I recently changed my profile picture on Facebook. After a couple of years of using pictures of beautiful landscapes or of me literally hiding behind my son, Andrew—and one unmemorable attempted arty shot of my foot in a field of wildflowers—I decided it was time to put my face with my name.
The problem was that I didn’t like any of pictures of my current face. Nearly nine years on sometimes staggering doses of prednisone have left me with the bloated “moon face” characteristic of corticosteroid use. All the weight I’ve gained (partly because of the prednisone, partly because I’ve been bedridden too often, and partly because I used food to soothe my anxieties about my strange new life in Chronic Town) hasn’t helped in my quest for definable cheekbones.
But I’m also trying to live the life I have now in the body I have now, and cringing from my own round visage was doing nothing but ramp up my cognitive dissonance. Saying that I accept myself as I am now, and then cringing from any photograph taken after 2004 was beginning to feel hypocritical. Plus, what kind of message was I sending to my soon-to-be nine-year old son? Unless they look like Uma Thurman, women should shun the camera?
So I scrolled through the few dozen photos of me I’ve actually allowed my husband, Jay, to take in nearly a decade. There weren’t many to choose from, but I found one. Before I could think about it too long, I slapped it up on Facebook as my profile picture. And because I am lucky enough to have the kind of friends I have, several people wrote to say how much they liked the picture. Funny what happens when you show your face.
Mine is the face of a woman with a young child, the face of woman who gets chemotherapy every month. Mine is the face of a writer, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Mine is the face of a woman with sarcoidosis. I don’t want to hide from it any longer. My face shows my strength, my kindness, my life.
I am not giving up my attempts to lose weight, nor my constant effort to chip away at my daily prednisone dose (without setting off a disease flare-up). But how can I move forward if I don’t accept where I am now?
I don’t think I’m the only woman in the world who hides from the real beauty of her own face. I’ve heard of women using decades-old photographs on Internet dating sites. I’ve heard friends say the nastiest things about their own faces. I’ve been in houses where the mother’s presence is like an invisible ghost. Everywhere there are photos of her children and her husband, but not one of her. She has cut herself out of her own life story.
We live in a culture that bombards us with images of young, beautiful, and thin faces. Flip through any women-oriented magazine and you’ll get saturated with ads that promise to take away your wrinkles, your fat, your dark circles.
I still sometimes pass a mirror and come to a lurching stop. Who is that strange woman in the mirror? Certainly not the person I expect to see. But instead of scurrying off, with my head bowed, I am stopping and taking a long look at the face looking back at me.
I don’t want to participate anymore in erasing my face from the universe. I am here now.
What does your face show? How do you feel about pictures of you?