Like many women, I have no idea what I really look like.
Generally, this works for me. I can wallow in self-pity or indulge an inflated ego -- a delusion I prefer to control. To see myself in video, for an extended period of time, would alter that irrevocably. That it would be for the better never even crossed my mind.
In April, I received a request to appear on HuffPost Live to discuss my article "8 Things America Gets Wrong About Sex." In my 25 years on the planet, I have never willingly submitted to video documentation exceeding 60 seconds. If this wasn't frightening enough, I knew that during the segment I'd be sitting with my right side facing the camera -- my "bad side."
Many women have skewed self-perceptions, and a number of us project those insecurities onto a few isolated features. My most personally maligned and glorified features happen to be about a centimeter apart.
The two sides of my face are not twins. They're more like sisters. In my case, they are Marcia and Jan. Marcia is the left side -- slightly insecure about her nose but still the star of the show -- to the contempt of right-side Jan, existing in Marcia's shadow with freckles and an imaginary boyfriend.
Many women have a "good side" they think is a bit "better," which they may angle to show off in photos if they can do in a subtle manner. Fewer, myself included, prefer one side to the complete subjugation of the other, making impolite demands on photographers or risking serious neck injury to avoid exposing our "bad sides."
This is a pretty conspicuous example of my posing procedure, but looking at photos of myself over the past few years, there is clear pattern of straining to display my left side. Such is one of many calculations produced by my facial anxiety.
I arrive to dates early and park my purse on the seat to the right, so whoever is meeting me has to sit to the left. If the strategy is disturbed, I'd sooner feign an obsessive compulsion for sitting on right than submit to a few hours of eastern exposure. I apply this to professional scenarios to the extent I can get away with it without appearing hysterical. I never offer to drive and I feel more at ease in right row window seats.
In my defense, I get it from my mama
I don't know when my left-side preference moved from vanity to pathology. I did sustain a traumatic head injury to my right side as a child. But years after the scar faded, a cascade of misattributed neuroses and teenage dramas have planted themselves firmly upon the right side of my face.
In reality, my right-side "deficits" fall somewhere between personally magnified and completely imaginary. The slow reversal of orthodontia has shifted my right upper incisor about half a millimeter from where I would prefer it to be. I lost a very small tuft of hair in an eyebrow trimming incident years ago that simply refuses to completely grow back. My actual hair insists on a severe part to the left, declining to restore equilibrium to my face.
In my head, on the left I look fine, and on the right I look like a nose affixed to a slightly dirty porcelain doll that skipped the cheekbone stage of the assembly line. This is, of course, not at all true.
I used to subscribe to a more common form of irrationality: tying my happiness to my weight. I reasoned that as soon as I got skinnier, everything else would fall into place. I shed the weight but it didn't totally deliver on the solving-all-my-problems thing. So like a body-dysmorphic moth to a projected flame, I yearned for a new filter for my discontents.
The right side of my face became the new scapegoat. Not just to fulfill my natural tendency for self-deprecation, but because confidence issues are also badges of honor. Insecurities, and the willingness to discuss them, are dues women pay for membership to sisterhood.
If the character of female friendship encourages self-doubt, our culture demands it. When it comes to appearance, our bodies are considered guilty until proven innocent. The areas for judgement, from space between thighs to brow ridge prominence, are so numerous that it feels safer to just settle on one and own it.
I have done this too many times. Deep down, I realize I don't shun the right side of my face because I actually think it's worse than the left. Choosing to fixate on it is a kind of survival tactic. To let myself consider how every part of my appearance stacked up would be way too stressful. However unfair the charges against your appearance, the plea deal can start to look pretty good. So I sacrifice one part of myself for the mental health of the whole.
I can't actually control how others choose to assess me. But I can build psychic walls around my true vulnerabilities, using "weight" or "face" to distract myself and others from what's really going on: That women seek permission from society to accept themselves, and if we 'fess up to some inadequacy and promise to compensate elsewhere, maybe we'll squeak by.
It took watching the right side of my face, for a prolonged period, for me to realize I was doing this, and that it was very silly.
A revelation fit for a GIF.
In 20 minutes of HuffPost Live video, the only time I cringed was when I misused a word. I realized the only thing wrong with the right side of my face is that it is attached to my brain, which too often blames a bad mood on the curve in my nose rather than the bills I actually have to pay.
So I'm bowing out of this body image battle for now. If a date goes poorly or I mess up work, will I sometimes take it out on another arbitrary physical "defect"? Probably, but I'll catch myself before spending a decade trying to hide it.
To my right side: I owe you an apology. I have neglected you. I have hidden you from the Internet, roughly 70 percent of people who have ever sat next to me, and kept you from other places I didn't trust you to behave. You have endured far more plucking, scrubbing and picking than your sister, and that wasn't fair.
Truthfully, I wouldn't want anyone else but you. Not because you're perfect, but because I know you. I can predict your behavior. I can navigate your peaks and valleys. There is nothing especially wrong with you, and I did a disservice to both of us to think so. I am sorry. And if you see my wonky left calf, tell her it gets better.