I asked Dafina “So what exactly is your skin-care routine?

Her skin is always radiant no matter when, no matter what the situation. It’s not envy, it’s full respect when I sit and look. It’s awe of that stability and presence in a harsh world. I don’t envy it, I’m curious of how I can have a little bit of it for myself.

I don’t know why I’ve been occupied with not aging as of late. I don’t know why flawless, radiant skin is what I would view as one of my potential biggest accomplishments as of late. I don’t especially look like someone on the other side of the door to 40, waiting for the appropriate time to let father time saunter in and make a roadmap of life with my face.

There’s no quick way, other than the way I carry myself to denote my age. I don’t act young. I don’t necessarily feel young. I ponder all the time what was *youth* supposed to feel like when you’ve spent the majority of your life in war with a body that protests functioning in environments not of your creation. Somehow, the one place that’s not betraying me for sticking with living is my face.

Despite the Asthma.
Despite the Gout.
Despite high blood pressure.

Somehow the folds around my eyes have not decided to crease after repetitive cringing at what they see. We’ve all cringed at some of the same societal things. I know I’m more sensitive to fucked up shit than most, but surprisingly the repetition of motion between what the eyes see, what the mouth says and the ears hear hasn’t warranted additional lubrication.

What I do have when I look in the mirror, is something I want to preserve. I don’t have the world’s most perfect, flawless skin. Acne has always been an unwelcome guest, my skin tone isn’t as flawless as my mother’s, nor as leathery as my father’s. I ended up with some of the markers of both of them, but not the best of both worlds.

It isn’t *bad* tho. It doesn’t show the weariness of time. I definitely scroll through social media and dating options looking at peers my age and even younger, cackling about how the privileges they might have elsewhere don’t show up on their face.

“Damn they look rough. Is this really what 38 it looks like if you’re white?

There’s a picture I just posted of Pete Buttigieg on Facebook, all of 6 months older than I am. On the surface I was making a joke about his sex life and the potential horrors of witnessing or being on the receiving end of his orgasm face. Internally, I did note that he could use quite a bit of moisturizing as he’s particularly wrinkled for his age, especially under high definition photography. I thought of this in the combination of him chowing down on a hunk of meat bringing out the fact that he’s not many years away from being the mayor of Jowl Town, U.S.A.

Dafina eyes actually sparkled with excitement when I asked for advice. A grin, almost mischievous, but brimming with joy swept across her face. A spring in her exit from her seat launched our journey towards the Sephora. It was like a Jenny Jones or Ricki Lake “Makeover” episode was about to start.

Do I look that weary? That tired and worn out to the faces that know my face best? I don’t know if I really want to ask that question, nevermind have to sit with the honest answer. You always have that one friend that’s ready with solutions when you have the spirit to actually say you’re interested in doing something you notice they excel at. Not that again, I’ll ever be as flawless in the skin as my friend, but it’s worth the try. It’s praise and recognition that we all want, that we’re *good* at something, that we are seen as someone to admire and uplift. At the best case scenario we all want to share what we’re good at.

The arid fall days in Northern California dry out your skin. You’re more prone to notice how your skin functions as a barrier to the outside world as the weather changes. That Sunday was one of those warm days that takes all of the moisture out of your skin like leaving Poultry in a 400 degree convection oven for 25 minutes too long. Not only is the air hot & dry, the winds flowing down the mountains swirls around you and throws the scents and seasonings of yourself and the settings around you as an assault.

You want to reach for moisturizing creams like reaching for butter to baste a turkey. No one is gonna enjoy kissing or caressing tough, dry skin. Same as no one is accepting the presence of a dried out turkey at Thanksgiving these days. Brine, Deep Fry it, baste it, do something. Nobody wants needless meat.

We were sitting at brunch, as we’ve been striving to do at least once a month lately, as brown leaves fell down in 82 degree heat. 20 mile an hour winds picked up the leaves, sometimes slapping us in the face with the cycle of death and rebirth trees shed as the world turns. Stuffed with pancakes, we’re always tempted to do some passive consumption, the good art of window shopping for about an hour or so before settling on some overpriced essential thing we must get.

4th Avenue in Berkeley is the perfect place for telling yourself you’re a better person than the super wealthy because you don’t spend on absolute frivolous purchases. There’s $500 messenger bags because why? Sometimes you do need that $12 square of cheesecloth to strain something tho. Store by Store, we start *high* sitting on couches priced at two months worth of rent until finally, something that we really *need* traipses into view. We’re smart enough to avoid the vortex that’s the Amazon store.

I don’t know if I really *need* stuff for my face. Then again I asked. I opened the dialogue, and realistically maybe I can pry my wallet open on something that seems to be the trophy I’m going for. I normally spritz some rose water and dab a bit of Tea Tree oil on a daily basis after washing my face with African Black Soap. Sometimes that Aztec Secret bentonite face mask on Sunday. All of the stuff I already use is cheap, under $10, and in that “natural” range. I guess nature is great if you want to facilitate the natural process. I’m actually looking to preserve my advantages here.

