Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Reflections by me

March 1st, 2021

In addition to interviewing authors I love, I also am working on a collection of personal essays. Here’s the first one. I hope you enjoy it.


I will be writing about the harshness and joys of ageing. About to get married for a second time, I wonder, what’s the point? The cameras won’t be kind, I’ve had my kids, and I’ve become fiercely independent with the passing of time. I love Stretch, my unusually tall boyfriend, but I’d love him regardless, ring or no ring (although I do love the ring!). With my mother suffering from dementia, I also wonder whether I’ll follow suit one day, and if so, who will take care of me. Would Stretch even make a good nurse? He’s quite forgetful. My three children joke that they’ll be checking me into the Five Seasons, taking turns on who visits me on my birthday every year. They laugh harder than I do.

My collection of essays will grapple with the myriad issues that arise with the passing of time –from the anxiety of losing my looks to losing my mind, to the positives of never buying a pair of painful stilettos or Tampax again. And, as my looks fade, I have found that I feel better in my skin, happier with my choices, wiser about what and who brings me joy.

Chapter One- Reflection

When I look in the mirror these days, I try to make it quick, a perfunctory glance to make sure there’s no toothpaste on my chin, or eyebrow mascara on my forehead. For the uninitiated, eyebrow mascara is designed to make your eyebrows look full and bushy, or in my case, not bald. I used to have good eyebrows, my best feature, according to my mother who liked to analyze and rate every body part as if she were at the butcher’s. I had my father’s legs, not a bad thing, but my mother’s legs were much better. She was very proud of her long, shapely legs, which sadly, I learned from a young age, I did not inherit.

“You have your father’s nose” she’d say.

“No, she doesn’t,” my father would immediately reply.

No one wanted ownership. My orphan nose.

“Don’t worry, your face will grow into it,” my mother would offer in consolation. Although she was clearly worried because on my 18th birthday, she offered to get me the gift of a nose job. I had asked for a pair of gold earrings. “You know Elena, Isabel Monroe got one, and she looks really good now.”

I barely knew Isabel Monroe and I didn’t know her nose.

‘Here, put this on,’ my mother would say from the driver’s seat as she reached into her bag and shoved some lipstick in my direction. “You’ve got thin lips. You should always wear lipstick.”

I spent a lot of time in my youth seated next to my mother in the car doing errands in San Francisco. I got it: My eyebrows were as good as my nose and my lips were bad.  Or as my mother succinctly put it, “the top half of your face is better than the bottom half.” My mother belonged to the generation where your looks were your currency. She wanted the best for me, and that might mean a nose job.

To top it off, for as long as I can remember, my mother warned me that when you get old, your eyes and lips shrink, while your ears and nose expand.  I don’t know how she knew these things. Her point was clear though: “The clock is ticking on your looks Elena, don’t dally”.

So, at 58, when midnight has long since ticked passed, my visits to the mirror are short and sweet.  Toothpaste, check, eyebrow mascara, check. And off I go.  But in a few weeks’ time – May 28, 2021 to be precise, I will be getting married for the second time. Someone will take photos, and I’d like to look back on those photos seated in my rocking chair and say, “You know Elena? You look happy, you look good, you still had it back then. I’d also like to have some pictures to show my mother. She is confined to her bed. Both her brain and her body are tired. A photo of me all dressed up with my new husband might elicit a smile and a few sentences before she falls back asleep.

With that thought, I study my reflection longer than usual and spy a long spindly black hair, between my jawline and my neck. How long has that been there? Could be months. How could Stretch, my future husband and nurse, not have noticed? I search for a pair of tweezers.

March, 2021