tired face syndrome

I used to wonder what women meant when they talked about needing beauty sleep and described looking worn and tired in the morning and the evening and while traveling and before putting on makeup and after having children and just in general. I used to look the same when I woke up as when I went to sleep. Sure, my face would be a little puffy, in a cute way, but I looked like myself.

I’d like to lie and say I’m definitely still in the bloom of my youth, but I’m a bad liar. The ONE TIME I tried to sneak out to see a boy, my mom caught me. Oh, and then the other time. OK! There were two times! See? I just told you. I can’t tell a lie.

The truth is, I can see where this is headed. I’m smart. Let’s not pretend. My neck is going to sag one day. Not yet. But one day. It’s preparing. I can feel where it’s soft and pliant, at the point where the base of my jaw meets with my neck. I don’t know anatomical words. Clearly.

And when I am tired, I look tired. I look worn. I sometimes look like I just crossed through a war zone, where I saw things that no one should live to see, and I am taking those things to the grave. Which is where I’m headed at the moment. My hair looks limp, my eyes are hollow, and there are shadowed dips in my face, trenches alongside my mouth, up to either side of my nose, where patches of dark have fallen asleep and won’t budge. There is no flattering angle I can turn towards the camera. There can be no cameras.

(this is the only part of my face you’re allowed to see)


I have been known to look harried. Haggard. Other unhappy words that begin with an “h.” Harpie. Hairball. Hapless. We can try to fit them in.

But haggard. That didn’t used to be a look I could do. 

So I get it. I get what women mean when they talk about this. About freshening up. About touching up. The stuff that those silly creams in the commercials definitely can’t do, but are always insisting they can. The creams that those models never seem to need, but are sensually rubbing into their fine, stretched skin anyway.

It’s a little shocking. I thought that was an exaggeration—all that stuff about the unprepared, unmade-up face and its weary troubles. Or maybe I was just being smug. How many times was I smug, back then, without even having to think about it? I guess that’s how smugness works.

I remember feeling smug about my flat stomach. Of course, it came naturally. Of course! I’d never dieted. Never worked out. I was just skinny. And I felt smug anyway. Not overtly. It was a quiet, subtle thing, buried under a few polite layers of “everyone is beautiful in a different way!” But it was there.

I think I should try very hard not to feel smug now, because everything I’ve felt that way about has been something that came around later, to look me in the (weary) face from the other side. The flat belly. The thick, lustrous hair. The one poem I had published in a teen magazine as a kid. I thought it’d be all slender body parts and cascading hair and publishing from there on out. Well, guess what?

You guessed what.

But really, it’s better than all that. It’s a plush little belly (cake! Pizza! Grilled cheeses!) and forget-it hair and writing all day long and all the rest of life that means a lot more than bellies and teen magazines anyway.

So if I can look harried now, so what?

I can’t lie, I’m not over it. I feel like sometimes I look surprisingly old. Which means that I look surprisingly bad, in a particular way.

And when I think about it, it seems sad that looking old is such a terrible, frightening thing.

It reminds me of my grandmother, who says, “I look so old!” And she is old. So she looks old. And she also looks great. Because she’s supposed to be old, so it’s OK. And because old and beautiful are not opposites.

(look at that gorgeous grandma!)

But I am not old. I’m too young to look old. Or maybe this is just what it looks like, when you age, at any age over 20 or so. Or possibly 23. Maybe there are these hints. These signs. These suggestions.

Maybe it’s not breaking some rule or falling apart or just generally horrible. Maybe this is just what I look like at 26. Sometimes fresh, sometimes utterly tired. Sometimes taut, sometimes slackening. In flux. Which is what we all are, always, whether we know it or not. Whether it shows on our faces or not. Whether it has played with the lines of our body yet or not.

I am changing, shifting, always moving towards the sagging neck. Towards a better understanding of everything. Towards deeper lines, more shadow. Maybe more light, too. Shadow, after all, is all about light.

*   *  *

Anyone else dealing with tired face syndrome? Not there yet? Using a magical cream? Totally over it?

Unroast: Today I love how ridiculous I can make my face look when I do silly expressions. I feel talented.

