Many people have a love/hate relationship with their appearance. Mine really began when I was around eighteen years old. In 2001, I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life, aside from taking that hip hop class a while back. I got on a dirt bike for the first time ever in my life and for the first time ever, didn’t put any form of protection on my head. Spoiler alert, this didn’t end well. I ended up crashing the dirt bike and I came away with the souvenir of a long scar running from the corner of my right eye all the way to the top of my ear.
Thus began MY love/hate relationship with my appearance.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror while in the hospital and a line from the movie “As Good As It Gets” flashed into my head.
Where’d I go?
My face was almost unrecognizable. The right side was so swollen that I no longer had an eye socket or any definition to my face. We weren’t sure if I was going to be able to open that eye again the same way as when the accident occurred. The accident severed my tear duct and we weren’t sure if more damage than that had been done too.
But I was alive and had my eye, which eventually did open, thank God. When I look at how close my scar comes to the corner of my eye, I start to believe a bit in guardian angels.
Eventually, the swelling went down and I was left with my friend, the scar. I was 18 when this happened and like most girls, already felt pretty on the fence about my looks and then this big red line cut across my face and my view of myself took a huge nose dive for a long time. I wish I could say that I didn’t stay in this headspace for a long time. I wish I could say that the negative thoughts I developed about the appearance of my face with the scar didn’t follow me well into my twenties and nearly my thirties. I wish I could say that I always had a healthy perspective about my accident, thinking how lucky I was that I didn’t lose my eye that day or my life. I wish all these things were true, but they’re not. As much as I tried to love myself, my scar didn’t allow me to leave my love/hate relationship with my appearance behind.
For a long time, I would look in the mirror and see how asymmetrical my face had become and feel awful. Some people make big mistakes and no one ever knows about them. I wear my mistake on my face like a huge billboard for helmet use.
And yes, I do use my scar to scare my kids into wearing their helmets.
It would be sad if I stopped there. If my personal growth ended and I never stopped looking at women in magazines or around me, wishing I looked more like they did. But, I wouldn’t be writing if it had. Spoiler: I eventually found a kind of peace with my appearance. My love/hate relationship with my appearance morphed to gradual acceptance.
I’m not sure if it was having my children that started my change or simply getting older, but after a while, I found myself not seeing my scar as a huge mistake. I began seeing it as me, as part of my face, not a feature I was trying to hide. That scar came from being a teenager, like a tattoo that you get when you’re rebelling against your parents, and then maybe when you’re thirty you look back and laugh and roll your eyes. In fact, I began to be more thankful that I had two eyes to roll. I began to be thankful that I was alive and able to have my kids and watch them grow up. But the biggest thing that happened was this:
I began to see that I am more than the skin hanging off of my skeleton.
Biologically speaking, we have a skeletal frame and skin to protect our organs, particularly the most important one, our brain. All of these things in our body, our heart, our muscles, our blood, it’s all there to keep our brain alive. Our brain is where our thoughts and imagination, our personality, and our actions live. If you believe in a supreme being, then you would have to believe that that being put the human brain and its functions at the highest level on the priority list. If you believe in science, it’s the same thinking, our brains put us above all other species, not our appearance.
We have no control over what we look like, but we have complete control over what we do with this powerful organ in our skulls.
In reality, I don’t need a symmetrical face to run a mile or write a novel. I don’t need a symmetrical face to be a good mother or enjoy a beautiful piece of music. And most importantly, I don’t need a symmetrical face to have life experiences and have a valuable place in society. The idea of beauty has changed in my life. My idea of beauty comes from experiences. We are only on this earth for a short time, too short to be worrying constantly about our appearance.
We have seen how dysfunctional and hate-filled a society can be when it assigns value based solely on appearance, genetic makeup, and the color of what protects our organs from sunlight. When we look into the mirror, we need to see more than the skin draped over our bones. We need to leave our love/hate relationships with our appearance behind, in order to become more than our appearance.
Because until you see the value and beauty of yourself behind your own appearance, the world around you will never change.