Learning to Embrace My Turkey Neck

One day I’ll be identifiable only by my neck skin, flapping freely in the wind

Photo: Felipe Rodríguez-Moreno/Flickr

WWhen I look into a mirror, I see my grandmothers staring back at me. Let me be clear: I see their faces. I see their wrinkles. I see their turkey necks.

This has nothing to do with their inner strength. They were both strong, capable women who worked their asses off their entire lives, doing things I can’t even imagine, like canning vegetables in non-air-conditioned kitchens from hell, tending chickens, and taking care of babies without the luxury of disposable diapers. They were miles stronger than me, but their faces paid in the end. And now my face is also paying the price of time, even though my life was far easier and I grew up in the age of sunscreen.

We are a pale, pallid people, my family, totally devoid of melanin. The whitest of the white. My grandmothers both eventually ended up with skin the texture of an uncooked pizza crust stretched too thin: soft, delicate, unable to keep its form, spotted with sun damage. My daughter took one of those ancestry DNA tests, and it explains her blonde hair and alabaster skin: We are of 100% European stock, and I mean the northern and eastern parts of Europe. She is constructed from the blood of the doughiest people on the face of the earth.

I knew with my genetics that, someday, my neck skin would fail me. It started when I was 40. I’ll be 48 this year, and I’m well on my way to a full-blown turkey neck. When I was in my thirties, I was sure I’d simply pay for a surgery to get my neck skin pulled taut and stapled to the back of my head. Now I’m pretty sure I’ll do no such thing. Why put my life in danger with an unnecessary, expensive surgery? Even worse, what if my surgeon screws up, and instead of looking like a woman of my age, I end up looking like some sort of squinting alien?

Nah. I’ll save that money and take a trip to Colorado with my family. I will wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. I’ll be identifiable only by my neck skin, flapping freely in the wind. Because like it or not, I have become a woman of a certain age, and things will only continue to go downhill from here.

I believe with all my heart that it’s time to stop placing so much emphasis on women’s looks and embrace the talents and skills of all women, of all ages, sizes, appearances, period, no ifs ands or buts. Still, do you ever really get used to watching your face melt down your neck? Or being able to feel those deep crags etched into what, for so many decades, used to be the smooth surface of your skin? Aging, especially for women, has so many concrete consequences on our lives. Aging tends to render women even more unseen and unheard than when we’re young.

While white skin does afford certain privileges, aging gracefully is not one of them. Black women’s faces tend to stay gorgeous decades past those of white women, and other women of color land somewhere in between. Lighter skin is not protected from the sun’s UV rays with melanin, and it’s often deficient in collagen, the protein that keeps skin elastic and dewy looking.

I have no melanin. I have no collagen. Instead, I’ll have the same melting, spotted dough my grandmothers had in place of where my face once was. I’ll just have to take solace in the fact that I never judged my grandmothers for their turkey necks. I loved and respected them just the same, wrinkles, neck flaps, and all.

Writer, Kansan, wife, mom, essayist, journalist, reproductive rights activist, Jayhawk, dork. Support me on Patreon! amberfraley. com @KSAbortionFund

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