Every morning, I go through the following makeup routine: I wash and moisturize my face. I apply foundation. I dab a special primer under my eyes before applying a layer of undereye concealer. I use an angled brush to fill in my eyebrows. I use another, thinner brush to line the tops of my eyelids. I sweep a neutral-toned powder below my brow line. I use a kabuki brush to add a little bronzer to my cheekbones. I curl my eyelashes and put on a layer of mascara. I dust my entire face with setting powder, then add blush. Finally, I color my mouth with a creamy lip stain.

This is what I do to make myself presentable for the thrilling activity of taking my first-grader to his bus stop.

The crazy thing is, after all those products are on my face ... I don't really look like I have makeup on. I just look slightly more awake and less flu-stricken than I did when I first woke up. At nearly 40 years old, this is the minimum routine I need to feel even halfway decent about myself.

I've never been a head-turning beauty. I don't think I'm wildly ugly or anything, but I've always thought of myself as someone whose attractiveness probably depends more on whether or not you enjoy my personality. For instance, I have a goony, wide-open smile that lights up my face -- but it doesn't necessarily photograph well, if you know what I mean.

So it's not that as I age, I'm losing something that defined me. I was never the prettiest girl, and I'm not the prettiest mom-of-two. But as my face softens and sags, I feel more and more self-conscious about how I look. I occasionally catch sight of my profile in a window reflection and think, My god, that older lady with the droopy jawline, puffy eye-bags, and giant vertical frown-wrinkle ... is that really ME?

If Oprah's magazine is to be believed, 40 is when women really hit their stride. I'm supposed to be strong, confident, sure of who I am, and glowing with an interior beauty that transcends surface imperfections. (Of course, Oprah's magazine also dedicates page after page to antiaging treatments and photos of meticulously-made-up, professionally lit, and heavily-Photoshopped subjects, so.) Instead, I mostly feel awkward and painfully self-aware -- simultaneously the object of everyone's critical attention ... and completely invisible.

This isn't how middle age was supposed to be. I was told that experience would bring me wisdom and peace, dammit, not teenage levels of mirror-cringing and self-doubt.

I guess what I'm ultimately missing these days is a feeling of validity. It's hard, working from home and rarely interacting with adults. Doing the same tasks over and over again without a sense of completion. These things feed into my perception of myself -- they affect how I feel about my value as a person, and how I look to others. In my heart, I know it's not really about solving all my problems with the right wrinkle cream, it's about the fact that I've transitioned into a new stage of life that's caused some internal struggle.

(And by "new stage of life," I guess I don't exactly mean brand new: I wrote about many of these same feelings back in 2011.)

When I spend too much time obsessing over my appearance and feeling that sinking sense of OH IT'S ALL JUST FALLING APART AND IT'S ONLY GOING TO GET WORSE, I realize that what I'm really doing is seeing my future in terms of my limitations instead of my potential. It's not about my face, necessarily. It's about feeling the hourglass contents spilling helplessly through my hands.

Of course, it's sort of about my face, which is why I'm unlikely to toss out all my beauty products tomorrow in pursuit of inner happiness. I don't have a pithy, feel-good ending to these musings about aging and confidence and living your very best life. But sometimes -- lots of times -- it helps to talk.

Do you share any of these same feelings? How do you deal?


Image via Linda Sharps