The older I get, the more difficulty I have in recognizing myself. After all, I am looking from the inside out and what I see is through the distortion of the mirror, or the camera lens, or wishes and criticisms.
In case you’re wondering, I do not suffer from Prosopagnosia, aka facial blindness. In fact, I have very good facial recognition, annoying my husband with easy identification of child actors now grown, or long ago neighbors passed on the street.
But I’m quite certain that if you put my isolated features in a line-up, I would have difficulty selecting which ones belong to me. Are those my tiny eyes? My thin lips? Even a cluster of features in their rightful order don’t always coalesce into an understandable whole. Like looking up at the night sky and being able to see clearly only those stars at the periphery of your vision. The ones in direct view are invisible.
Perhaps it is because we are on a rolling walkway of time. It is just as difficult to believe I will someday have the face of the elderly—flaccid, paper thin, spotted—as it is to believe I was once rounded and gap-toothed. I am stuck somewhere in the middle, wondering how I got to this point.
So, I ask the question, what do I actually look like? Is this decades-old photograph a good representation? Somehow that image stays stuck in my head. I see her expressive eyes staring back at me and her steely lips full of discomfort at being photographed. Or the stiff, formal stills taken at a daughter’s wedding, hair and makeup that clearly belong to someone else. A face that certainly is not mine. Or, God forbid, something offered by my phone’s evil screen.
The vision in the mirror is a bluff. An image to snapchat, as tomorrow it will change. Perhaps it is the expectations that lead to my confusion. Perhaps I am still expecting to see a face that matches my internal clock, stuck somewhere years earlier. Instead, reality confronts me again.
I seem to have a face that strangers find familiar. With regularity, they ask,”Have I seen you on TV?” “Have we met at a recent conference?” The answer is invariably no. But still, it feels welcoming. As if they are almost friends.
In my younger days, I was told I looked like Mary Steenbergen and Carrie Fisher. Recently, I have apparently aged into Jane Seymour. All beautiful women with whom I share not a shred of resemblance. Just the suggestion is enough to confuse me further.
My father at ninety-two is grizzled and frail, with pale skin stretched over skeletal features. And yet, I see him still as the middle-aged man with shiny black hair and a knowing grin. Oddly, imagining my mother, gone three years now, I see only her aged face.
So this is a quantitative reflection, of time playing tricks with my self-perception. I’m perfectly happy with how I look. If only I could figure out what that is.