I can’t stop thinking about Naomi Watts’ face.
I’ve seen it a lot this week, because Watts is currently starring in the Netflix creepfest The Watcher, and I am microbinging it in approximately 12-to-18-minute increments before I pass out each night. The show is enticingly weird, if not great. But Watts’ face is a miracle.
It’s not just the fact of her natural good looks, though the wide-eyed girlishness that defined her star turn in Mullholland Drive 20 years ago is still intact. It’s that her 54-year-old face really looks like a 54-year-old’s face: fine-etched lines across her forehead that deepen to gentle valleys with each expression of concern; triple parentheses of laugh lines at her mouth’s corners; eye crinkles like starbursts at her temples. Her face is constantly moving. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed seeing a middle-aged woman who actually looks middle-aged.
Here is where I allow that yes, Watts, is a movie star with access to every skin care treatment and product on the earth. (In fact, she has even just launched her very own product line for menopausal women! And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted by it, even if “the change” is still a few years away for me, I think?) But when she said recently that she’s been tempted by, but resisted, plastic surgery, it’s easy to believe her. The thrilling proof is right there night after night on Netflix.
There is an accumulating problem that stems from our deprivation of naturally aging faces. And I don’t just mean on TV or in the movies—I mean everywhere! It makes you paranoid. Honestly, I find myself constantly trying to evaluate if women I know or meet have “done something.” I am 47. I have not done anything to anything; I don’t even color my hair. Among the women around my age I know, I am in the minority. Among the younger women I know, I am in the minority! Preventative Botox is a thing, and it just makes the gulf between the young and the naturally aging even bigger.
A few years ago, I was newly single after separating from my husband of 13 years. I had an appointment for my annual mole check with my dermatologist. He’s a little older than me. I trust him. His office is clinical and unfancy. After he gave me the all-clear, I asked: “What can you do about this?,” pointing to the deep crevasse that crosses my forehead—one that intersects with a sort of lightning bolt that crosses diagonally from my scalp to a deep crease between my eyebrows. “Oh, I have that too!” he said pointing to his own dent. “But you’d need filler for that. It’s too late. Botox could freeze you where you are now, but it’s not going to turn back time.”
I frowned. Which was surely not good for my face.
But I can’t do it, the Botox or any of the face stuff, even as I look at myself in the mirror and for hours on Zoom and have what I can only describe as complicated feelings about the changes. Most days, I’m OK with the way I look. (My gray streak really shines over video conference!) I’m just too Gen X to really get in there and change anything, or even stall anything. It feels wrong for me, personally, and whatever aesthetic politics I have about myself. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that I was missing an opportunity right now to at least freeze myself where I am. I have no idea what the next few years will bring—in part because I just don’t see enough naturally aging faces.
But I can see Naomi Watts, for two more episodes of The Watcher, for approximately 6.5 incremental watch sessions. That will get me through the month at least.