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Bedtime Beauty Duty

Does keeping timeless allure have to take so much time after a sister turns 40?

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illustration of woman doing her nighttime routine of washing her face, brushing her teeth, wrapping her hair
Niki Dionne
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When I was in my 20s, getting ready for bed was easy: I’d take off my clothes; brush my teeth; and hit the sack. Now that I’m past 40, not so much. Can you relate?

I don’t remember when retiring began to require so much rigmarole, but my nighttime prep for bed has begun to resemble ancient Egyptians’ preparation for the afterlife. There is careful anointing of oils (involving four different moisturizers!), wrapping of the head in cloth and yes, prayer. My bed may as well be a king-sized sarcophagus because this queen is painstakingly preserved, not for the afterlife but for this one. What took five minutes decades ago now takes at least 30, yet I simply can’t go to bed without completing this sacred ritual. Every. Single. Step. My goal: to wake up well-rested, looking as regal and glowing as a modern-day Nubian queen.

Of course, I’m not the only queen among us who has a time-tested beauty routine. I inherited mine from my 72-year-old Aunt Bunny, who still goes to the gym almost every day, performs facial exercises in the mirror and boasts wrinkle-free skin that makes her look much closer to middle age than to post-retirement. “Black don’t crack” may comfort other sisters, but that melanated maxim has never been enough for her; she needs to make sure her Black don’t sag or wag either.

Aunt Bunny was probably as old as I am now the day she summoned 12-year-old me to her bathroom for my initiation ceremony. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen, but she made the proceedings seem important, so I paid close attention.

“Watch this,” she said, as she dipped two fingers into a jar of mystery cream. Then she rubbed both her hands together and placed them carefully on her face, meticulously smoothing the cream in upward strokes away from her chin, toward her temples.

“Now, you never want to pull your face down,” Aunt Bunny warned. “Gravity is already gonna do that for you,” she said with a chuckle.

Then she tilted her chin up and, using the cupped palm of her right hand, repeatedly massaged the skin on her neck upward through her index finger and thumb toward the tip of her chin. “You do this so you don’t get double chins,” Aunt Bunny instructed as she looked at me in the mirror. “Ever see someone with a little extra chin? Like a rooster? That’s called a double chin. You don’t want no double chin.”

So now, every night as I prep for bed, I study my profile in the mirror, searching for signs of sagging. I check my chin closely and remove any stray white whiskers, which have stubbornly begun to sprout. I look even closer to make sure my small chin isn’t concealing a budding double beneath it.

Then, I remove my contact lenses, squeeze lubricating drops into my eyes and shoot saline mist into my nose. I wash my face, apply eye cream and moisturizer. After I’ve moisturized, it’s time for a few minutes of rigorous facial exercises Jack LaLanne-style, tilting my head backward and thrusting my lower jaw forward repeatedly. Next, I brush, floss and gargle. After taking care of my face, I shower — but only from the neck down — sometimes throwing in some more facial exercises while I soap and rinse. Once out of the shower I moisturize my whole body, paying particular attention, of course, to my elbows and knees to ward off even a semblance of ash. Finally, I oil my scalp and hairline and tie on a satin scarf to “lay” my edges. Then and only then, at least 30 minutes after I began to go to bed, I actually allow my head to (very gently) hit the pillow.

And I’m happy to report that, at least so far, I’ve managed to defy gravity. But I still do a few extra facial exercises. Because, just like Aunt Bunny, I don’t want no double chin.