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Coming to Terms With My Turkey Neck

And smiling while I do so.

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a turkey behind a white picket fence in front of a pale orange background
Travis Rathbone/Trunk Archive
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There’s so much to love about growing older. But the skin that’s been swaying below my chin, draping itself unceremoniously beneath my jaw, had been a bit difficult to take.

Let’s face it. There’s a reason why Nora Ephron titled a book I Feel Bad About My Neck.

With more than 178,000 face- and neck-lift procedures performed on women 40 and older in 2017, it seems it's difficult for many to find beauty in this part of the face. But since I’m not into cosmetic surgery, I’ve been challenging myself to radical neck acceptance.

Some people call this sagging skin turkey neck, while others refer to it as jowls or wattles, the last term sounding more like something a duck does. But when a friend introduced me to a new word for this particular facial change, one due to loss of elastin and connective tissue, I knew my road to acceptance had found a faster route.

We were out grabbing a bite to eat and I was kvetching about my hanging neck skin, how every time I FaceTime my daughter and I’m staring at my image waiting for her to answer, all I see is my sagging neck. “I feel like a turkey, scared of being slaughtered for Thanksgiving.” We both laughed, but the thought wasn’t the least bit funny.

“You know there’s a word for that hanging neck skin,” she said. “It’s called a dewlap.” The sound of that was poetry to my ears. Even musical. I instantly felt my mood lighten. It reminded me of that Crystals’ song, “Da Doo Ron Ron,” the one we used to dance to back when. The rest of the night, I sang my own version in my head, we dew-lap-lap-lap, we dew-lap-lap.

And with that, I think I may have turned a corner.

Of course, when I got home, I Googled the heck out of the word. I discovered it’s used mostly for the neck of certain animals, like lizards and turkeys, birds and dogs. Their dewlaps look ornamental, even exotic. And I bet none of those creatures, especially turkeys, ever think about their dewlaps.

They accept them as part of their anatomy. Many have a purpose.

I found myself gazing at the necks of people I passed on the sidewalk or saw on TV. I noticed women who carried more weight had little or no saggy neck skin. And on men, their dewlaps just seemed different. Maybe because of their Adam’s apples.

I wondered, do they think about this neck business the same way women do?

I also cracked open old family albums, scanning photos of familial necks and jaws, seeing beauty in their smiling faces despite any loose skin. Most especially in my mom. Her smile, which I have found naturally lifts the face, was key in these observations.

So I’m taking a new stance on the subject. This fleshy pendant adorning the aging neck is there for a reason. Whoever wears these creases and noble folds has walked this earth for many years, has overcome obstacles that changed their lives, has earned every wrinkle and gathering that collects on their venerable face and neck. It’s a mark of grandeur my mother displayed for 30 of her 90 years, and when I see a woman proudly presenting her dewlap, I’ll think of my beautiful mom.

And smile while I’m doing it.

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