Cover Photo: black and white photograph of an Asian woman looking into a handheld mirror, touching a cloth to her face
Photograph by Septian Simon/Unsplash

Finally, at Fifty, I Can See Myself

I participated in the betrayal of my face because it’s easy to do when your thoughts about beauty are colonized and your appearance is a battleground.

I hate that the “women turning fifty” narrative is just another reclamation project urging women to hold back the ocean of aging with lube, a jade face roller, a bucket list. So much of this narrative rests on the assumption that we took the road much traveled, as we’re reminded that we “earned” our wrinkles, that we can finally lose our inhibitions with partners, that we should love our bodies and the evidence of childbirth. I never gave birth, I’m not a spouse, I haven’t yet hit menopause or even “middlepause.” How do I redefine myself at fifty, without these relationships to other people? Sometimes it feels unfair that the only relationship to redefine is the one between me and my face.

As a girl, I looked at my feet when I walked, but now I look up and forward, not just to be seen but to see. It’s both a trope and a truth that at fifty we care less what other people think—as if in becoming invisible to others, we return the favor. The more I see myself, now, the less I see what anyone else might want or need from me. I see less and less of what supposedly needs fixing, masking, or changing.

Lydia Kim is a consultant and writer based in the Bay Area. She writes stories and essays about unlearning conventional wisdom and learning what’s next. As a former English Lit teacher, she doesn't care about the canon.