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My imperfect face
Fixing it isn’t the answer.
The other day, I heard something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: The key to happiness is self-acceptance.
Over the past few years, I’ve made a lot of progress in accepting the place I’m at in life. I’ve written about this often, from acknowledging the duality of things to appreciating the path that led me to where I’m at today.
I have not, however, made as much progress in accepting myself. I haven’t written about this as much because it’s a tender subject for me. I feel like I don’t have as much to share because I haven’t yet reached that higher-self state of unconditionally loving myself for who I am and what I look like.
My insecurities have been flaring up lately—not coincidentally at the same time as we are all returning to being out in public and seeing old friends. I’ve felt extra self-conscious about the weight I gained during quarantine and pregnancy. I’ve worried about my social skills, which feel like they’ve atrophied during the past 14 months. And I have picked apart pretty much anything else I can find. Has my nose always been this crooked? Has my wardrobe always been this limited? Have I always had this much trouble coming up with interesting updates to share?
As embarrassing as it is to admit, many of my insecurities are vain. I worry about my appearance. How I’ve aged. How my peers will view me. I would love to accept myself for who I am and what I look like—a little chubbier, with a few more gray hairs and wrinkles around my eyes—but it’s really hard to do.
There’s a small part of me that wishes I could stay holed up at home, not worrying about what I’m wearing or how I look. Sometimes, I even wish we could keep wearing masks. My imperfect face looks a lot less imperfect when it’s half-covered.
I realize that these are ridiculous and unhealthy things to wish for. They’re thoughts that are rooted in fear and shame. Every so often, I’ll get to a point of feeling alright about my face and then I’ll turn on the TV or log onto social media and see people who look a lot more beautiful and put-together than I am. Their hair is thicker and shinier. Their faces are more symmetrical. Their bodies are more muscular and toned.
Without even realizing it, I begin to compare myself. I feel unhappy. Self-acceptance seems like an unattainable goal.
I recently read an interview with Kate Winslet about Mare of Easttown, a show Billy and I just finished watching (and loved). Mare, played by Winslet, is a hardscrabble detective living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Maybe more notably, she’s a middle-aged woman, someone who wears flannel, goes without makeup, and lets her hair grow well past the need for another color and trim. Apparently, Winslet pushed for Mare to have such a realistic look.
“Listen, I hope that in playing Mare as a middle-aged woman—I will be 46 in October—I guess that’s why people have connected with this character in the way that they have done because there are clearly no filters,” Winslet told Maureen Dowd. “She’s a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way that is synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from. I think we’re starved of that a bit.”
(Let’s be honest: Winslet is still luminous, no matter her age or how frumpy a character might be. But she’s right—we are starved for realistic views of aging.)
Last week, I let my insecurities get the best of me and gave some thought to cosmetic surgery—something I swore I’d never do. I was bothered by the lines and crooked features on my face, and convinced myself that I’d be happier if I fixed those things. I would look more like the filtered people I see on social media, and feel less self-conscious.
Then I read Winslet’s interview. And this quote, about how often we filter and airbrush photos of ourselves, jumped out at me.
What worries me is that faces are beautiful. Faces that change, that move, are beautiful faces, but we’ve stopped learning how to love those faces because we keep covering them up with filters now because of social media and anyone can photoshop themselves, and airbrush themselves, and so they do. In general, I would say I feel for this generation because I don’t see it stopping, I don’t see or feel it changing, and that just makes me sad because I hope that they aren’t missing out on being present in real life and not reaching for unattainable ideals.
Faces are beautiful. Faces that change and move and age are wonderful. And so is mine.
Thankfully, my thoughts about getting a cosmetic procedure were fleeting. I know that I’m better off putting work into improving my self-esteem than paying to get work done on my face. Fixing my imperfections won’t bring me happiness. But learning to embrace them—to accept myself for who I am and what I look like—just might bring me the contentment I crave.
p.s. This week is an especially busy one for me, so I won’t be curating reader replies for Friday’s newsletter. But I will have a mini-essay that’s related to this topic for paying subscribers to enjoy. See you then!
🎉 We did it!
This weekend, we hit a big milestone: My Sweet Dumb Brain now has 5,000 readers!
Becca and I set a goal at the start of 2021: To reach 5,000 readers and 500 paying subscribers, and now—halfway through the year—we’re halfway to that goal! As of today, we have 5,003 readers and 456 paying subscribers.
Readers receive one newsletter a week, like this one; paying subscribers receive a second email on Fridays, which features insightful stories and advice from our ~superstar~ SDB community, related resources that accompany the week’s topic, and a mindfulness exercise for your own sweet dumb brain.
Five. Thousand. Readers. We are so excited about that! Thank you for helping us get to this point. It means the world to us that this newsletter is reaching so many people.
If you’d like to help us reach our goal of 500 subscribers, now’s the time! It’s just $5/month or $35/year. Paying subscribers make it possible for this newsletter to keep going. Will you join us?
💖 Sharing is caring
Thank you, Ayana! What lovely company to be in. And speaking of realness on social media, I especially appreciated this recent, vulnerable blog post of Ayana’s: Here’s Why I Don’t Regret Announcing My Pregnancy “Too Early”.
Word of mouth goes a long way in the newsletter world! Big thanks to everyone who has recommended, linked to, forwarded, or shared this newsletter on social media—or subscribed, like Ayana did last week. It all helps!
My Sweet Dumb Brain is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who has also been battling with feelings about her aging face and body. What’s helped? Adding a very basic, inexpensive facial skincare routine that already has her skin feeling healthier and mind a lot lighter!