This morning, my three-year-old, Aryeh, presented me with an index card he’d colored with meticulous attention – and every marker in the drawer.
“It’s for you,” he said, “to make you pretty.”
My initial response was to chuckle, as my makeup routine includes a lot more than an an index card. But then I remembered a quote from Roald Dahl’s “The Twits,” which my boys love to listen to in the car: “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
I’ve been thinking about looks a lot lately, partly because I’m being looked at a lot more often than I used to be. I mean, even the most confident person might second-guess their appearance when standing in front of hundreds of people. For me, the shame about my weight is mostly gone, though I do experience bouts of body dysmorphia – that is, a misperception about the size or shape of one’s body. Some days, I’m convinced that I’ve put on 50 pounds overnight and I demand my husband to “tell me the truth.” (He just laughs at me.) It’s fairly typical of someone whose size has changed as dramatically as mine has, but luckily, it only strikes once in a while. Other times, I feel yucky about the hanging skin left from my weight loss, but then my seven-year-old squeezes it like Play-Doh because “it feels good,” and I figure, hey, free sensory toy.
These days, my primary insecurity revolves around my teeth. I had braces twice as a kid, but when I got pregnant, my pearly whites started moving around. (For the record, pregnancy jacks up your body forever in ways you never anticipated. In my teens and twenties, I was the queen of speed rides; I would stop for a spin on Aerosmith’s Rock N’ Roller Coaster every day after my shift at the Disney-MGM Studios. Now I can’t even ride shotgun in a car without puking.) Compound pregnancy with aggressive wisdom teeth and my mouth now looks like an overcrowded subway car. I suppose if I was from England, where uneven teeth and cigarette breath are somehow sexy, I would be a-okay. But being an American, it stands out – though probably thousands of times more in my mind than anyone else’s.
Last week, I went for a consult for braces, where the orthodontist presented me with some interesting options. Aside from standard braces or invisalign, I also have the option of complete jaw surgery to diminish the quarter-inch of gum that shows above my top teeth when I smile.
“Is this medically indicated?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Will the alignment of my jaw cause problems in the future?”
“No. Your bite is good.”
“So this would be purely aesthetic.”
I thought of Jennifer Grey, the star of Dirty Dancing, who ruined her adorable Jewish nose – and in turn, her career – with rhinoplasty. To me, breaking my face open already felt like playing with fire – and for what? A little extra pink on the top of my mouth?
“Sorry,” I said, “but that seems ridiculous.”
He put his hands up and shrugged. “Listen, it’s my job to present you with all the options. You don’t have to take them; plenty of people don’t go the surgery route. But to other people, it’s worth it.”
That phrase, it’s worth it, stuck with me after our appointment. What was it? Feeling good about yourself? Having more confidence? For sure, there’s worth to that. I imagined myself in the second category of people for whom surgery would be worth it, shelling out God knows how many thousands of dollars for an aesthetic procedure insurance won’t touch. Provided nothing went wrong, I’d likely be thrilled with my new mouth. I’d eye my smile in the rearview mirror and in every shop window I passed. For a while, the novelty of a perfect smile would feel great.
But eventually, I’d remember that my butt is still big. And my posture is still crappy. And my feet are still flat. And there’s still all that pesky hanging skin.
I still won’t be perfect.
For some people, a simple surgery or procedure might be all they need to lock in self-confidence. To them, I tip my hat. For me, though, it would never be enough. No matter how much I nipped and tucked, there would always be something left to fix.
Even at my lowest weight, when I lost my period and people asked me if I was ill (which my twisted mind enjoyed), I still scrutinized myself for imperfections. And, being newly thin, I gave myself permission to act like a jerk. Looking back, it didn’t really matter that I looked better than I ever had in my life; it wasn’t enough for me, and the person I was inside was ugly.
Today, 35 pounds heavier, I keep my focus on Roald Dahl’s advice. Good thoughts, good deeds, and a good attitude are what make a person shine. What makes me lovely is not how I look, but who I am – warts and all.
I am grateful to my son for the reminder. And the gift.