"Yeah, I had been wondering... How did you get it? If you don't mind..."
My new friend Jacob is struggling. Behind his well-built and very compassionate wall of caution is an itching question which he is desperate to scratch.
How did I get my scar?
It's a little intimidating putting a giant picture of my face on the internet, but the story is not a difficult one to tell. I don't need to try to spin it into a funny, self-deprecating tale to preserve my own emotional stability over this story's trauma. It's not gritty, gnarly, or savage. It's hilarious and it hurt like crap and "welp I've never made that mistake again lol."
But Jacob is worried, as most folks are, because he expects this to be a testy subject. He expects me to be self-conscious, expects my hand to rise instinctively to my upper lip and stroke the mar on the otherwise unbroken surface of my skin.
My skin. White. Well, "white." Freckled. "The largest organ on my body(?)." The bit that covers all the other bits, holds them together, protects the bits underneath so I can make my way through the world, inhabiting every bone and sinew and fingernail. The only part of me that is impossible to cover entirely from the rest of the world if I want to interact with society.
Growing up, people said I have "peaches 'n' cream" skin, referring, of course, to my clear, pale face. After avoiding (by miracle, not discipline) the wounding self-esteem-crusher acne, keeping away (because I preferred my books, thank you) from tanning, and preserving by accident that thing people around me held in such esteem as a paragon of "beauty," I finally squashed their dreams by going and getting a cut on my precious, precious skin. On my face.
Disclaimer: Skin can be an emotionally charged subject, and scars, burns, acne, etc. can have massively real and valid effects on folks emotionally, physically, and psychologically. I am fortunate to have not suffered in this way.
I love my cat. He and I are besties for life. At night, he curles up as close to me as he can, so that, even though he is definitely at least one-sixth of my size, he takes up half of the available bed space. So it has been, so it always will be.
About five years ago, I cried out in my sleep. I was living in my parents' garage, and I'm guessing I had a nightmare - I don't remember. My outburst scared my cat, whose claws I hadn't trimmed out of pure, unexcusable laziness. As he jumped from his cozy, purr-filled spot where we shared a pillow, he clipped me on the lip with one of his well-manicured talons. I woke up in pain and stupor, and as my brain performed a delayed emergency boot-up, I lifted my fingers to my face and dripped blood on my Little Mermaid bedsheets (stop. it was a great movie.).
And then I laughed. And then that hurt so I settled for a quiet, shivering snicker. An adrenaline-filled guffaw that was impossible to resist filled me to bursting as I considered how ridiculous the circumstances of this wound were, how I was going to have to explain this to my mother and hope she could figure out how to bandage just a general "swath of face," how it was getting funnier in the way that trying not to laugh makes it impossible not to laugh. I looked at my cat, and a new wave of laughter threatened to split my open gash as our eyes met and I saw the expression on his whiskered face, offended and apologetic at the same time, and also still a bit sleepy.
My mom and I just stared at each other in the bathroom, her lips pursed to the side as she tried to puzzle out how to get back to sleep without ruining any more sheets. We ended up using liquid bandaids, which hurt a whole lot, and then went back to bed.
Later, my mom would buy me Mederma and encourage me to use it daily to lessen the visibility of the obvious scar to follow, and I would take it in confusion, not understanding why a 22-year-old young woman would feel the least embarrassed about something like a cut.
Later, I would brag about my face scar, regretting only that it was not on my eyebrow like in The Lion King (stop!), and would be met by confused stares.
So, now you know. You've probably never even noticed it, but you know anyway.
Why does it even matter? I'll tell you.
Those standards that society pushes us to reach for so we can feel like our most beautiful selves are what made other women pull me aside at church and whisper, "Don't worry, it'll fade eventually." Beauty standards are what made them want to look a certain way, and made them assume I wanted to look a certain way, and feel like they should comfort me because I no longer did.
But, I mean, I... um... well...
I like it.
Ask my mother! I loved this wound from the beginning, knowing it would turn into an awesome story (wishing it was a more adventurous story). I mean, yes, it was awkward at work while it was still a shining, bloody gash, as open wounds do have a way of making everyone uncomfortable.
But after that, it was a face scar. The most desired of scars. Something that made people wonder about you, write stories about you in their heads, sizing you up as you walked proudly to the bar and ordered a double, neat.
You can imagine my surprise when no one felt this way about my scar.
People were genuinely worried about how I would deal with having a scar on my face, and it's not their fault. We are given the message that we should always be able to attract company with our outward appearance from the time we are born.
We're exposed to tons of advertisements every single day, many of which celebrate impossible, glistening bodies. Artificial thighs stretch out across billboards, with the shoes being sold at the very edge like an after thought.
Society is even structured to expect couplings of attracted people - Colin Wright points out in his book "Come Back Frayed" that the lowest number of chairs at a table at any restaurant is two.
So it's no wonder that people expected me to feel ugly now.
But I don't.
And I want to see more people in the world who don't. Who reject society's claims on their own worth based on how closely they resemble the ad on the wall.
There are movements of people who have taken on the task of spreading awareness on our responses to advertisements (I'm looking at you, Josh & Ryan) and determining our own worth and standards of beauty (and you, Megan), and I just wanted to share my experience and take a moment to applaud their work and the work of many, many others.
And I also want to encourage you. There are plenty of things that I do feel self-conscious about. There are plenty of ideals I find myself wanting. But I hope that, if anything, this post and this story can say simply that you are allowed to love things about yourself that other people don't.
Here's me, showing you how much I love my face scar and 90's Disney films. I'm not apologizing anymore, and I hope you don't feel the need to, either.