Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When 900 Years Old You Reach, Look As Good You Will Not, MMM?

I recently noticed that whenever I smile (as in really smile, not fake smile), I've begun to display what I presume are the beginnings of crow's feet - but only on the corner of my right eye. The phenomenon is completely unnoticeable when my face is relaxed, but I imagine that in a decade or two the lines will be.

Tacking that onto the early appearance of grey hair (of which I have more than a few), and the fact that the majority of my friends from my Shana Aleph are graduated, married, and no longer in YU makes me feel a bit old - though not quite nine centuries. It has been a very strange experience this past year at YU when I walk into the caf and fail to notice any familiar faces due to all the youngin's running around.

All this has gotten me thinking about the reality that everyone confronts: the fact that we all age. Society at large has been stricken with a sick obsession with staying young (or at least looking the part) at all costs - quite literally - since skin treatments and plastic surgery can be quite expensive.

I still remember a meeting I had with a rebbe in Israel who noticed my grey hairs and commented on their presence. I said that I felt they make me look distinguished (ever since I discovered the grey hair back in high school I always thought it might be neat to be entirely a silvery grey at a young age). He replied that I was right, and at any rate, it's better than being bald (which he is).

I recall hearing a psak from Rav Moshe Feinstein (possibly in Igros Moshe, I tried finding the source but couldn't so if anyone knows, write it in a comment) that a young man is allowed to dye his hair for dating purposes so that no one mistakenly presumes he's older than he actually is. I've never employed this heter (despite my mother's occasional pleas), though I'm sure some have. This goes against the general halacha that men shouldn't be finicky about these things (as women often are) and are prohibited under the issur of lo yilbosh gever simlas isha.

Anyway, after I started pondering about the process of aging I began to observe the older people in shul over the course of Yom Tov. It appears that there are two distinct categories of how a person's appearance can end up as they naturally accumulate lines and wrinkles, and surprisingly it all depends on personality and perspective.

The first of the two unique patterns of wrinkle/line displays features creases that extend downward from the sides of the nose to the sides of the mouth, and have downward puckering at the corners of the lips. The other has a greater spread of curved crow's feet and outlines of the cheeks (particularly where they lift upward). I know I'm not doing a proper job with these descriptions, but bear with me for a moment.

The difference between the two patterns depends on the default/regular emotional expression of the person. Those who tend to be grumpy, pessimistic and smile infrequently (and this is entirely based on my observation from knowing these individuals for a number of years), and generally lack developed crow's feet, are the first type. Their frown lines become permanent reminders of their mood - and a simple look will clearly tell you they have a bit of a negative disposition. This is the standard cranky old man/woman that is not so much fun to be around.

The second category typifies someone who is always smiling, laughing, and relaxed. Their outlook on life is generally positive, and they collect signs of aging that reflect their upbeat personality (such as crow's feet). The very best example of this second variant, in my opinion, is Rav Goldvicht at YU (not that he is old, really, but he does display the facial features I'm referring to). The man simply never stops smiling, and even when he's not, you can clearly tell he has a very happy, smiley disposition.

Though I have acknowledged in the past that I am naturally predisposed toward a more pessimistic outlook, I also affirmed that I've made the conscious decision to fight that inclination and work on becoming far more balanced and upbeat.

Now, I've also chosen to add to that idea the goal of becoming one of those happy elderly folks. I can try all the serums and creams I want to keep my skin unchanging (though the men on my father's side of the family tend to age quite gracefully at any rate), I do have more control over just how I will portray myself and how I will build up my aged appearance. I want to be like Rav Goldvicht, not like the cantankerous old men I bump into at shul.

Related to this, Chana at The Curious Jew recently posted this wonderful piece called "Make Way for the Light-Bearers." It would do everyone a service to read this particular post. As much as I tend to believe and portray myself as "walking the grey line," being neither here nor there, in a greater sense I've always strived to be, and admire those who do, walk in the light. The light side has always been stronger than the alluring pull of negative, brooding emotions that characterize the darker aspects of life. But we have to make that choice and not let the darker elements consume us and dominate our perspectives in life.

As the Maccabeats sing in their cover of Matisyahu's "One Day:"
Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around...


In this maze you can lose your way
It might drive you crazy
But don't let it phase you, no way
No way.


  1. Did your grey hairs inspire your blog name? :)

    I don't think you should worry about your hair or face phases. Everybody gets grey hair and wrinkles eventually!
    Personally, I think the grey hair and/or crow's feet can add "chein." There's a certain charm about men who grey George Clooney or Richard Gere.

    Don't dye your hair! Seriously. I can't speak for most women, but I know I would be a tad freaked/grossed out if I found out that the man I'm dating dyes his hair.

  2. Nope, no connection other than the one you just came up with :)

    I'm really not worried about the grey hair/face aging at all - as you said, everyone ages - and its impossible to maintain a specific look forever. Even with the heter I heard about, I'd never consider dying my hair, since it seems like such a frivolous thing to do (for men, I understand that older women are into this sort of thing).

    At any rate, whoever I marry should like my looks for what they are, not because I've dyed, lifted and botoxed my way into some form of handsomeness dictated by America's warped sense of what it means to be attractive.

  3. Excellent post. Right before Pesach I found a gray hair, and it dawned on me that I won't be young forever; not that I didn't know that before, but seeing the aging process on my very head made it real. I haven't found any since but iyH I'll be covering it b'shaa tova anyway.

    The negative disposition you speak of is also a yetzer hara of mine. One of my closest friends can be described verbatim with your description of R' Goldvicht (sans the facial features). Sometimes I am so jealous of how easy it is for her to be upbeat, positive and smiley. I wish it came that naturally to me, doesn't. And like you, I work on it every day. For me, it all starts in the morning. If I say to myself, "today I'm going to have a good day," the moment after I wake up, my chances of staying positive all day are much greater. Happiness really is a choice. Again, excellent post. I'm sure a lot of people can relate and appreciate it.

  4. "At any rate, whoever I marry should like my looks for what they are, not because I've dyed, lifted and botoxed my way into some form of handsomeness dictated by America's warped sense of what it means to be attractive."
    And you'll find her. :)

  5. Not quite what you quote, but see:

    אגרות משה יו"ד חלק ב' סימן ס"א ד"ה ובאם כוונת צביעתו

  6. My husband's laugh lines around his eyes (I refuse to refer to them as "crow's feet") are one of the things I like best about his face. Along with all his other features... the point is, don't stress about it. the right woman will not only like you wrinkles and all, she'll find them endearing.


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