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Growing Accustomed to My Face

I've started a new ritual of taking a cell-phone photo of myself every Saturday morning. Until a month or so ago, it hadn't occurred to me that I could self-photograph. But once I started, it was hard to stop. These are just very raw snapshots of me, usually in the same old gray bathrobe I've had for the past 13 years (a gift from Carl).

For most of my life, I've had a problem with dissonance between my actual appearance and what I like to imagine it is. This is why every time I see a photo of myself, I cringe and go into a denial state. Much of this probably comes from my mother. She hated the way she looked, even though she really, truly was gorgeous up until her forties at least. She was a model for a short time -- mostly hand lotion and nail polish ads. But almost everyone who saw her remarked on her resemblance to the actress Susan Hayward. None of this made any difference to Mom. She thought she looked fat, and yes, she did suffer from anorexia and bulimia.

I always wanted to be angular. Always wanted well-defined cheekbones and big, wide, expressive eyes. Genetics gave me none of that.  My face is very square and always has been. Broad face, high forehead, small eye sockets and epicanthus -- a fold of skin from the bridge of the nose that covers the inner corner of the eye. This is often seen in people with Down Syndrome, as well as some Asians. This is why Down Syndrome used to be called "mongolism." People whose parents are older than average and/or chronic drinkers are often born with Down's, and my parents happened to match both of those categories.  My kindergarten teacher described me in her notes as having "Mongoloid features," and this description followed me all the way through the end of elementary school. Finally, I entered middle school and I guess someone with a brain realized that I'd been in AP classes for years, so it wasn't likely that I really had Down's.  I did have (and still do) a pretty wicked case of attention-deficit disorder, which is what really accounted for my uneven academic performance and much hand-wringing from parents and teachers.

My chin is pretty strong. I like that, and the rather pronounced bow in my upper lip, which is a trait that comes directly from my dad and his siblings. But beyond that? My mouth is way small. Kind of pinchy-looking. I actually have to be careful of how big a forkful of food I take, lest I end up choking.

As a teen, I had Brooke Shields eyebrows, very thick and dark. Naturally, I hated this and tweezed them within an inch of their hairy little lives. Now I have to recreate them daily with a pencil. Despite being solidly middle-aged and perimenopausal, I'm not bothered by "fine lines and wrinkles" that the cosmetic industry wants all women to address with their overpriced remedies. Instead, I have a trickier problem: Dealing with sags & bags. My mother imagined she was fat. I know I am -- I flirt with a BMI in the "overweight" range, occasionally slipping into the obesity realm.  I have a small frame and a pair of 38s, which gives me the illusion of looking less heavy than I actually am.  Losing 30 pounds or more would do me a world of good. It would lower my blood sugar and take the strain off my heart, knees and feet.

My face looks even heavier when I smile, which is why I usually don't. Showing my teeth makes me look (in my opinion) like I'm wearing dentures or getting ready to bite somebody.

But I think the weekly "photo-therapy" is helping. I'm reconciled to not being photogenic in the Access Hollywood sense, and am starting to get past the notion that I'm just the freakiest-looking woman on the planet. My goal here is to see what everyone else around me sees, on an everyday basis. They accept me, and so I have decided to try to do the same.


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