Saturday, September 8, 2012

Beautiful Disaster

Beauty matters. I am about to make a bold statement but I believe it to be true with all my heart. If you ask any person on this planet if they want to be beautiful (or handsome, gorgeous, attractive or any other such adjective) and they tell you "no," they're a liar. And no, I'm not talking about "inner" beauty, although that matters, ultimately, far more. I'm talking about shallow, superficial outer beauty, the kind that takes people's breath away, that makes them think, "wow, I really like looking at this person." You know, the kind that is oh so hard to define and almost impossible, I suspect, to truly feel.

I think the first time I felt, for lack of a better work, "unbeautiful" was when I was about eight or nine. My best friend at the time told me that her sister, who was a year younger than me, had entered some sort of "Little Miss" pageant. I don't recall how she placed. This was the early 80s, a very small local pageant, nothing like the insane kid pageants of today, at least I'm assuming. At any rate, it wasn't about how well she placed but the fact that HER mother had thought that SHE was beautiful enough to enter her into a pageant. I could not possibly imagine my mother having done that with me. Not that I'd have enjoyed it. I fought her, tooth and nail, when she tried to "dress me up" and with the exception of one dress that I liked to wear, once in a while, when the spirit moved me, I don't think I put on a dress voluntarily until I was a teen. But that was beside the point. On that day, for the first time, I felt "less than" regarding beauty. If I was beautiful, surely my mom would have entered me, too. It was a crushing blow.

Years later, I was at a cousin's house, swimming in the pool. This cousin is quite a few years younger than me but at the time, my family didn't have a pool and she and I were having fun together. Then, seemingly out of the clear blue sky she asked me a question. She looked over at me, stared directly at my face and said, "Why is your nose so big?" To say I was crushed is a massive understatement. I had determined, by having a working set of eyes, that my nose was, let's just say, larger than most. It was something I was quite self-conscious about though, up until that day, I don't recall anyone specifically mentioning it. However, after this day, I could never say that again. The jig was up. It was officially out in the world. My big nose, exposed. And, sadly, I never could get that genie back into the bottle.

Fast forward again. I was thirteen and absolutely HATING life. I was now in junior high which was, in my town, a separate wing of the high school. Quite a big change from sixth grade, when my grade "ruled" the elementary school. It was a time of so much change and it seemed to me that unless you were one of the "pretty" girls, it was a fairly miserable place to be. Or maybe that was just me? Anyway, I was thirteen, totally self-conscious, completely unhappy and struggling to get through my days without spontaneously bursting into tears at any given moment. I was headed for the lockers in between classes when I noticed something different about mine. It wasn't until I got closer that I realized what had happened. Someone had taken it upon himself to write, in HUGE black permanent ink letters, "BIG NOSE" on my locker door. I...was...gutted. I stood there, in utter shock, unable to move, to speak, to breathe. I tried rubbing the letters off with my hand but that was useless. I tried scratching over it with my ball point pen, again, an exercise in futility. I don't remember if I cried but somehow, I don't think I did. My pain was beyond tears, beyond understanding. I never learned who did this but I have always had a theory and really, that is beside the point. All I knew, then and now, was that these two completely unoriginal and uninspired words had cut into my soul, exposed the one thing I was most self-conscious about and marked me, not unlike the scarlet letter. All in all, a very bad day.

There were other incidents, I'm sure, relating to my giant honker, though none I can specifically recall. And I'd like to say, the decision I came to was NOT based on some offhand remark made by a child in a backyard swimming pool or even the cruel actions of a heartless teenage boy. I felt, deep inside, that my nose was hideous, that it was destroying any shot I had at confidence and that as long as it remained I would never, ever be able to look in a mirror without feeling utter disgust, misery and shame. I begged and pleaded mercilessly for a nose job. "Please Mom. You just don't understand." However, my mother, "blessed" with almost the identical nose, did understand. It turns out, she had always hated her nose, too. So, though it was a financial hardship, my parents decided that if it was really that important to me, they would find a way to make it happen. I was fifteen years old.

I remember waiting until the summer between ninth and tenth grade to have the surgery. I did not want ANYONE to know about it. I naively hoped that if it was done during the summer, I would return to school in the fall, changed, better, but that no one would be able to pinpoint what was different about me. I'd just be more attractive than before for some undefinable reason. The surgery itself was awful. Well, I should say, recovering from the surgery was awful. I had never had anesthesia before and I can clearly recall, after surgery, hearing a really loud and grumpy-sounding nurse saying, "Kari, WAKE UP! You need to wake up, NOW." Bitch please, I'm trying. "Kari, WAKE UP!" I guess, eventually, I woke up enough to satisfy her and soon headed home, in the worst pain I had EVER experienced. I remember being so sore and uncomfortable for days. My mother, in a twisted moment, took a photograph of me, looking like someone beat the hell out of me, lying in bed with a small stuffed animal perched on top of my head. I didn't recall this until about ten years ago when I came across the snapshot in a huge Rubbermaid tub of family photos. I looked at this picture in amazement and then, in a rash moment, tore it to shreds. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had kept it. I would have probably never shown it to anyone, ever, but it captured so many different things. I guess it hardly matters now.

