In this incisive reported essay written as part of Roxane Gay’s Unruly Bodies series, Chelsea G. Summers mines her own fears, writing about the skin as a battleground for many women terrified by aging’s effect on their birthday suit.

Women — armed with Botox, unguents, and creams and cheered on by a cosmetics industry that marks its profits in the billions — continue their vain attempt to thwart time and its effect on the body because, despite so-called equality, the world we live in still judges them primarily on their looks.

I have had those holy fuck moments—that moment when I discovered wrinkles in my upper arms, that moment when I saw a loosening of the skin of my jaw, the moment when I stumbled on a word for the skin on my chest: crepey. I have yet to find the joy…I’ve long suspected that aging gracefully is just a way to make other people feel comfortable. I’m growing old, and it’s not my job to make you feel good about my wrinkles. It is, however, my responsibility to make peace with them.

No, what worries me, what chills my marrow, what feels absolutely clear in its alien shock and penetrating dread is this: As my face changes, I will lose myself. The skin-deep existential crisis is this: Who am I when I don’t recognize myself in my own skin?

Read the essay