If I hear that beauty is only skin-deep one more time, especially from an attractive person, I might lose it. How we look shapes us down to our very core. It's part of what shapes our identity and creates a perception of who we are, at a glance. I was always known as the pretty blond. People--especially men--responded to me in a certain way that made me feel superior. Special. Just calling it like it was.
Being cute--and caring about being cute--is part of what scored me my first freelance writing gig: covering Britney Spears for US Weekly. Fresh out of college, I'd moved from the Midwest to the West Coast to see how far I could go with what I had - a pretty face and mild talent in journalism. Reporting on how many cigarettes Britney smoked wasn't exactly Peabody material, but it was something.
Then, at my first movie premiere, it all vanished. I stood from my chair, my foot went numb, and I fell on the lady behind me. After a night of headaches, double vision and vertigo, an ER visit confirmed that a cavernous angioma (a malformed blood vessel) in the pons of my brainstem had burst and bled. The surgery to remove the pons left me with a crossed eye, a partially paralyzed face, and a dragging foot. In an instant, my looks were gone. I couldn't help but wonder who I was now.
I eventually relearned how to walk and hold a cup without dumping it down my front, but the desire to be desired had not gone away, and it was tricky to re-enter the dating world while looking so abnormal. The guy I'd moved to LA with--the one who'd been with me at the movie premiere--wasn't up for the role of nursemaid. He said my mouth felt "strange" to kiss and kept assuring me I'd be back to "normal" in no time. When that didn't happen, we ended it.
I met Nick, who is now my husband, through mutual friends pretty early on after my brain surgeries. Our falling in love was interrupted by trips to Kansas City Medical Center for surgeries every six months or so--one to fix my crooked left eye, another to get some movement in the left half of my face, then another for the eye. Through it all, Nick seemed to have faith that I would one day feel like myself again, even when I didn't believe it. He wasn't waiting for me to look different. Eventually, I stopped waiting, too.
I suppose it would make me a better person if I said I no longer sat for pedicures, or favored hair salons that offer green tea and aromatherapy head massages. Why on earth do I still read gossip magazines? Why do I use whitening toothpaste, or ask Nick to pluck my eyebrows? Here's what it is: My face may no longer be classically symmetrical, but I still have the feeling of beauty. The feeling of beauty has nothing to do with perfection. It is about self-respect. It is about caring for oneself. I try to be a little less careless now. Being careless never felt right.
Nick and I are now have a baby girl, Olive. Throughout my pregnancy I felt very self-conscious, unsure if people were staring because of my belly or my face, or both. Did people wonder if I should even be having kids? It hurts to think it, but I know that it will be a sad but inevitable day when our little girl asks about my face, my eye, the rest of it. She will realize that I look different from other mothers, that I cannot run after her in crowds, or find her easily on a playground, and I have to wonder if on some level she will resent me for it. I cannot let myself think this way.
Now, for my daughter, I tend to let myself be looked at, despite the voice in my head that tells me to turn away. She looks to me for cues on how to act in this world, and I want to show her that you look people in the eye, you speak up, you stand as tall as your body will allow, and you say your name.
Louise Krug is the author of Louise:Amended [Black Balloon Publishing, $14.00].
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