Nora’s Neck, My Thin Lips

Self-image Bites

Nora's neck, My Thin Lips

The amazing screenwriter, journalist, and author Nora Ephron hated her sagging neck.

I hate my lips.

Nora lamented the pitfalls of maturing – aka aging –in her best-selling book, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. As the title suggests, she especially bemoaned her saggy, baggy neckline and her middle-aged need to camouflage the offending body part with scarves.

Well, my nemesis is my lips. However, unlike Nora, my problem isn’t solely the result of aging. It’s a lifelong curse. And unlike Nora’s scarf solution, I cannot cloak my offending feature. For decades, I have suffered in silence, but no more. Today I share my shame.

Diane Sawyer and Me

Lifelong, yes, but I only understood “my” problem  in my mid-20s when I was a Las Vegas TV news reporter. One evening, the station’s somewhat hunky sportscaster and I were watching the CBS Evening News.  Journalist Diane Sawyer, beautiful as always, was on air. The sportscaster standing beside me turned from the TV monitor and said, “You know, you have a mouth just like Diane’s.

Wow. What a compliment! I beamed.

Then he added, “You have a thin upper lip just like her. Yeah, and, ya know, your mouth always looks kinda sad too.”

One Man’s Opinion Becomes My Truth

This guy’s opinion became my new reality, my new self-perception. I studied my mouth closely in my vanity mirror for hours and days on end. He was right. How had I missed it? I did have a pitifully deficient upper lip and my mouth did indeed sorrowfully point south.

Suddenly I understood why friends in school always “claimed” I looked serious or angry or sad when they said hello during class breaks in crowded corridors. It wasn’t my mood they saw, but my sorry-looking looks! I had always attributed their incorrect assessment to my poor eyesight and need to squint to see who approaching. Clearly I hadn’t just needed contact lenses all those years ago, but lip filler as well.

The sportscaster’s offhand observation launched a decades-long effort to create a cuter upper lip and mouth. This frequently resulted in over-penciled lips, smeared lipstick, embarrassing bouts of dreaded “lipstick-on-tooth” syndrome, and an awkward forced smile.

I’ve Got the Blues

One evening Handsome Hubby (HH) and I were rushing to a reunion dinner with an old friend. Stuck in a rain-induced traffic jam, HH kindly offered to drop me off while he searched for a parking space. In those last few minutes in the darkened car, I fluffed up my hair, applied blush, and of course, tended to my pathetic pout. I couldn’t find my lipstick in the abyss of my pocketbook, so I just filled in my lips with the lip liner.

In the restaurant, I greeted my friend. We hugged, start chatting, and ordered drinks. HH walked in 10 minutes later. He grabbed me. “Are you all right? “Can you breathe?”

“Huh?”

“Your lips are blue. Can you breathe?” he repeated, quite breathless himself.

He was right. My lips were indeed blue. In the darkened car, I had applied my navy-blue pencil eyeliner, not my ruby-red lip liner.

After I returned from the restroom, lips repaired, dignity destroyed, I asked my friend why he hadn’t said anything. Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “I thought you had gone Goth or something.”

Nora’s Neck, My Thin Lips

You might be tempted to advise me to stop whining and bear this affliction with a “stiff upper lip.” Please don’t. Several people have thus punned. It only makes my mouth plummet further in the direction of Antarctica.

And now, as I mature – aka age, I’m losing the precious little lip volume I had. Yes, that ungodly troika of genetics, aging and gravity are all teaming up against me and I cannot keep my lip pencil sharp enough to do battle. Nowadays when I re-read Nora Ephron’s laments about her neck, I still laugh heartily, but I knowingly nod as well.

For a couple of years, I subjected myself to painful injections of fillers to lift the corners of my mouth and “subtly” plump up my upper lip.

The Jig’s Up

Some women sneak visits to their lovers when their spouses are out of town. I timed visits to the dermatologist when HH had business travel. I even paid in cash to ensure that an errant credit card statement would not betray my subterfuge.

My secret sojourns were finally exposed when HH came home early from a trip and saw the swelling and tiny bruises around my mouth. Imagine my surprise when he walked through the door. Imagine his.

“What happened,” he said, rushing to my side.

Now don’t think less of me for this admission, but I’m a pretty good white-lie-teller when the occasion calls for it. Yet, caught red-handed or in this case, black-and-blue-mouth-bruised, what could I say ? “You should have seen the other guy.” or “Oh, I slipped on the ice.”

Desperate, I was tempted to try the slipped-on-the-ice lie, but it was July. So, I fessed up. HH was, as always, lovely. He said, “I love your kisser. It’s perfect the way it is. You don’t need to do any of this nonsense.” And then he tried to kiss me. Ouch.

Hooked on …

His words and embrace were sweet, but to no avail. I was hooked on fillers. And like any addict, I needed more and more of the “stuff.” From one syringe every now and then, I moved up to two.

And just like an addict, I found that as time passed, the fixes didn’t last as long. I was dangerously close to that character Goldie Hawn played in Second Wives Club. More, more, more!

Then came the day of reckoning.

My dermatologist staged an intervention. She told me fillers were no longer my salvation. She said more drastic measures were needed to defeat the droop and beef up my thin lips. She said I needed plastic surgery.

I left her office in denial. All the women in my family vehemently opposed the notion of plastic surgery. My elegant mother proudly said, “I earned these wrinkles. I earned them and I’m keeping them.”

And it wasn’t just the women in the family. The men were also anti-artifice. We’re from Las Vegas. So, plastic surgery, implants, lifts and tucks were all around us. Anytime anybody (male or female) had work done, we all commented how sad it was that society pressured people to look young.

Yet, here I was, referral in one hand, mirror in the other. Would I call the plastic surgeon? Would vanity win?

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Would I call? Oh, you know the answer! Come back next Wednesday to read all about “My Trip to the Plastic Surgeon: Stronger Medicine Indeed.”

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