Face: One Square Foot of Skin, A Book Review

I’ve been excited to read this book since a friend popped into my DMs to tell me it existed. A book that takes a deep dive into how society perceives women’s faces as they age? And explores the effects of those perceptions on women? This is exactly the kind of conversation I want to have.

Justine Bateman (yep, Mallory from Family Ties) wrote a collection of fictional vignettes about the ingrained (and also fictional) beliefs we carry that teach us aging faces are ugly, undesirable, and unworthy. What bullshit. Yet we shame, demean, and ignore women as they age as if the wisdom they’ve collected is worthless. And this happens simultaneously as many women finally break free of the bonds that have kept them small and quiet. Fuck you, patriarchy.

I’m so glad this book exists because of the conversations that the title alone can spark. That said, I didn’t love this book. It was an okay reading experience. Many of the vignettes felt repetitive. I think this is purposeful. Our wrinkles and sagging skin and age spots are bludgeoned with the same marching-band beat throughout our lives, so to see so many women of different ages and life experiences hit with the same fat cudgel of shame makes sense. But it got tiresome to read, especially because there were very few moments of redemption. So many of the women in these short stories attempt to stave off the perceived threat and shame of aging with miracle creams and needles and surgeries.

I wanted these women to find ways to rise up like tsunamis and swamp the haters with their brilliance. And they didn’t. Many of their stories open with them feeling fly and end with them being crushed by the awareness that others are critiquing them like the meanest judge on reality TV. And the worst part—many of the people doing the smack-talking were other women. True to life and also gross.

Just last week, a social media acquaintance shared an old Geritol ad that shamed women in their forties for looking so old. Her post invited women to show how great they look today by comparison. And whew, did people say some rude, rude stuff about the women in that long-ago ad. It was unsettling and icky. We cannot lift ourselves up by putting other women down.

Even though I didn’t love the book, I think it’s a worthwhile read. Pick it up and randomly read stories rather than trying to read it straight through. Let it inspire conversations with yourself and with others about aging and the ways our faces reflect our lived experiences and what you want that to actually mean.