An amazing reader pic of her cake tattoo! I had to share it with you guys. I’m with the chocolate…

As always, if you have a photo of yourself eating cake, or, you know, with cake somewhere on your body (uh oh…sounds kinky already), send it! kate@eatthedamncake.com


Kate on April 17th 2012 in beauty, body, life

37 Responses to “tired face syndrome”

  1. Melanie responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    I, at 37, recently learned that I have bags under my eyes. Not because I saw them in a mirror, but because they were caught on camera. I look pretty decent for my age, but that’s because the women in my family age well. It’s in the genes. We’re chubby, but we’re youthful. When my gram was being sent home to hospice, and the nurse came in to tell us what to expect, she came back in and whispered in my ear, “That is Betty Krestoff, right?” I said, “Correct.” And she said, “Thank God! Her chart says she’s 84, but she only looks about 65 so I thought I had just given that whole speech to the wrong person.”

    I do use exfoliants, toners, and different moisturizers on my face. I don’t like having dry skin at all. It makes me feel itchy or dirty. I know, I’m weird. :)

    That cake tattoo is wonderful.

  2. katilda responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    haggard = Hagrid = Harry Potter = can’t be a bad thing.

  3. Kate responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 7:38 pm #


  4. littlebrowniexD responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 8:22 pm #


  5. Katrina responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Oh I do love the cake tattoo! I am almost brave enough, next time I have cake, to send you a picture.

    I’m 38-almost-39-in-a-fewcouple-months. I know the tired face. I’m so far lucky in that a little blush and a bit of well placed eye-liner mostly helps, but… the bags under my eyes are genetic and have been there since I was in my teens, so, I can ALWAYS look tired. I mostly pretend not to think about it. And remember that I have pretty eyes. I like my eyes. They are dark brown and have glints of dark mahogany red in them when I smile.

  6. Val responded on 17 Apr 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    It’s just life, Kate.

    I read your post yesterday and my mother gets sick when stress hits, and she HATES it, absolutely HATES it, feels the same way, like a big let down, and she is not.

    There’s nobody kinder, bigger-hearted, smarter, more beautiful than my mother.

    And then she gets sick and it’s stupid, needless, and unfair.

    I hope you are feeling better, and looking like yourself soon too.

    Drink lots of water. That seems to help when recovering from a wicked virus.

    Sending hugs and good wishes, love, Val

    ps. is that your real grandma or a stock photo? I’m thinking it’s real and she’s absolutely adorable.

  7. Liz responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 7:07 am #

    I’m soon to be in my last year of my 20s… and just within the past 2 years, I’ve literally felt my body aging. When I talk to my sister or my aunts, they just laugh at me. But, seriously, I’ve had some moments when I feel like old age and mortality are staring me in my (tired looking) face. And, actually, I look exactly like my mawmaw, who aged incredibly well – so everyone is always telling me I’m like a fine wine and that sort of crap.

    Eventually, things sag. Cellulite appears. Younger women start looking younger and younger.

    Such is life. I am just holding on tight and desperately trying to enjoy the ride!!!

  8. Lynn responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I’m 29, turning 30 this November, and this is the first year of my life that I’ve noticed *tired face*. I combat it with lots and lots of water and as much sleep as I can get. The dark circles under my eyes drive me nuts (I combat them with under-eye concealer, the only makeup I wear on a daily basis), but I don’t mind the smile lines I’m beginning to see at the corners of my eyes :)

  9. Celynne responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 8:43 am #

    Oh my goodness that cake tattoo is brilliant, love it haha… I’m twenty three, and I’d have to say the last year especially it’s been clear to me the changes happening to my face as I get older. I know I’m going to have some very pronounced laugh lines someday, which I actually look forward to. Sometimes I do wake up in the morning looking like absolute hell though, like I just crawled from the bowels of despair or something, you know? Those days I usually put on some extra-pretty and colourful makeup – because that shit makes me happy – and then put on a pretty dress that I enjoy wearing and I usually wind up feeling a whole lot better by the end of the day.

  10. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 8:57 am #

    My real grandma (well, one of them, I have two, and they’re both lovely). I took the picture! It’s her Facebook profile pic.

  11. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Hell yes to smile/laugh lines! Thanks for pointing those out.