There’s other solutions that I could probably utilize first before plunging into the depths of corporate, chemistry therefore chemical — based beauty supplies.

I could change the pillow cases more.
I could use more astringent stuff, I could use less.
I could wash my face in the evening too instead of just in the morning.
I could eat french fries less than once a week.
I could leave this stressful job.
I could stop trying to pop solitary zits like nothing has changed since High School and let them cycle in & out as the part of life that they are.

I can experiment with the routines I have in place. I can challenge my own rut. Wasn’t acne supposed to be something that you left behind in adolescence? I know that’s what I was marketed. A clean, clear face was just as much as prize as a driver’s license or a college acceptance letter from the UC of your choice. It’s not like I’m winning or losing any dates on my lack of use of Clearasil or Noxzema at this stage. It’s not like anyone is paying attention to where my face falls in time of space and continuum.

When you open the door of Sephora, you’re hit with a perfumed, preserved and slightly putrid stench of modern beauty products. I don’t know what they’re testing this shit on, I really hope random rabbits and rats don’t have to suffer the consequences of vanity and conceit that’s sold to consumers. Is this really any different than going to Walgreens or Target? Are the products more superior, the same thing. Are the people in here selling me products trained dermatologists?

You see all of the images of mostly women, mostly thin, mostly white, photoshopped within an inch of their lives to sell flawless skin as a virtue just about anywhere. I don’t want to be a white woman by virtue of a skin care routine right? Virtue of skin, and the bartering that we can do with it probably is the motivating factor that I don’t want to encounter head on. The relative lack of wear and tear on my visible surface is a bartering tool as I start to age out of places where my other bartering abilities are starting to fail.

I may look “younger” than my actual calendar age, but I can’t secure wealth in a career in tech. Despite admonishment from peers and potential partners, it’s a ship that has sailed. I’m tired of making announcements from the pier that the boat is long gone, the one I should have boarded already at the port of call. I’ve been out of college 15ish years, with only a minor ability to code and a heady reluctance to code switch. This puts me at a disadvantage to younger, Ivy League “People of Color” that are solidly within the talented tenth and want to continue their uninterrupted climb up Bootstrap Avenue to prosperous Yes In My Backyard spaces.

That skews my ability to procure stable housing in a market where I walk by more vacant units than there are people. There’s the lack or surplus of money, as money becomes meaningless in a world of social clout metrics that have absolutely nothing to do with tangible day to day activities. I don’t have enough to throw indiscriminately at a necessary resource for stability and self preservation. I do have enough to throw discriminately at a bunch of compromised options.

Number age wise I’ve aged out of being a viable partner for most of my peers, lest I wait for the inevitable round of break ups that’ll hit as we all reach mid life crisis. Number age wise the younger, fresher faces of queer life might at least look at me as “Daddy” in demeanor and decor but not necessarily in looks. The reality will slap them in the face that I can nowhere near afford to be generous with my money, and barely time as I try to scrape enough money together for myself to deal with their millennial dilemma of capitalism crushing their ability to envision a society where they age gracefully themselves.

Sephora is stacked on its structural walls with cases of secrets and serums taller than most city public libraries, with fewer staff recommendations of which way to go. There’s no dewey decimal system for what to look for by catalogue number for your combination skin. You gotta go in with a recommendation. It’s like letting your friend deal with all the rigors of joining a book club, all of the false starts and never finished tomes, until they reach something satisfying and useful.

Dafina takes me straight as….well, possible through the maze of low shelves to the far right wall where she squints for a bottle that’s the start of her day + night routine.

Here it is. What you do is, lukewarm water to the face, lather, rinse. two pumps in the morning, two pumps at night.

I grasp this apparent fountain of flawless skin, and it’s just there. It sits in that weird opaque bourgeois packaging glory that seems to promote luxury and “wellness” these days. It’s nothing like the vibrant rebranding double down into 1970’s aesthetics that Queen Helene’s Mud Masks had gone thru a few years ago.

This isn’t whimsy and eating chocolates and watching your preferred re-runs self care. This is TedTalk and Meditation with a Himalayan Salt Lamp and essential oils self care. Maybe my whole problem all along was catering to the whimsy of beauty and not taking it anywhere remotely seriously. Maybe it was treating this version of self preservation as a joke, slightly misogynistic in my assignment of it being the province of affluent CIS Women. Maybe my definition of wealth is so skewed at this point, I have no clue what luxury really is in this modern world. I still crave naugahyde couches and shoulder bags for chrissakes.

So that’s $38, so for the aftercare…

Y’all know I’m cheap as hell.

I’m present outwardly but clutching my pearls and the prospect of throwing even more than $38 on one product to “look good.” I’m following Dafina to the next section of the store as if on a leash, feeling the excitement drain out of me, the lack of my own ambition to conquer this dilemma to keep my skin skewing the bell curve for everyone else in their late 30’s.

