What would you like to change about yourself?
That’s a pretty hefty question. It can lead to self-reflection and growth or self-doubt. And, I think, when that question is aimed at our physical appearance, the answer, in a world of body positivity, has to be “absolutely nothing.” But for me, at least, that’s not the honest answer.
Three months ago I sat in a plastic surgeon’s office and had to answer that question — what would I like to change? I think the doctor may have used the term “improve” but the implication was still the same. What do you not like, what is making you unhappy, and what would you like to alter.
“I like the way I am,” I sheepishly said. I felt like I owed it to myself to say that. And I do. But I also have things about myself that I’m overly conscious of.
For years, every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a slightly different face. The right side began to tell the story of time and I can see where my laugh lines will fully appear one day, where my forehead will forever looked furrowed and my eyes will at some point, hopefully, look as wise as my grandmother’s. But the left side remained seemingly unchanged. There were no laugh lines or foreshadowed wrinkles due to a lack of motion. My nostril couldn’t flare, my smile didn’t reach and my eyebrow refused to express surprise.
Last year, when doctors discovered a mass wrapped around my facial nerve, I learned why my appearance changed. With most of the mass removed, I worked diligently to attempt to regain as much of my facial function back as possible, even working with a facial therapist.
My sessions with Lisa, my facial therapist, were much more than stretches and exercises for my face, we also talked about the emotional impact the mass has left. By and large I feel incredibly blessed and grateful. The mass was benign, doctors were able to remove most of it and what’s left hasn’t regenerated within the last year.
But besides the worry in the back of my head if the mass will ever grow back, there have been other, subtle, worries.
Last summer I was in a friend’s wedding. And my heart sank when I saw some of the pictures because the only thing I could see were all the things I wanted to change about my face. I wanted my eyes to be symmetrical, like they use to be. I wanted to be able to smile, not just smirk. This spring, when another friend asked me to be in their wedding, I almost said no because I didn’t want to ruin their pictures. And while I know my friend asked me to stand up with him not because of how I looked but because of who I am, I still worried.
During my commute to work the months before the wedding I would practice smiling in the mirror, finding just the right way to hold my head and angle my chin. I practiced how much I could smile before my cheeks raised too much and my right eye began to crinkle, and the left one was noticeably ... not. By the time the wedding rolled around I was a well-oiled picture-taking machine.
Lisa listened as I told her how much thought went into each and every picture we took that weekend. And in that moment, I felt exhausted.
I told Lisa how the last two years I’ve been working on being a happier, healthier me. I talked to her about how I believe in body positivity, loving myself for exactly who I am and in those moments when I see a flaw, how I try to treat and talk to myself like I would my best friend — kindly and lovingly.
And then she said something amazing. It’s OK to not be OK.
A month later, Lisa brought me in to meet with a plastic surgeon to discuss Botox injections. Botulinum toxin is a meurotoxic protein that prevents the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholin, which effectively causes paralysis.
We did the first round of injections on my affected side, as they can help with some of the tightness in my facial muscles. I saw an immediate difference in myself. Not only was I not as worried about people only looking at my droopy eye or half-watt smile, I also felt like my face was much more relaxed. I didn’t feel my speech being affected because my bottom lip couldn’t keep up with the rest of my mouth and my cheek didn’t feel as tight all the time. And when I went to see Ed Sheeran with my best friend, I didn’t think twice about taking selfies.
Botox made me feel more in power and in control of my body and isn’t that, in some part, what body positivity should be about? Becaues if you want to change something about yourself, it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate or love yourself. It means you love yourself enough to try something new.