“I’m glad you only have to wear that for awhile. You look so ugly!” I looked in the mirror at the patch over my right eye, and had to agree with Peter, my older brother by fifteen months. Yep. I may only have been nine, but as a girl with a blatant physical difference that I literally wore on my sleeves, I was already quite self-aware. My face looked strange covered up with the bandage and all the tape across my cheeks. As I touched it with my one-fingered hands and felt its strangeness, I took heart in the knowledge that the patch was only temporary.
The day had not gone as planned by any stretch. That morning, in anticipation of Mother’s Day the following day, my father drove Peter, our younger brother Teddy, and me to Eisner’s , our local grocery chain with a pharmacy attached.
Life was without question different in those days. While my father took Ted to shop for food, he allowed Peter and me to explore the store so we could shop for a gift for our mother using our allowances. At one point, Peter headed to the perfume section while I headed off to the flowers. Immediately recognizing I couldn’t afford to pay for fresh flowers, I grabbed a fake rose and began to examine the wire stem where the price-tag was affixed. In that moment, I felt someone bump me from the behind, causing the wire to jab directly into my eye. The sensation was like nothing I had experienced and in the shock of the moment, I pulled the stem out out of my eye, shouting out in a combination of alarm and fear.
Hearing my cries, Peter ran over and brought me to our father who was already in the check-out line. I had kept my eye closed, afraid to open it but by the time we arrived home, my parents convinced me to open my eye so they could examine me.
Immediately, I knew something was terribly wrong–as I opened my eye slowly I saw double. Panic followed (well at least for me, my parents kept their cool for my sake). At the doctor’s office, the doctor put a purple dye into my eye to help reveal the severity of my injury. After a brief consultation with my parents in private in his office, he returned, and prepared to affix the patch to my face. “Meg, you’ll have to keep your eye closed for about six weeks. Come back then, we’ll remove the patch and you should be healed.”
In the car on the ride home, I stared with my left eye in the rear-view mirror of our brown station wagon. I looked weird with my one eye covered up. As the weeks passed I noticed that when strangers came across me, they actually stared less at my hands and more at my altered face. It surprised me to realize how much harder it was to have any type of facial difference.
Okay, I admit it. Twenty seasons later I find myself still tuning into ABC’s The Bachelor. I pretend to ignore my husband’s complaints at seeing it take up space on our DVR (and when he asks for a brick to throw at the screen when he sees it on). But I can’t seem to help it. Having struggled for so many years with the mortal fear that I, with all my imperfections, could be worthy of a man’s unconditional and “forever” love, I am a sucker when it comes to even the silliest of dating shows. Years before the Bachelor I was glued to shows like the Love Connection in the 1980’s with Chuck Woolery. Then and even now, after years of marriage, I still want to see just what it takes for a woman to attract a guy.
The premise of the Bachelor has been consistent since its first season. An eligible man meets approximately twenty-five mostly breathtakingly beautiful young’ish women. This season’s Bachelor is Ben Higgins. He’s a striking, tall mid-western man in his twenties who actually appears kind and warm. At the end of the first night, after only having been able to spend a few minutes with each woman, Ben hands out a rose to those with whom he feels he might have the strongest potential love connection. The only exception is that during the evening Ben can give one woman in particular a “First Impression” rose. This season the First Impression rose went to a woman named Olivia. At first glance, with straight blond hair, blue eyes, a glowing complexion, and gorgeous body to match, Olivia seemed to be a vision of flawlessness. However, as the next several shows have demonstrated, Olivia is only perfection in disguise. As we have gotten to know the person behind the face, she has appeared arrogant and selfish among the other women. And as the season has progressed, other seemingly beautiful women have emerged potentially crazy, insensitive and flawed.
With this in mind, the same week the Bachelor show kicked off, I published a Guest Flaunt essay, “Putting Myself Out There,” from a woman named Penny Loker. Penny’s story reminded me how wonderful but also simultaneously nasty the human spirit can be. Penny was born with two conditions; Goldenhar Syndrome and left Hemiofacial Microsonomia, causing her to have a facial difference, in addition to primary hearing loss in one ear. It broke my heart when Penny wrote, “I know that I’m ugly and have accepted the way I look.” Hopeful that a new year might bring someone wonderful into her life, Penny’s decided on January 1st to sign up for a few online dating apps. She was punished for the effort. One man, upon viewing her photo and profile, actually wrote to inform her she “was ugly and that no one would want to be with her.” Another reacted in an equally repulsive way. “u r blocked, ewwwww.” Living her life looking differently, Penny wasn’t shocked by the reactions. “Given many strangers reactions to me throughout my life, I wasn’t 100% surprised this happened.” But despite the horrific stories, Penny’s attitude remained bright and positive. “Sure, I still strive to accept my difference, especially on my bad days. But fortunately I have my good days where it actually shines. I embrace it, and I’m happy.”
I was not surprised that when I published Penny’s piece she received numerous supportive comments. One friend wrote, “This is incredible Penny. I have always known the beautiful person you are, and someday the right person will discover you.” Another commented, “I really enjoyed your piece Penny. My heart hurt for you but it also soared. I will be sharing your story with my young daughters to remind them of the importance of compassion and the true value of inner beauty.”
This month I haven’t been able to get Penny’s Guest Flaunt out of my head. I thought of it again during the most recent Bachelor episode. In that one, Ben mentioned to all the women that he had recently lost two important people in his life in a car accident. Moments later Olivia takes him aside. While we expect to hear words of consolation from her, she instead complains that people think her ankles are not attractive. Claiming to feel sad, incredulously Olivia waited for Ben to console her! Ben, admitting he could’ve really used some sympathy that evening, was visibly taken aback. Shallow and insensitive, Olivia had never seemed more truly…ugly.
I get it. What initially attracts people to one another is looks. But what if everyone had the benefit of actually knowing what the other person’s character was truly like at first glance? What if Olivia had a sign on her forehead that read “Shallow” so the minute she stepped out of the limo to greet Ben on the first night he’d know the score? Wouldn’t it be nice to have even a small window into another’s heart and soul before we act based on our first impressions?
Back to Penny Loker’s piece. Thankfully, not everyone on those dating apps was so awful. But none chose her, either. I just wish that those who didn’t take a chance on someone else because of a superficial imperfection had only stopped to consider that the pretty faces can also hide something hideous. As an imperfect woman whose husband recognized almost two decades ago that dating me was a risk worth taking, I am hopeful others looking for true and lasting love might consider the following: Love is a gamble, even if the prettiest woman or man responds to your invitation. If you are willing to take a chance beyond the superficial, you might not only discover someone extraordinarily beautiful inside, but someone that is also perfect…for you.
When my parents and I returned to the doctor’s office six weeks later, he removed my bandage and just as I had anticipated, I could see clearly in both eyes. On our way home, however, my parents let me know that out of earshot the doctor had told my parents that my chances for a full retinal recovery was at best 50-50 and that there were no guarantees. Thankfully, my doctor had strongly believed in the power of positive thinking…..and it worked.