Seamed & Brown: The Diet, The Attitude + The Eye Cream (and the Denise Levertov Poem)

Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to my skin. Yes, acne as a adolescent was a serious drag. But there was a gap of relatively good skin (OK, gigantic pores, zits before my period) until now. Then, suddenly, a close up reveals a different story.

Overnite, I became a Denise Levertov poem.


With The Close-Up, The Truth: I’m Getting Older


Who’s crows feet are those?

And those smile lines? Damn, that looks like a permanent crease between my brows!

I’m thinking…

  • maybe my lighting is not so good in my bathroom.
  • some new skin strategies might be in order.
  • looks like I’m aging and I’m not a Botox type of a gal. Help!

Hmmm, no longer thirty, flirty and thriving. Loving the usual trappings of bring a forty-something, such as caring less about what people think. Loving the sense of authenticity of what I’m doing professionally. Loving my family and the kids getting older. Forty-four, flirty and thriving. With a few wrinkles and zits.

A kind of sober euphoria makes her believe

in her future as an old woman, a wanderer

seamed and brown

an old winedrinking woman, who knows

the old road, grass-grown, and laughs to herself…

– Denise Levertov, 1972


Thanks, Denise.

I’m a wanderer with more sun damage on my chest. Why is it suddenly looking more prominent? I mean: dramatically more prominent this week? What gives? Have I become vain and neurotic suddenly? Have I become the woman to whom Denise Levertov refers in her poem? I always loved the phrase “seamed and brown.” I thought it was a loving, warm embrace of aging. Acceptance. When I first read the poem at 21, I looked forward to being seamed and brown.

What’s happening, really? Has my collagen, the structural support of my skin, taken a nose dive? It drops 2% per year after menopause, but there’s a period of acceleration of 30% loss in the five years after menopause. Am I there? Looks like I’m there.

I just don’t feel quite ready for this. I want to do something about it, this seamed and brown business. Not a filler. Not La Mer. How about food?

Enter Dr. Jessica Wu

Shortly thereafter, I found myself in New York, having dinner with a classmate from Harvard Med. We dished the stories of some of our favorite people from school, and my friend asked if I had read Feed Your Face by Dr. Jessica Wu. Jessica was a beloved classmate – hilarious, unpretentious, brilliant – a favorite combination.

I pick up Feed Your Face. Her voice is fresh and sounds just like she did in her 20s in Boston -conversational, witty, like a trusted friend.

Jessica chronicles the traditional Taiwanese food she ate until she hit adolescence, when she started eating outside her home, which consisted primarily of  junk food with her friends at lunch. Pizza and hamburgers became a nutritional staple. The result? Acne. Bad. Dramatic change in her complexion.

Dr. Wu traces the early learning to her years at Harvard, where we learned very little about skin and nutrition. In practice back in Los Angeles, she notices an essential link: certain foods are triggers for acne. Other foods are triggers for wrinkles. Food allergies commonly cause skin problems. Dr. Wu uncovered a scientific basis for the food/skin link, despite our lack of education about it back in med school.

Her book is awesome: fun, girlfriend-y, and chock full of practical tips on how to get your best skin. My 11-year-old daughter, who has a bit of acne, is reading it voraciously.

Dr. Wu’s recipe for how to eat for optimal skin?

Turn back time, with food.

1. Eat more protein. It helps to prevent the desolation of collagen that starts in your 40s. The science relates to MMPs, or matrix metaloproteinases, enzymes activated by free radicals and too much sugar, and devour collagen. Did I mention that you lose 30% of collagen in the first 5 years of menopause?

2. More omega 3s. According to Dr. Wu, omega 3s make your skin firmer and younger.

3. Eat more green and yellow vegetables. Kale, squash, green beans. Result? Fewer wrinkles, especially around the eye. Who needs La Mer when you can eat baby bok choy?

Ah, the book, the food plan, the being a forty-something. Can’t give it all away–you gotta read Dr. Wu’s book!

I consider it GOOD NEWS that we can eat in a way that minimizes being seamed and brown.

Your face, your call. But whenever nutrition makes a sigificant difference, count me in.



  1. Carrie Teerman on September 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I am looking forward to this. Being “seamed” is OK but let’s not rush it!