Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 24: On Identity and Physical Appearances

So I had a chat with my dad last night and I shared with him my concerns about my looks, and my fears that I may have lost my identity somewhat because of how this surgery might have changed me. I guess even though I've always held on to the fact, or "fact" that beauty is more than how one looks, I've always always known (or believed) how powerful one's physical appearances can affect one's sense of identity. What I didn't know was how much changing some of it would affect me.

Perhaps it all starts from home. I'm born into a family with two other sisters and out of the three of us, I guess I've always been the one who's been more particular about my physical appearances.  But as with all sisters, each of us have our own "brands" which people somewhat know us by. My younger sister is the really friendly and smiley one with a kind heart, my older sister is the slightly extraverted, sweet nurturing motherly type, and then there was me - the quiet mysterious pretty one. I guess it's because I'm mainly quite an introverted person who doesn't quite like to talk and hardly smiles (unless I know a person well). And that's who I've pretty much been/known as all my life - the mysterious pretty one.

I think it was only when I started to realized that my face has changed (which I really couldn't see in the first few days post op), that's when things got a bit scary. I don't know how many times I have covered the bottom half of my face (where the double jaw surgery changed) in the past two weeks, and wondered "Have I made the biggest mistake of my life?"

One of my favourite shots of
Victoria Beckham at her recent
Burberry shoot in Singapore.
It has been during this period that I've started to think back to the comments people have made on my "old face". I'd think back to how my sisters would tell me that their friends know me as "the pretty one", how I had a random girl in Europe once come up to me and said "You know, I was just watching you and I have to tell you that I think you're really beautiful." (Don't be mistaken. She was totally straight. I suppose she was just the type to share what she thought.), and comments from other random people which said about the same thing, then there were the boys/random people who couldn't believe I never had a boyfriend "because you're so pretty". Or even once when a guy asked me, "Are you a model?" which totally caught me off guard because at 5"3, that's no where near model standards - or at least runway model standards (which is the epitome of beauty to me).

Thing is, I never believed them. And honestly, I still don't really think that's true. And I pretty much struggled with self-esteem / self-image issues for most of my life.

But it's weird that now, after not giving all these comments the time of the day all these years, that they all choose to come back now. And I find myself questioning, "If that were all true then, is it still applicable now?" Or perhaps if there were a little truth of my beauty then, that I had ruined it all now by sawing off some bones in an operating theatre. Granted, that I had the surgery to fix a medical issue, but perhaps there was also a hidden part of me that was unhappy with the way I looked and thought the process would "kill two birds with one stone" and fix that too? I know it wasn't cosmetic surgery, and I know I entered the surgery for all the right reasons, but I now find myself starting to think, "Have I lost my natural beauty?" and "Am I a fake person now?" and "Will I never qualify to even be mistaken as a model ever again?" and "Do I now have a forgettable 'common face'"?

I know it sounds shallow... but this is me being real and honest. I don't think I've ever read a blogpost of a jaw surgery patient that went into such detail (though there have been mention of struggles), but this phase is VERY real. I suppose a lot of it also has to do with how beauty is really a part of being a woman.. and it just so happens that in this season, and through this process, those are the thoughts that have bothered me. Needless to say, this process has really hurt my self confidence all the more. The struggle is real.

As I share with my closest friends about my struggles with the changes, the reassurances unfortunately fall on deaf ears - or rather, a disbelieving heart. Everything somehow just becomes negative. For example, comments like:

They'd say: "Be patient for the swelling to go down, it'd get better."
And I'd think: "What if it doesn't go down so much and I'm stuck like this." or "What if it does and I still look like this?"

They'd say: "You're still pretty."
And I'd think: "I don't believe you mean that, and you're probably saying it to console me. And anyway, my question was whether I was prettier. Why are you avoiding the question?"

They'd say: "You look sweeter and more approachable now"
And I'd think: "I've known myself (and other people have known me) to be the mysterious pretty one. Have I lost all that now? Who am I now?"

Love this natural shot of Emma Watson.
I don't think I have my sharp chin anymore.
It's weird, but every comment on my physical appearance is now processed in my mind in a really critical way. I used to be certain of "my brand" and who I was. I knew what sort of clothes I liked, what sort of hairstyle worked with my face, how best to do my makeup, what sort of earrings and accessories was "me"... and somehow this process has rocked that quite a bit. I feel as if I don't know the person/face that I am to dress and care for now. The other day, I told my mum that I felt like all the nurses at the clinic all seemed to look at me with sympathy - as if I'd made a big mistake with the surgery for all the aesthetic damage it did, and my mum was like "You are seeing things. It's all in your mind. Don't think like that."

I've heard a few comments of people who have seen me since the surgery and mentioned that the change has been for the better, but I just somehow don't see it in the mirror. 

I know it's a season. I know it's a process. 

Thing is, what I don't know for sure is if I had truly lost something forever and that people are being totally honest with me. It's kinda scary because you find yourself really not trusting what anyone else says...And it scares me that be it true or not, it's not something I can change back anymore anyway. Deep inside I know that beauty is not about physical appearances, it's so much more than that - and that's what I tell A LOT of people and girls that I mentor - but this has challenged me on a whole new level.

I'm going to see Orthoman tomorrow and to be honest, it's scaring me to bits.
The nurses have seen my old face, and so has Orthoman.
I feel totally unpretty, I almost feel like I don't know if my face even matches my clothes anymore, and how to dress this "new me".

It's totally irrational, it's superbly challenging on a whole different level, but that's where I am at now. I know I'll eventually get through this, and hopefully this little slump won't last too long...but I suppose in a sense I'm also thankful that I am being challenged about my self-image issues. Maybe I'll come out of this stronger than I expected myself to.

Okay, no more thinking about this.

I'm going to go out for a walk with some of my girlfriends today to try to get myself out of this slump. It's not going to change my face, but hopefully, at least it'd give me a little happy boost and focus my mind on happier things.


  1. Probably I cannot shed much insight into this issue, as I was lucky (?) enough that despite a good amount of net movement of my jaws, my appearance has only changed very subtly. My personally-held belief about appearance (including of the face) is that it is actually pretty hard for overall physically-healthy people NOT to look attractive. It's a natural byproduct of sufficient sleep, good nutrition, lowish body fat, low stress, and at least decent musculature. And luckily, these are all things that we can exert personal control over (self-efficacy).

    Anyway, my mindset going into jaw surgery was that even if my appearance changed, I could at least be "attractive" by concentrating my behavior over the following several months on maximizing my physical health. Maybe I would not look exactly the same but hey, I would still look good!

    For your case I would say it's too early to judge, personally. Within 1 month there will still be some swollen tissue and you have not had a chance to fully recover yet in terms of physical health (nutrition, fitness, etc.). So as you wrote above, just continue to be patient and do the things within your power to maximize your own health. After several months, I think the result will likely be satisfactory, but in the interim it's important not to self-judge harshly or at all.

    Also I doubt the nurses were judging you, at least in that negative way. It's as likely that they were stunned/impressed by your (slightly?) different-looking face in a POSITIVE way :-). But way more likely in my view is that they have realized you are not fully recovered yet and so basically just treating you as a patient (including sympathy that patients who are going through a grinding recovery normally receive!).

    1. Hi Sean. I guess I never thought too technically about physical appearance, but I guess you summed it up. :) Yeah, it's just an interesting phase of exploration I'm going through. I really can't quite tell how much has changed anymore as the feedback so far varies from person to person, but I guess I'll one day find the courage to see things as they are. Can't wait for this swelling to go away! :)