...Time has won. My long-held pose of studied nonchalance toward it just won't do any more, in the face of the first hints of fine lines, crow's feet, dark spots, blemishes and--horrors--jowls that now greet me in the mirror every day.
But of course. By September this year I'd be two years shy of the big Four-O. What did I expect?
Still, I find hilarious these days the lengths to which I try to hold on to whatever is left of my youthful skin. Because this wasn't always the case. Until my mid-20s I had subsisted on only one cleansing regimen for my face: Safeguard. Long before it acquired a “conscience” in those ads, I'd been using the damn soap for both body and face--even for scalp in the absence of shampoo. Grew up with it, brought the habit to Manila when I relocated here, saw that it worked even better against the grit and grime of city life.
For a few years, at least, I never worried about the condition of my face. The flesh-colored, kidney-shaped soap with the antiseptic smell guaranteed that I presented a clean, fresh look every morning. It was one more thing, I thought, that made me a different sort of gay guy: never into fashion, beauty pageants, home decorating, and, yes, cosmetics. I had friends who obsessed over their beauty products and routines. I got by with the most ordinary bar of soap. Dearies, I mocked them, I'm so butch compared to all of you. Which, of course, just had them bursting into laughter.
Ah, the bravado of youth.
I can't pinpoint exactly when my facial constitution began to change. Perhaps it was around that time when I began spending late nights out, boozing and partying, even on weekdays. This was a time when I could go for 48 hours without a wink. I had a good job, I was earning well, I was in the city--fuck, this was my “Me” time. The nerdy ex-seminarian was on a roll. I never did learn how to smoke, but the amount of second-hand smoke I choked up on in bars and among friends over that period must have been enough to fry my lungs. And what do they say now about how all that bingeing eventually ravages one's face?
I tried Eskinol when I noticed my face becoming oily. The “For Men” variant, because even then I was disdainful of getting into any fancy beauty habit. Na-ah, regular blue-collar guy here, nothing vain or fastidious for me. At this point, I still heard regular compliments from colleagues about my smooth, clean face. Women, especially, were envious when I told them it was just Safeguard and Eskinol Master. They, meanwhile, had to pile on the gunk every morning--to no avail, for some. (Chortle.)
The good Lord must have noticed how radiantly high-handed I was about my complexion, and decided to teach me a lesson. Boom! One day I woke up with a severe case of chickenpox. How did I know it was a cosmic slapdown? Because, rather than blooming on the rest of my body, the blisters all flocked to my forehead, my cheeks, my nose. Overnight, my face was one big sore. It was a miserable time. See the three craters in the middle of my eyebrows in the picture above? They're a permanent reminder of that humbling affliction. Good thing the scars didn't darken. Sebo de macho, counseled the elders, and they were right.
But there I was--the former picture of flawlessness, now pitted with scars, nicks, indentations. I never regained that creamy, baby-like face, though I tried using Safeguard again. The soap only made my skin dry, flaky. What a betrayal. Something had changed inside, and in the ensuing years, it's become a case of trying out one product after another just to ensure I'd end up with a reasonably healthy-looking complexion free from blemish, irritation or zits. (Yes, I still get them occasionally.)
A vaunted product would work for a time--Nivea's line for men, for instance--and then somehow lose its potency. So I'd stake out the supermarket counter for yet another brand, and since I'm always skeptical about the literature written on a product's backside, choosing one is agony for me. I've often sighed for the good old days when a lowly bar of soap could do the job. But then friends would admonish me, “With so many products out there today, you've no reason not to find one that suits you.” Noted. Mag-lecture ba?
But they should know. A few of them are in their late 30s or 40s, and they've got youthful-looking skin to show for it. But then, they've always been adik about beauty products. They were metrosexuals way before the term got used (or abused). It's just that many of the brands they shove at me, the ones that come with their breathless endorsements, often don't work. Try this, try that, they'd coo. I'd lather on the potion, and the next day I could double as a flashlight with my suddenly-oily skin in full shine.
So, paradoxically, I've come to terms with the burdens of--should I say the word?--aging, though not in the enlightened way others are managing it. Sorry, the simple-life ethic will come later for me. Heck, when life begins at 40 I'd have all the time to go Zen and let the wrinkles run riot on my face. For now, since I don't want to sport those tell-tale lines--yet, I must learn to endure the daily ritual of applying some mysterious elixir on my face, with the hope (and the crossed fingers) that it would work a tad longer than my budget and conscience would allow for yet another indulgence in inexcusable vanity at Watsons.
Last week, my friend Fritz went to Bangkok and asked if I wanted anything bought from there. “Dami dito moisturizers, eye cream, mga wala diyan--magsabi ka lang,” he texted. I wonder why he mentioned these products instead of, say, spicy sampaloc or Tom Yum soup.
Fritz, who's into facial and hair stuff more than I'd ever be, happens to be a straight guy. What has become of the world? Where are the old Safeguard-wielding, wash-and-wear dudes? But, anyway, since even Fritz himself (of The Man Blog--dig that) was buying some for himself, I asked him to find L'Oreal's Revitalift For Men, which isn't available locally. “The one with the double action, yung lifting and whatever,” I told him. Of course, even with the vague description, he knew which one to pick. God bless metrosexuals. What would clueless homos do without them?
“Eye cream, ayaw mo? Meron din dito,” he asked, very subtly. Masyadong vain na ba yun, I pondered. “Sige, go,” was my answer. A little over a thousand baht for the two products. The next time you see me and I don't look as strikingly smooth and young-looking as these expensive treatments have promised, I'll seriously think about suing L'Oreal--and Fritz, for that matter. For violation of the Truth in Advertising Act, for my inability to brag to envious colleagues, for loss of sleep and equanimity.
This beauty business is aging me fast.