  12. Jess responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Sunscreen is the only 100% effective antiaging potion. And it can prevent cancer. So, win-win. In my experience, it works. I have one or two friends who laugh at it even for the beach, and one or two relatives who baked themselves in their youth, and they all look a lot “older” than the rest of us the same ages. Really: at 25 with spf 30 on my face daily I think I look younger than some 22 year olds I know, because I’ve had less exposure.

    Then again, at 25 I’m beginning to struggle with something you may never have to: I can feel my breast tissue softening and getting ready to sag. And I’m not ready for that!

    Aging isn’t bad, but if you *can* avoid doing it any faster than you have to, then avoid away, I say, as long as you’re ok with the inevitable. And I always like an opportunity to preach safe sun :)

  13. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Preach away, sister!
    But sometimes I wonder what happens when small breasts sag. It almost seems like they’re not allowed. NOT sagging is supposed to be the thing that small breasts do best. It’s always our consolation prize “At least they won’t sag!” But they will. All breasts eventually sag. They’re made of fat. And fat does not like to stand up on its own forever. So then what?

  14. Jess responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 10:08 am #

    I did read once that the reason men are programmed from the caveman days to like larger breasts (generally, and biologically, not always applicable in a modern age) is because its easier to tell if their partner is of childbearing age. Non saggy= fertile. Small breasts confuse the matrix. Its a lot less obvious.

    I’m sure they sag a little, but far, far less.

  15. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 10:11 am #

    I’m sort of a sucker for all of those pseudo-scientific explanations for why we think this and that about each other’s bodies. Not that I always believe them, but I will ALWAYS listen :-)

  16. Sheryl responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I understand the looking tired, but luckily I’ve yet to reach the point where I start feeling like I look “old”.

    I’m right about your age, Kate, and I’ve yet to notice all those aging signs that I’m sure are creeping up. Partly because I don’t look for them at all, but I’m sure they are there. The trap I’m starting to fall into a bit is worrying about the aging later.

    Especially the neck. One of my handful of moisturizers I keep (the one beauty product I use fairly religiously) is an anti-aging moisturizer that exists mostly for my neck. Because for some reason the thought of my neck aging makes me sad.

    Which seems silly.

  17. ixoj responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 11:22 am #

    I’ve always had dark circles under my eyes. I thought it was just because I was tired all the time from too much insomnia, or worse, that I was aging. But then, after years of fretting and experimenting with ineffective creams (and I loath foundation, so that option is out), my mom informed me that when I was a baby, random strangers would walk up to my mother and tell her I must have sinus issues or some other weird problem because of the dark rings under my eyes.

    So now that I know it’s just something I was born with rather than old age (turning 30 this year), I’m ok with it…most of the time

  18. ixoj responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Also. Kate, I really really really like your blog.

  19. Kate responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Hey, thanks!!
    And also, I have always liked the look of shadowy dips under the eyes. I think it makes people look mysterious and fragile, in a lovely way. Seriously. Always thought that.

  20. Diana D responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    Inside my body, I feel youthful, but when I look in the mirror, I see big tired dark bags under my eyes, just-beginning-to-crinkle skin on my neck and deep wrinkles around my eyes. It really only started this year, or maybe last year. I’m constantly asking myself, “When Did That Happen?!

    My husband calls me beautiful, but I don’t feel that way until after breakfast, after I’ve woken up, after I put on a moisturizer with SPF, and after I try to forget how my internal feelings don’t match the exterior facade.

  21. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    tired face syndrome? me? uh, yes…the novelty of “salt and pepper” wore off and decided to let my true color shine again…so now i’m back to being a flambouyant redhead (sharon osbourne freak red)…now i don’t look tired anymore (even though i am)…whatever works, lifts your spirits…it’s all good.