I brag quite proudly about still finding vintage Penny Loafers for $7 at Thrift Stores in Hayward in nearly the year of 2020. I’ve never spent more than $1,600 for a car in my life. I fucking went to New York and spent less than $500 including Airfare over 5 damn days.

I’ve also only gone into a Sephora once, with a gift card Colin gave me for my 35th Birthday with no fucking clue how to use it, looking for pomades and hair care products for Black People knowing full well I was setting myself up for the “Daily Double” from Jeopardy and a “Physical Challenge” from Double Dare all at once. The curl locking serum or whatever it was called was $28 out of the $35 I received on that gift card. I used that serum like 3 times in emergency situations when I ran out of my $3.49 can of Murray’s Pomade and I still have that $7 gift card in my wallet buried beneath business cards and transit tickets from metropolitan areas I haven’t been in years.

I was so stunned by the initial price of the face cleansing gel that I forgot to go fishing for that spare 7 dollars on that gift card hanging out in my wallet. Still on the guide through the jungle of beauty supplies, Dafina located this sea of orange tubs. Little tubs. Little luxurious tubs that had a powdered finish.

“First this eye cream. One dab will do both upper and lower lids”

I nod slightly dazed, already preparing myself for the next incoming price shock

“Then two pumps, doesn’t take much of this serum” as she holds up what looks to be a hotel room sized bottle of lotion

“Let it dry, give it a few minutes, brush your teeth, comb your hair or something that takes two to three minutes. Then finish off with the moisturizer.”

The holy grail is this 4 part system that does seem straight forward. Albeit costly as fuck.

You can just get this package of them for $38

Dafina is coming off the recommendation high, and is gathering a pulse check on everything. I am sure this is the first time that she’s registering the slight shock on my face that it either wasn’t just one miracle $40 product, or the price of everything in general.

Or you can get each of these individually for …$14, looking at all of them. I just recommend going with all of it at first to see what works, what doesn’t, and going from there.”

I’m doing that meme of Julia Roberts trying to figure out trigonometry to figure out if it is worth parsing out one of the products, buying less or just taking the plunge for $76 plus Berkeley Sales tax for beauty supplies because right now, I just want to have one thing in my control, one thing to go flawless in my life. There’s so many things that are off or wrong in my life right now, but I have this face. I want to show it love and care for what it is, to a greater degree than I have before. It feels like time is limited to do something for it, for all the opportunities it has afforded me despite how it is ranked well or rated poorly.

The way American society is set up is to give us a false sense of security in having something in our control. The reality is is that eventually my face will age. It will age in a way that won’t maintain the level of outward grace that I want to believe that I have right about now. I hate to admit that I want to hold out a little bit longer if I can. Maybe if I hold onto the beauty that I see in myself a bit longer, maybe the other places that I feel even less in control of, I’ll be better able to manage, and perhaps gain control over.

Your total is $83.66

The sales person looked at me quite weird, as if I represented not the type of queer that would be in a Sephora on a Sunday Afternoon buying skin care products. Or not a type of queer that cared at all. I’m surprised I didn’t say “fuck that” and walked right out of the store. I’m about to spent my phone bill, twice what I pay in car insurance, to ensure that skin will stay youthful, vibrant, and start rectifying sun damage and uneven tone.

I’ll do it for myself I tell myself as I slowly slide my debit card out of my wallet, not for Instagram likes that assauge me that long as I have this face I’m not undesirable. As long as I preserve my face where it is now, where it’s realistically been for the last 3 years, I won’t be lonely. I’ll be validated as someone that matters.

I’m not doing this for the possibility that if I improve this face I’ll have more chances in a variety of arenas of life. I’m not doing this to woo potential partners that have overlooked this mug in the past. I’m doing this for self as I firmly, worryingly grasp the black and white striped bag, turn on my right heel and clack on the tiles with those $7 penny loafers out into the store back into the harsh wind, heat and dwindling Fall light.

It’s been a month since I started using this regimen of skincare products. I’ve actually gotten a few more zits than usual when I started, but my skin is softer. I’m not sure if that’s specific to this routine or specific to that fact that I’m slowing down, looking in the mirror and applying moisturizing products to my skin on a regular basis as we enter the cold dryness of winter.

No one has really noticed any changes without prompting, same goes for the new hair cut if we’re counting. I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t know how, or really don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I do, sometimes wanna be called in for being something pretty to look at. I also know that in our current world people are completely exhausted themselves that they can’t appreciate beauty that’s right in their faces.

I doubt that I’ll pony up again that amount of money to partake in self care. I think it works when you already have a base level of perfection that’s easy to maintain. That’s not the skin I live in. I don’t know if I want to preserve the flaws I live with. I don’t know if there’s room enough for me to remove or improve upon the flaws. Maybe it’s okay to surrender to whatever time has in store, and enjoy what I have.

I’ll be $83.66 richer.

Mid late 30’s CIS Queer inhabiting the liminal space between race, class, gender, The Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest.