Grandmother with granddaughter laying on the ground laughing


When I was a little girl and my grandmother would visit, she would invite me into her room to “put on a little makeup.” Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure that she just used a few clean brushes and tickled my face while declaring I was lovely. 

I don’t even think I ever checked in the mirror afterward to see if I looked any fancier. The results were unimportant compared to how I felt about getting to spend one-on-one time with Grandma. 

I loved her and wanted to spend time with her easy smile, her warm voice, her lightly perfumed scent. I also remember being fascinated by her hands. She had long, elegant fingers and pale skin decorated by a lace-like pattern of bones and veins. I thought this visible design beneath her skin made her hands more beautiful than average hands.

When I look down at my own hands now, it’s clear that those hands I loved were passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me—visible veins and wrinkles and age spots and all. Fortunately, I still find this sort of beautiful. I think it’s because my hands are a souvenir of women I love and admire. My fingers and palms are an inheritance, a gift from the good, kind women in my family who came before me.


Older mother and daughter together smiling


Our genetics play a significant role in our appearance and how we age. Studies indicate that daughters will see their faces change as they age in ways similar to how their mother’s face matured. A mom often passes her lifestyle habits that can affect how skin ages—dietary choices, smoking habits, choosing or skipping sunscreen, and more—down to her daughter. But do I need a researcher to tell me that I am likely to look more like my mother as I get older? I don’t. I can see this for myself every time I look in the mirror.

Truthfully, I have a harder time feeling affection for the wrinkles on my face or the skin that softens my jawline, even though they mimic those of the women in my family who have come before me. Over the years, I have embraced creams, potions, lotions, pokes, zaps and whatever else I thought might help maintain my face as it looked thirty years ago. I still have a nighttime skincare routine that takes long enough that my husband checks in on me sometimes.

But lately, I have noticed that the more my face changes to resemble these women who I love, the less I am concerned about it. When I look at photos of my grandmother or am fortunate enough to see my mother, I think “I love those faces!” I wouldn’t want them to change a thing about who they are, including any part of what they look like. I try to extend that same appreciation to myself.

Beauty magazines tell me I should be worried about my face. And about my hands. And I am some days. But then I think about my grandmother, smiling at me, gently dusting my young face with imaginary makeup and I feel a little more lovely.


August 23, 2023 — Mary Catherine Horgan

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