  22. Olivia responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I understand what you mean and I applaud your honesty, but it pisses me off that women are made to feel this way. Men get older and just become more ‘distinguished’, but we women are worried about how we look in our TWENTIES?? What is this?! I just turned 23 and have been grappling with the simultaneously exciting/anxious thought of finally being an ‘adult age’. 23 just seems more serious, I think because it’s no longer a ‘college age,’ i.e. 18-22. So I understand feeling anxious about getting older, but I think we need to try as hard as possible to resist. We are still young, and we will be for a long time, and even when we’re not it will be a huge blessing in disguise because we’ll have amassed all kinds of wisdom, honesty, and self-knowledge (ideally). I’m not being very articulate, but it makes me angry that we even have these insecurities in the first place. If you really think about it, worrying about getting older is the most useless waste of time ever, because it will happen constantly until you die. The only way not to age is to die, so let’s embrace our full spectrum of being.

  23. San D responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Like @Diana, inside I am a young person, who has now become invisible to all in our society because on the outside I am an old (read: 63) short woman with salt and pepper hair. I crack myself up though because I love playing with the two “me’s”, one by dressing funny, and two by being “in the know”. As for looking tired, honey, I don’t recognize the visage that stares back at me in the mirror because the inside me still has eyelids that are “up”, the inside me has thick curly brown hair, and the inside me isn’t worried about where the rosacia will show up next (oh G*d, not the NOSE). I’ve managed to stave off wrinkles because I am a bit of a pudgeball, which in my humble opinion pushes “out” the wrinkles. LOL. By the by, your grandmother is gorgeous, and more twinkly in person.

  24. Sooz responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    I am 39 1/2 and i have a tired worn face a lot of the time. but i’m okay with it b/c it is MY face. it is me. uniquely me. i wear mascara (when I remember) and chap stick and have given up on all the rest. i look how i look and i accept it. but it did take me a loooong time to get here. :)

  25. claire responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    hope you feel better now, and enjoy the rest of your trip.So nice of you to show that pix of me, when I was feeling pretty good, but then you always have that effect on all the people that love you and so many do.

  26. Kate responded on 21 Apr 2012 at 12:16 am #

    Pretty sure it’s inevitable. Especially in the Skype monitor. Yikes. There’s something especially unflattering that happens there, right? But I also think that we’re the only ones who see it in ourselves. Those little lines around my eyes? If I’m really truly honest with myself…I’m the only one who notices them. Just in case, though, I am sticking with a hardcore sunscreen routine.

  27. Lali responded on 23 Apr 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    Just remember ladies, as a 46 year old who is happy in her skin, I look back at pictures of myself in my 30′s, remebering how self critical I was. And I only wish I could have given myself a good shake to get rid of the nonsense in my head. So enjoy your age, don’t worry about the bags, smile for your future self so that when you look back you remember a happy life!

  28. Eat the Damn Cake » the girl someone should write a book about responded on 03 Jul 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    [...] I usually look better when I got sleep last night and I washed myself and I put on some clothes that are at least a little flattering. And when I [...]

  29. Eat the Damn Cake » who the hell can fit into these delicious, godforsaken jeans? responded on 29 Jul 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    [...] lit shoebox fitting room. It is shameful. I cross my thick arms over my slender breasts. My face looks twenty years older than it is and that seems sort of miraculous, in a terrible way. There are no [...]

  30. ChrsiG responded on 02 Aug 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    SanD, I’m another version of you but 55 yrs old. And I often do the “double-take WTF?” glance at windows I pass by on the streets: “Who is that old person in my clothes??” But, I’m w/Lali 100%. Give yourselves a break, we’re not supposed to be 23 forever, God that would be horrible, really. We grow better with time and we recognize this as we age. Be kind to yourselves, cultivate a healthy sense of humor and, remember, a smile is the BEST accessory!

  31. Eat the Damn Cake » horrible fragility responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    [...] I used to think that if I could change something about myself it’d be my nose. I’d give myself this straight, fine, elfin nose that authors are always ascribing to the faces of graceful women characters. The kind of women who look good even when they’re really tired. [...]

  32. Eat the Damn Cake » horrible fragility responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    [...] I used to think that if I could change something about myself it’d be my nose. I’d give myself this straight, fine, elfin nose that authors are always ascribing to the faces of graceful women characters. The kind of women who look good even when they’re really tired. [...]

  33. aiza responded on 14 Sep 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    I turned 30 in August and said a mental goodbye forever to my young and vibrant 20′s. From arm’s length and with my clothes on, I don’t actually seem to have aged past 22, but I know the truth!

