aging.
Do I like that it’s aging? No, I don’t, but I’m okay with it.
Perhaps better yet, it’s something we can connect with other women on, like we might connect on a preference for Merlot versus Malbec. As an example, my close group of girlfriends from high school have started to gather every summer in our hometown, and when I arrived last year, the first thing one of them anxiously said was, “Nic, do you pluck hairs on your chin?”
Hallelujah! With my early menopause, I had assumed that it was just me—just as we had all feared being either the first or last one to get our period so many years ago.
“Totally!” I said, pulling my bottle of vodka from the back of my minivan while fighting the sudden urge to clunk chins with her rather than give a high five.