What’s your earliest memory of humiliation? Mine was when another kid in my primary school class asked why my eyes ‘were facing opposite walls?’
From the first moment I could think for myself, I’d speak about how much I hated my eyes. By that point I’d reconciled with the issues that effected my sight; I’d always been the same visually, so I made peace with the fact I’d never have 20/20 vision. That for sure was a pain in the ass, having to squint and scrutinise just so I could read or watch something. But for me, a very insecure kid, it was the cosmetic aspect of my condition that really wore away at my self-esteem.
Three years ago this week I went under the knife in attempt to alleviate some of the psychical symptoms – mainly my squints. Up until that point I could only ever keep one eye straight at a time. Some people found it endearing; others found it ‘cute.’ Then there were those people that would notably gawk as my left eye did a full 360 around the sun whilst my right eye remained stationary. ‘What’s wrong with your eyes?’ was a question that I heard so often that it ushered in a period of potent self-loathing. I grew my hair so that at any given point one eye was covered; a feeble attempt at fashion for the visually impaired. I was the pioneer of the half-face selfie. Then, one fateful drunken night, a swarm of ass-hats decided it would be funny to cut my fringe off whilst I slept. There began a period of having to grow and regrow, both in terms of confidence, and in hair length.
I’ve often found myself envious of other people’s looks – perfect teeth, button noses, pretty faces that housed great jawlines and magnetic eyes – but I’ve always been more infatuated with my own. Trying to change it, mould it; anything to make it resemble something society would deem attractive. Up until that point, I’d spend most of my days deducing that I had the sexual allure of a horse – and I’d pray someone would come along and just shoot me in the face. Then one spring day I decided that I had had enough; I was an adult now and I was going to take charge and change things. It had been years of feigned confidence supported by an ‘emo’ fringe and it was time for that to come to an end.
Shuffling through the hospital halls that eerie feeling of dread crept in. With my friend in tow, I sat in the waiting room, preparing with the gusto of a recent graduate going for his first degree-needed job, I went over in my head what I’d say during the consultation. The nurse we met with wasted no time, and within ten minutes the head of ophthalmology came up to meet me and started delightfully quizzing me about the surgery. I could tell I was a project she wanted to get her hands on. Too nervous to speak up, my friend adopted the role of both parent and partner, and got all the nitty-gritty details for me. Within a few days my surgery was booked; I had little more than a week to prepare – or to back out.
It’s impossible to discuss my own confidence now without contrasting it to myself before the surgery. For me, we are different people. Both in looks and personality. Back then my love-life consisted of an ever-dwindling male population who were either profoundly weird; into War Hammer or pathologically terrified of human contact. Now, and this comes at a risk of sounding full of myself, I can date a lot easier. I get a lot more offers. Perhaps not from everyone I want, because everyone has preferences. The difference is now I am armed with more confidence than my angst-ridden former self.
I’m fortunate enough to be close friends with my optometrist, and he was kind enough to accompany me to the hospital on ‘the big day.’ I got checked in and both him and aforementioned friend laid down honesty about what to expect and offered to wait another few hours. My surgery was scheduled for the following morning. I thanked them for their candour and comfort, but bid them on their way. I was a self-proclaimed adult in charge of his body; so, I slapped on a façade of faux cartoon-like confidence and marched into the hospital ward. I flung on one of those hospital gowns that are physically impossible to look flattering in, and waited. I kept wondering off the bathroom and looking at myself; watching as my eyes zig-zagged and darted around, their usual tomfoolery, behaving like hyperactive ping-pong balls. I couldn’t wait for this to be over. I couldn’t wait to look good. No longer would people avoid my gaze as though I was the Medusa.
7am the following morning arrived as promised and a nurse announced they were taking me in early. I tried to fend off the threats of a panic attack, because heaven forbid someone should fuck with my schedule. They wheeled me through the halls – my hospital ward-chic gown now topped off a custom NHS-gauze cap that I tipped to the side – and I tried, feebly, to soothe my rapid breathing. We arrived and before I had the chance to have a full-blown meltdown, the surgeon sedated me. I woke up feeling as though I had done mushrooms and been eaten by a bear. My eyes were sticky; congealed together. I looked up at the hazy nurse, a blue coloured mirage that seemed just out of sight. I was out my tits on morphine, and told her she was the prettiest nurse I’d ever seen, and then started crying.
A few hours later and the second part of the surgery started. For this I had to be awake. They removed my eye patches and went to ‘tightening’ my eyes. To do this bits of sutures were left hanging out from the side of my eyes, and they pulled until I was satisfied with how straight they were (yeah, it hurt. A lot.) They finished the procedure by snipping the stitches. It was done. An hour later the surgeon that operated on me brought me my phone. I opened the camera and flipped it onto ‘selfie’ mode. I looked at myself in a way that opened up locked rooms inside my chest. Despite my blood shot eyes, and swollen face, for the first time I didn’t hate my reflection; for the first time in my whole life, save one chance photo, I could look at the camera with both eyes straight, face on, without recoiling in shame.
I have been called ugly so many times that for a long period I believed it to be true – I still on occasion do. Anyone with body confidence issues, whether that’s weight related, or that they hate their nose, or any features, will tell you there is no immediate remedy. These days I take a lot of selfies, and yes, it is out of vanity. I do love when someone tells me I look ‘hot’ and the like. I spent a large portion of my life feeling like an absolute monster; being the hot friend’s cretin sidekick. Every time I posted a photo I was waiting on comments like ‘back to your shame cave, beast!’ or a remark about my eyes. I won’t apologise for not feeling like that anymore.
Every body and soul is different, but my inability resist the tyranny of my own self-doubt caused me to miss out on a lot of opportunities. I let the unthoughtful remarks of others chip away at my sense of self and I didn’t ever see a way of fixing it. Going for that surgery allowed me to see myself as someone attractive, someone of worth – not some anomaly, some awkward creature that you see and hope it goes extinct. Aspects of myself that I seemed doomed to live with could be cut, stitched and altered. Growing up I found myself transfixing with how others looked; I had this irritating obsession with what I believed was the archetype of perfection. I thought that if I could look like that then my life would be manageable and thrillingly full of admiration; when the reality was the only thing that really needed operated on was my self-confidence.
The surgery helped me step forward; away from prying remarks and the shame born from how I looked. It was a stepping stone, because since then I’ve had the motivation to change whatever else I wasn’t happy with. There isn’t a master class you can take that will teach you how to love yourself; that’s something only you can strive for. I took the steps I felt necessary to make that happen.
And that, my friends, is how I learned to stop fighting and love myself.
Photos: Side Fringe-Selfie, Hair-Cut Aftermath, Half-Face, Post-Operation, Now