So goes a line in the poem “Face” by Steven “Jesse” Bernstein. This spoken word piece can be found on Bernstein’s posthumously-released album Prison. I heard it for the first time during my freshman year of college, and I was saddened (but not surprised) to find out that he had committed suicide in 1991. I was only 13 at the time of his death, and I did not live in Seattle at the same time as he did, but I would have loved to see him perform.
This poem speaks to me because I understand the seething feeling of hatred for my body and my face. I have been trying to write entries on this blog for weeks and I am too close to it to let the words and feelings go. There have been long periods of my life that I have avoided mirrors just to avoid seeing what others see when they look at me. In childhood, I was brutalized by both children and adults because I did not live up to their standards of beauty. Part of this is because I was overweight most of the time, and part of this is because I am biracial and I don’t look like most other people. I also have physical ailments that have altered my appearance. Autoimmune illnesses have left my hair sparse and brittle, my face scarred and puffy, my hands small and swollen, and my skin stretched and saggy. A surgical procedure left me with an 8″ scar across my hips. No matter what size clothing I wear, it seems like my upper arms are at least two sizes larger. My breasts are monstrous and oppressive. Throughout my twenties, there was nothing I wanted more than brachioplasty and a breast reduction. Between ages 21 and 24, I saved $5000 for the cause. I was unable to use the money as planned, and it bothers me all the time. When most people fantasize about what they would do if they were to win the lottery, they imagine cars, houses, and vacations. I imagine plastic surgery and medical clinics.
I have had major depressive disorder and dysthymia for most of my life. Part of this can be blamed on a tumultuous home life, but even more can be blamed on a tumultuous life outside the home. I grew up in the southern part of the United States, and my first time feeling truly ugly came when I was four years old and a preschool classmate told me that my skin color was weird and ugly and she didn’t like it. I don’t recall being aware of my “difference” before that. I don’t recall thinking about it at all. That was the first of many similar incidents (of those that I recall). I became self-conscious, and to this day I’m uncomfortable talking about it. I grew up believing that my heritage was something to be ashamed of, yet my skin waves it around like a flag.
I had a nose job when I was 21. Prior to that, my nose was so strange-looking that four different doctors told me that I must have broken it and not noticed. I suppose it’s possible. The bridge of my nose was so wide that it protruded past the inner corner of each eye. The rest of my nose was much smaller in comparison. They did not narrow my nose quite as much as I would have liked, and if I win the lottery, I may get it done again. For now, though, it is the least of my superficial concerns.
Like Steven J. Bernstein, I may never come to terms with my appearance, but it would be nice to put a damper on my self-loathing. I see pictures of him and I don’t even see him as terribly unattractive, and I know that many people feel the same about me. But I’ve had explicit messages drilled into my skull for longer than I can remember, and there are things that I have accepted as truth.
There will always be something wrong with my face.