    Like someone mentioned in the comments above, my breasts have become softer, less firm, less able to hold their own weight up. They have already begun sagging, oh, ever just a little, but enough for me to notice that the shape of my once stunningly-shaped bosoms have changed. They’re just a little more tired nowadays.

    And as I step over the threshold into my 30′s, I also notice that my body has become lumpier. Not really fatter (although, that, too), but just lumpier. More stubborn about holding on to fat. Hoarding it obsessively in little stockpiles around my body like a deranged old aunt who refuses to throw anything out. There under my chin, around my arms, on my hips, little rolls under on my back just under my bra line. Sometimes I feel like an ill-stuffed pillow.

    I also have dryer skin and my knees are deteriorating rapidly (bad knees run in the family, or rather, they don’t run).

    I haven’t been minding it so much yet, but I suspect this is mostly due to the fact that the damage of aging hasn’t actually become visible to anyone but me (and anyone I get nekid with!). I have this funny feeling that once the aging process decides to *really* roll its sleeves up and get started, I might feel pretty different about it. :/

  34. Deb responded on 25 Nov 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I have put a lot of stress on my body for years and have had really really HORRIBLE sleep habits so I’ve mastered the “haggard” look for years and i’ve gotten used to the quickly averted eyes at my appearance. that used to hurt ALOT. I just turned 26 and I’m realizing that I can’t keep my terrible habits anymore because as im getting older im seeing how much they are reducing my quality of life and that im pretty much shortening my life :( I’m tired of feeling like crap all the time and have tried for years to get more sleep but it never sticks. I feel like I have no choice at this point.

  35. Gaye Pauroso responded on 10 Dec 2012 at 4:12 am #

    What a great post. I ran across it because I was online, at 4:00, googling “tired faces” to add to my fb page with my line, “Insomnia is stupid.” At first I ran across an image of a gorgeous 20 year old, full make-up, no lines, and I thought, “Wow, this is so not what I look like in the middle of the night.” Then I found your post. Thanks for the laugh. If I can’t sleep, and if I do indeed have “tired face syndrome,” which, at 50 is becoming a permanent state of affairs, I may as well get a laugh over it.

    Oh, and my favorite beauty potion is the ProX wrinkle cream. I have no idea if it’s working or not but I’m too afraid to stop using it for fear that it IS working and if I stop things will get worse. ;)

    Thanks again for your post.

  36. Sheila responded on 11 Mar 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but I’d like to say to the woman who is wondering how much her small breasts will sag that I, too, have small breasts. I’m 46 (47 in a few months) and they are still perky. I’ve always liked my small breasts and I do consider the fact that they STILL aren’t sagging an nice advantage over bigger breasts. Also, I was able to wear halter tops my entire life (up until about 4 years ago when my triceps started jiggling–if I can ever correct that by getting into the gym, I’ll resume wearing halter tops).

    I feel fortunate that I’m 46, but most people guess me in my late 30s. I am finally seeing the aging process and it is difficult, but I’ve been very lucky so far.

    Yes, wear sunscreen! I didn’t start until my 30s, but I do believe it’s made a big difference!

  37. janet responded on 01 Sep 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    I have been coping with small sagging breasts my entire adulthood. I am 26 now (thats too young for saggy breasts!!!), and I recall them being saggy since I was 18 years old.
    I really have no idea what caused this. I have never lost a lot of weight. I have always been thin to average. Since I was 14 I have played yo yo with my eating habits- Ranging from eating normal to being on very strict low calorie, unhealthy diets. So even though my weight loss was never dramatic, it was always QUICK. Could that have been the cause of the loss of elasticity? Not only do they sag, but the have a wrinkly appearance when I smush them or lie down!! It is awful.
    I wish there was a way to fix this. It has been very detrimental to my self esteem/body image. I know from positive feedback that I am an attractive girl. Men do pursue me quite often, but I feel that this good looking man might find me attractive now, but when my bra comes off (no!) he will be disgusted. It makes it very difficult for me to expose myself naked, to even enjoy sex, and to connect with a boyfriend on that level.
    Any readers have any insight on what caused this premature aging breasts? Any tips?