Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Redefining Beauty

There’s a blog I like to read because the author is super funny and smart and I think we’d be BFF’s if we ever met. Only not better BFF’s than me and the Wife. Which, if we ever meet, I’ll have to tell her up front so she can decide if she’s okay with being second-best BFF but she totally would, because she’d still get to be a BFF with me and I’m just awesome. Anyway, she’s super funny and irreverent but sometimes also really poignant and her post today really made me stop and think.

It’s all about beauty and she asked her readers to reply saying why they are beautiful. And that’s what stopped me. Because most days, as in 364 out of 365, I don’t think of myself as beautiful. On good days I’m cute, on spectacular days when my hair cooperates and my jeans hug my ass just the right way, I’ll go so far as to say I’m hot, except that hot is really more of an attitude. Beauty, to me, has always been a physical description.

When I was growing up, I thought I’d never be beautiful. I was unfortunate enough to inherit the nose that just about everyone on my dad’s side has been cursed with. I say cursed because I hated it. It was big, wide at the tip and with a giant bump on the bridge. I started to notice it when I was around 11. That was when I realized that it wasn’t cute and the more I looked in the mirror, the more I decided it was ugly. By the time I was 12 I was going to bed at night with my finger pressed firmly on the bump, hoping that it would straighten out overnight. I started hating pictures of myself because all I saw was that Nose. I didn’t want to be seen from the side and even fretted about other drivers seeing my profile in my car. All my life, I wanted a nose job.

When my daughter was born, I questioned my desire to “fix” myself. What kind of message would it send her about self-acceptance? Did I want to emphasize the importance of appearance and image and beauty over intelligence and inner strength? I chose a non-girly name for her because I wanted her to be strong. In her toddler years I avoided telling her how cute she looked and instead focused on the smart things she did or said. She broke her collarbone when she was nearly two, which shattered her confidence in her physical abilities, so much so that she refused to go down the slide at the park, she was so terrified. I put her in a preschool with a focus on gymnastics, giving her back her confidence and her joy in playing and tumbling.

However, nothing I did in those early years prevented her from turning into a girly-girl. She likes pink, loves her hair long, she’s been boy-crazy since the age of four, loves ballet and has asked to change her name to Sophie. She’s a girl and she loves being a girl. She loves to look and feel pretty.

So, four years ago, I decided that I wanted to feel pretty too, that if there was something I could do about it, that I would. I researched plastic surgery and surgeons in my area. I scoured message boards on nose jobs, compared dozens and dozens of before-and-after pictures. Six months later, I made an appointment with a surgeon.

I liked him right away. Every place that offers advice will tell you to interview several doctors before making a decision, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Dr. Petroff was completely honest in his assessment, telling me I would be pleased with my results, without making any promises about how incredibly beautiful I would be or how it would drastically change my life. He was matter-of-fact and I trusted him. I scheduled the surgery appointment a week later.

I knew, from all of my research, that I’d feel a range of emotions after surgery, including depression. But I felt great. I felt great the week after, even with the bandage and the black eyes and the thumbprint-shaped bruise on my cheek from someone holding me down because I kept waking up during the surgery. (Here’s a tip – if you drink like a fish, tell your anesthesiologist that you drink like a fish. Don’t minimize that shit, they ask for a reason.) I couldn’t wait to see the “new” me.

I felt great until the day the bandages came off. My nose was still swollen, still red, I wasn’t magically transformed. I still looked like me. I cried all the way home. It was a three-hour drive.

It took a couple of days to calm down and decide that I really hadn’t made the biggest mistake of my life and to know that looking like myself was okay. When I went back to work, nobody said anything. Nobody noticed. It’s still a little disconcerting when I tell people, even now, that I had my nose done. They say I look the same, that I didn’t need it.

But I did. I needed it for me. And people did notice. I went out for drinks with a friend a couple of months after my surgery and realized that people were looking at me. Guys were checking me out. I could smile back and flirt and it was fun. I realized that they weren’t reacting to my physical appearance, but to my attitude. I felt different - better, even sassy. I had a confidence that I never had before. And for that reason, I’d do it all again.

I still don’t love pictures of myself. I sometimes catch glimpses of the wideness of my nose, or I think I look too fat or that my hair looks goofy. I think that’s just called Being a Woman. The difference is that I don’t hide like I did. I want to be in photographs because I want the memories. And sometimes, I really do like the way I look, and that feels really, really good.

Today I decided to answer the challenge of explaining why I’m beautiful. And you know what? It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. It wasn’t that hard. And you know what else? It has nothing to do with how I look.

These are the reasons I’m beautiful:

I am beautiful because I love fiercely.
I am beautiful because I am constantly learning and evolving.
I am beautiful because I have a daughter that I am proud of.
I am beautiful because I can laugh and cry and know that I can't live without doing both.
I am beautiful because I learn to love myself a little more each day.
I am beautiful because I'm a woman.


L. Ottaviano said...

I am beautiful because I can get teary at another woman's blog post.

When I was a teen (in those all-important formative years), one of my mom's favorite things to say to me was, "You're pretty...ugly." So I never much cared how I looked. My main goal was to just be comfortable inside myself. Sometimes I see a photo of myself or look in the mirror, and think, "yikes", but oh well. There are about 10 photos in my life where I think I look pretty good, and the rest of the time I just try to feel good and hope the looks will come along for the ride.

Kat said...

That makes me sad. I don't know if she meant for it to be, but it sounds cruel. Everyone deserves to feel pretty. At least once in a while.

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