Beauty in the Cracks
You know how, once you notice something that is flawed or imperfect, you are suddenly hyper-aware of other, similar flaws? This is especially true, I’ve found, when you purchase a new item for the house. You look around the living room, admiring your brand-new sofa, or chair, or print on the wall and…you can see your beat-up hall table age another century in an instant. And there are numerous additional chips in the mantelpiece paint, andandand…ugh.
But it doesn’t have to be an “ugh.”
The Japanese have a lovely practice when dealing with worn out and broken things (cups, vases, plates etc.) They have elevated the fissures and cracks to an art form called kintsugi. The smashed pottery or porcelain is repaired in a way that is totally obvious: the artist uses gold. Not crazy glue or duct tape or any of the other ways we hide imperfection. The jagged lines of gold shine; they are beautiful in and of themselves.
I think of kintsugi when I find myself spending way too much time trying to smooth over my physical flaws so that they become invisible. When I haul out the old magnifying mirror (surely a torture device if ever there was one) and make note of each and every wrinkle, the next step is often to apply “concealer” of some sort. I am abysmal at cosmetic stuff, so the usual result is a clump of caked-on makeup that actually accentuates my various skin imperfections. Lately I haven’t even bothered to try, because my age spots are popping up faster and faster, like dandelions in a field after a spring rain. Why bother?
When I just give up and let things go, however, it feels like a lazy solution, and I remain highly self-critical and unsatisfied with my appearance. I put away the magnifier, but then try to avoid mirrors altogether. I wonder, though…
Could kintsugi have something to teach me too?
The streaks of gold used to bind the broken things together enhance, they do not detract. While the flaws are clear, they are still treated with respect, and tenderness. Could I approach myself that same way? Could I find the middle ground between hating my aging face, and frantically trying to transform it? I could still moisturize my skin, and gently massage those creases that life etched onto me. I could approach the mirror again, and see the face of someone I care about, someone who has lived fully. I could regard my every last laugh line and forehead furrow as beautiful.
I have been delighted recently to note that many celebrities of a certain age are embracing their wrinkles and their gray hair. You can see the story of their lives on their faces, and they are beautiful in a way that airbrushed perfection could never be. Now, I’m not kidding myself—I will never age like Jamie Lee Curtis or Andie MacDowell. But I can age like Elise Seyfried, gracefully and gratefully.
And THAT is pure gold.