His thumb softly rubbed the twisted flesh on my cheek. The plastic surgeon, a good fifteen years my senior, was a very attractive man. His masculinity and the intensity of his gaze seemed almost overpowering.
“Hmmm,” he said quietly. “Are you a model?”
Is this a joke? Is he kidding? I asked myself, and I searched his handsome face for signs of mockery. No way would anyone ever confuse me with a fashion model. I was ugly. My mother casually referred to my sister as her pretty child. Anyone could see I was homely. After all, I had the scar to prove it.
The accident happened in fourth grade, when a neighbor boy picked up a hunk of concrete and heaved the mass through the side of my face. An emergency room doctor stitched together the shreds of , pulling cat-gut through the tattered outside of my face and then suturing the shards of flesh inside my mouth. For the rest of the year, a huge bandage from cheekbone to jaw covered the raised angry welt.
A few weeks after the accident, an eye exam revealed I was nearsighted. Above the ungainly bandage sat a big, thick pair of glasses. Around my head, a short fuzzy glob of curls stood out like mold growing on old bread. To save money, Mom had taken me to a school where a student cut my hair. The overzealous girl hacked away cheerfully. Gobs of hair piled up on the floor. By the time her instructor wandered over, the damage was done. A quick conference followed, and we were given a coupon for a free styling on our next visit.
“Well,” sighed my father that evening, “you’ll always be pretty to me,” and he hesitated, “even if you aren’t to the rest of the world.”
Right. Thanks. As if I couldn’t hear the taunts of the other kids at school. As if I couldn’t see how different I looked from the little girls whom the teachers fawned over. As if I didn’t occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. In a culture that values beauty, an ugly girl is an outcast. My looks caused me no end of pain. I sat in my room and sobbed every time my family watched a beauty pageant or a “talent” search show.
Eventually I decided that if I couldn’t be pretty, I would at least be well-groomed. Over the course of years, I learned to style my hair, wear contact lenses and apply make-up. Watching what worked for other women, I learned to dress myself to best advantage. And now, I was engaged to be married. The scar, shrunken and faded with age, stood between me and a new life.
“Of course, I’m not a model,” I replied with a small amount of indignation.
The plastic surgeon crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me appraisingly. “Then why are you concerned about this scar? If there is no professional reason to have it removed, what brought you here today?”
Suddenly he represented all the men I’d ever known. The eight boys who turned me down when I invited them to the girls-ask-boys dance. The sporadic dates I’d had in college. The parade of men who had ignored me since then. The man whose ring I wore on my left hand. My hand rose to my face. The scar confirmed it; I was ugly. The room swam before me as my eyes filled with tears.
The doctor pulled a rolling stool up next to me and sat down. His knees almost touched mine. His voice was low and soft.
“Let me tell you what I see. I see a woman. Not a perfect woman, but a beautiful woman. Lauren Hutton has a gap between her front teeth. Elizabeth Taylor has a tiny, tiny scar on her forehead,” he almost whispered. Then he paused and handed me a mirror. “I think to myself how every remarkable woman has an imperfection, and I believe that imperfection makes her more remarkable because it assures us she is human.”
He pushed back the stool and stood up. “I won’t touch it. Don’t let anyone fool with your face. You are delightful just the way you are. Beauty really does come from within a woman. Believe me. It is my business to know.”
Then he left.
I turned to the face in the mirror. He was right. Somehow over the years, that ugly child had become a beautiful woman. Since that day in his office, as a woman who makes her living speaking before hundreds of people, I have been told many times by people of both sexes that I am beautiful. And, I know I am.
When I changed how I saw myself, others were forced to change how they saw me. The doctor didn’t remove the scar on my face; he removed the scar on my heart.