I'd love to say that this was the first and last time I suffered for "beauty" but if I did, I'd be lying. Just after high school, my acne (because, of course, I was blessed with that, too, as well as braces, and glasses, naturally) became severe and a dermatologist ultimately diagnosed it as "cystic" meaning, in part, that it would leave scars. I tried every topical cream, every pill available. I can clearly recall one cream that needed to be refrigerated. I had acne on my shoulders and back as well as my face so I would put on an old flannel shirt, which I would remove in the bathroom so my mother could slather the cold cream all over me. It had to stay on for a while so rather than sit in my room topless, I'd put the loose flannel on over it until it was time to wash it away. It was, not surprisingly, not fun.

In time, it became clear that my acne was even beyond what this refrigerator cream could do so the suggestion was made that I try a drug called Accutane. Apparently, this prescription only drug was quite powerful, so much so that I would be required to have blood drawn monthly to make sure it was not affecting my liver. When I look back now, I wonder what in the fuck I was thinking and, even more so, what in the fuck my mother was thinking, but we agreed to try it. I was eighteen, still feeling oh so shitty about myself, and this was lightning in a bottle...err...jar...whatever. I wouldn't have to worry about any more painful cysts on my back and my standard everyday facial acne would disappear too, how fabulous! So, I did it. I used it for six months and it did, in fact, prevent me from getting any more acne cysts. Sure I still got the occasional pimple but it was nothing like before and when it went away, it left no traces behind. Well worth it, right? WRONG. Unfortunately, one of the wee little side effects of Accutane was that while it dried out your skin, preventing the cysts from forming, it also dried out your nasal passages. To be fair, I was warned about this potential side effect. It was suggested that I use saline spray in my nose and even Vaseline on a Q-Tip to keep my nasal passages lubricated. I did this, as instructed, but apparently, that was just not enough. I am now thirty-nine years old and since stopping this medicine at eighteen, I have had a nose bleed almost EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not to get too gross but basically, what happened is that my nose is raw inside. Scabs form which are extremely uncomfortable so I blow my nose. This subsequently pulls off the scab, causing my nose to bleed. I have gone as long as three days, desperately uncomfortable, before blowing, hoping that in that time, the scabs will come off themselves and the tissue will heal but it never works. I blow my nose on that fourth day and the whole cycle begins again. Imagine feeling something "foreign" in your nose that you are conscious of every waking minute of your life. You can't stop breathing so the constant friction of air against your raw nose is unavoidable. All in all, not a fun thing. The great irony, the great cosmic joke in all this? I fixed the outside of my nose so the inside had to have its revenge. Funny how life works out, ain't it?

I am happy to say that after this second let's just say "challenging" experience, I have not done anything to achieve beauty that has physically harmed me. Do I regret the nose job? Not for one minute. It did not make me "gorgeous." I still never got asked out all through high school, or college, for that matter. I was not voted "best looking" in my yearbook. But did I feel better about myself afterwards? Without question. Though I still see imperfections when I look at my nose, I feel so much better about it than I did before. It suits my face and I am reasonably happy with that feature. Now, do I regret this Accutane business? You bet your ass! Though I do not relish the idea of having acne scars across my back and shoulders and, quite possibly, even on my face, the discomfort of what I now deal with inside my nose is definitely not worth it. That choice, made by my mother and, in all fairness, an eighteen year old, fully legal adult me, is one I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

Today, I still do not feel beautiful. I have rare fleeting moments of feeling that I look "okay" or "not hideous" but, as I've discussed before, feeling beautiful is something that eludes me. It is not nearly as important to me as it once was. I do know (though I sometimes forget) that I am beautiful inside. I have a good loving heart. I am very aware of how powerful and devastating words can be and I try, so hard, to choose mine with great care. I am extremely loyal, very supportive and honestly, a great friend to have. These things matter far more than outer beauty, this I know.

So I can say, with near certainty, that despite how things begin to wrinkle or sag in the years to come, I will grow old gracefully. Clearly, I feel that the decision to have plastic surgery, dermatological procedures or anything else "beauty related" done to oneself is a personal choice, one, upon which, I pass no judgment. Everyone has to decide for him or herself what is an "acceptable risk" or "appropriate amount of pain."

My overall conclusion, at least for me, is that fixing the outside does NOT fix the inside but it can help. Of course, fixing the inside is FAR more difficult and that's where the real work begins.


  1. *hugs my beautiful friend*

  2. Kari, kids are mean. Period. I don't know anyone who came through their childhood completely unscathed.

    YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. Let me repeat that. YOU (yes YOU) ARE BEAUTIFUL. Inside, yes, but OUTSIDE TOO!!

    Love you!! <3 <3