Fashion & Beauty

A Lightbulb Moment

May 22, 2022



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

BEFORE I get to a beauty question today, I want to spend a few minutes on one of my favorite subjects: denial.

One day a friend who’s my age said, “Sometimes I hate looking in the mirror because I see an old man.” I said, “That’s funny, because when I look at you, I don’t see an old man,” which I think lightened his load a bit. Then I said, “And when I look at myself, I don’t see an old woman, either. I just kind of see my face.” To which my friend replied, “That’s because you’re in denial.”

All I could think was, If denial is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Which I guess is, in itself, a kind of denial. But I’ve found it to be a handy tool to keep my spirits afloat when waves of anti-aging messages flood my perspective.

How do I maintain my denial? For one thing, with the best bathroom lighting you’ve ever seen. Two frosted tubes running along both sides of my medicine cabinet mirror cast an even, glowy light on my face. (You don’t need these exact bulbs, but you do need warm, incandescent, symmetrical lighting. Like halogen bulbs with a glass frost filter; MR16 are good ones.) When I’m at someone else’s place and there’s a bright light at the top of the bathroom mirror casting a downlight, I don’t even bother looking at myself: Whatever the image is, I don’t want to see it. A friend calls that kind of reflection “a false grotesque fantasy that fucks with our brains.” (I couldn’t have said it better.) It’s not what you actually look like, so why acknowledge it?

After spending some time at a friend’s one summer I was convinced I needed a facelift ASAP. Then I got home, looked in my own mirror, and went, “What was I thinking?” I’ve also had more than a few consultations with dermatologists and plastic surgeons in their harshly lit offices, where you’re handed a mirror and asked what you see (or would like to not see), and have had the terrible, sinking feelings of diminution, privation, reduction—all the losses that come with recognizing the startling reminders of mortality in your face.

Who needs that?

What I mean is, who needs a daily diet of that? If you’ve been reading these posts, you know I’m all for accepting our aging appearance and for the peace that becomes available when we learn to see ourselves with loving awareness. But there is also Botox, and filler, and good lighting, and denial. Because . . . not dead yet. Gather ye confidence while (and where) ye may. If a touch of neuromodulator and denial helps here and there, so be it.

The good news is we have options as we straddle the two worlds of the spirit and the flesh. So: What will it take to make you happy with the lovely, tainted glory that is your face?


“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions.

Yes, you, juggling SPF 30 moisturizer, SPF 50 sunscreen, SPF 15 foundation, and. . . . What is that, a calculator?

Q: I know this is a stupid question, but if I wear two or more different products with SPF, am I getting combined protection from all of them?

A: There are no stupid questions at Val’s beauty retreat. You’re getting only the highest protection you wear, which should be at least SPF 30 in rain or shine. Go here for more sunscreen advice and product recommendations.

One thought on “A Lightbulb Moment

  1. Jim Roddey says:

    I resemble your remarks.

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