The late Nora Ephron’s essay “I Feel Bad About My Neck” is a classic, read by millions of women in the dozen years since its publication.
As stated by Ephron, the premise is simple: “According to my dermatologist, the neck starts to go at 43, and that’s that. You can put makeup on your face, and concealer under your eyes, and dye on your hair, you can shoot Botox and Restylane into your wrinkles and creases, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about a neck.”
She went on to write, in one of my favorite passages, “Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever’s writing it says it’s great to be old … I can’t stand people who say things like this. What can they be thinking? Don’t they have necks?”
However, there are some new advances in the treatment of neck wattles, including a cosmetic injectable, Kybella, to take care of that weird fat pad under your chin. Average cost: $800 to $1,400 for the first injection, and most practitioners recommend at least two and up to six. Not cheap. Regardless, that weird fat pad is not my problem. I’ve been gifted with a mild collagen deficiency, and as a result, my skin seems to be slowly sliding off my face, with no clear destination. In fact, I sometimes bite the inside of my cheeks now, because they aren’t as taut as they ought to be — or as they used to be.
There is also a new procedure called Ultherapy, which uses a non-invasive ultrasound treatment to lift and tighten the skin along the chin and neck, for a roughly similar cost, dependent on your location. And there is a combination face-and-neck lift which, as Ephron asserted, was really the only good solution, in 2006. But a total face-and-neck lift is not exactly a minor procedure. It costs big bucks and involves considerable downtime. And there is always the risk that the results will have you looking — without mentioning any names — like you’re trapped in a wind tunnel.
A total face-and-neck lift is not exactly a minor procedure. It costs big bucks and involves considerable downtime. And there is always the risk that the results will have you looking like you’re trapped in a wind tunnel.
In preparing to write this piece, I read Ephron’s title essay for the third time and scampered delightfully through all the brave and funny essays in her book of the same name. And then, because I believe in thoroughly researching my subjects, I sought comments from friends and colleagues, asking, “How do you feel about your neck?” And now I have to give this piece an alternative headline: The Essay That Went Somewhere Else Entirely.
As conceived, this essay was supposed to be about body image in the age of fillers and other innovative techniques, sort of a current response to Ephron’s famous piece. But it took on a life of its own:
My sister said, “I feel OK about my neck, but I tell all the young girls I know to cover their necks or use sunscreen while in the sun. I sure wish I had!”
My friend Deborah said, “My neck bears the still-raw scar of my recent (non-cosmetic) surgery. And I’m owning it.”
My friend Barbie said, “My neck is my body’s weak spot, stemming from a concussion-worthy bike wreck.” And she takes care of it.
The rest of my women friends had similar things to say.
I even asked a few guy friends to weigh in on the subject of necks:
Barry said, “I’m inappropriately happy when I can crack it to the left.” (You should hear the sounds he makes.)
And Ron, always a joker, said, “I’ve been told I’m a pain there. Often. Sometimes by you.”
No one said, “I feel bad about my neck.” Maybe times have changed and women are becoming more comfortable with their own bodies in ways that celebrate aging. Or maybe it’s because I live in a mountain town whose residents lead an active outdoor lifestyle, rather than in New York. But, in summary, my friends are grateful for having good necks, hopeful that they would recover from having bad necks, or regretful that they didn’t treat their necks better when they were young.
Occasionally, when I’m dehydrated and have had too much salt, the usual cause for both being a margarita on the rocks, my sagging neck does, in fact, make me feel old. But that’s why God invented turtlenecks.
Ephron ends her famous essay with a look back: “It never crossed my mind that I would be nostalgic about a part of my body that I took completely for granted.”
I guess we can feel that way about a lot of things — knees, for instance. When I’m bending over in downward dog, their fine lines and crepe paper skin remind me of an elephant’s trunk, which is probably why yoga pants were invented. And my left knee is no longer completely reliable on stairs, which often makes me feel ancient and feeble.
So, taking the broader perspective, I guess I like my neck just fine. It holds up to long hours bent over a keyboard, it gets stiff only when I forget to use my special memory-foam pillow, and it’s done a good job of keeping my head attached to the rest of my body for 57 or so upright years. And only once has my chiropractor looked at my cervical discs and shaken his head: “Whatever you’ve been doing — stop it.” (Writing again.)
Occasionally, when I’m dehydrated and have had too much salt, the usual cause for both being a margarita on the rocks, my sagging neck does, in fact, make me feel old. But that’s why God invented turtlenecks. Ephron was a big fan. In the last decade or so of her life she was frequently seen wearing one, and I have to say, it’s a pretty good look for a writer. Ultimately, I worry much less about the saggy skin on my neck than about the occasional inch-long white hairs that seem to grow overnight. How did they get there?
Wendy Cohan lives in Missoula, Montana. She’s the author of The Better Bladder Book and What Nurses Know … Headaches. Her children’s story, “Annabelle Tames the Round Warrior,” was featured in the February 2018 issue of Cricket. Find out more about Cohan at wordsourcemedia.com.