I Love and Embrace My Appearance—With These Exceptions

I Love and Embrace My Appearance—With These Exceptions

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This post was originally published on March 24, 2015.

I’m 5’9″ and I’ve got super broad shoulders, a narrow waist and relatively normal-sized hips. Some people have told me I have a swimmer’s body, and when they do, I want to smash their faces into the pavement. Those Olympic swimmers look like dudes to me, and I’m just not into looking like a dude.

At 5’9″ with a very athletic build—my dad was a middle linebacker for USC so it’s genetic—I was not the hot girl in the seventh grade. Add to that a mouth full of braces, furry un-plucked Armenian eyebrows and a bleached blonde bob that frizzed out to either side of my chin so unbecomingly my sister started called me “King Tut,” and you’ve got a girl who’s invisible boys.

None of them liked me. And I didn’t really like myself.

I felt morally inferior because I did not have super-thin spaghetti arms, even though I had a super flat stomach and pretty nice legs. Spaghetti arms were my dream from 12 to 24. All around me, at school, in the movies and in the magazines, were girls and women with frailer limbs, finer features and thin-ass arms. Then there was me—an awkward Armenian-American with a massive nose thanks to my ethnic genes.

I didn’t realize it was super huge until the boys in my eighth grade class told me.

“Big Nose!” they’d call me, over and over. “Big nose, big nose! Watch out! Tracy’s gonna butt fuck you with her big nose!”

Yeah.

Honestly, their caustic words didn’t hurt my feelings as much as it all shocked me. I’d never intentionally taken the time to check out my profile in the mirror. But the day those boys hurled “big nose” at me, I ran straight for my mother’s bathroom when I got home from school, grabbed a hand-held mirror and manipulated it so I could see my profile in the reflection of the medicine cabinet.

There it was—a huge Armenian hook nose. A gargantuan schnoz. The boys were right. And the teasing continued.

“Big nose, big nose, big nose,” they sang every single day.

On a particularly vicious day of teasing, I went home and started balling on the couch while expressing my devastation to my mother. “The boys at school are making fun of me,” I said. I was crying so hard that I began hyperventilating. “They’re calling me big nose.”

I expected her to go on about how beautiful I was, to compliment my face, to tell me what jackasses those boys were, to tell me to tell them to go fuck themselves. I expected her to give me a feminist pep talk, to wrap her arms around me and tell me how perfect I was…but no. Instead she said:

“We can take you to the doctor for that.”

A doctor?

“You mean a plastic surgeon?” I asked, completely befuddled.

“Yeah,” she said. “I got my nose done.”

Why hadn’t she mentioned this to me earlier?

“So did Grandma,” she continued. “And all your aunts.”

Jesus.

Now here I must stop and explain my family. They are Armenian-Americans, all of whom grew up in Los Angeles, including my grandparents. So I’m a third generation Angelino-Armenian-American. Now I know you’re going to think about the Kardashians, and that’s fine, but my family is nothing like them. However, they still care about looks—no Armenian grandma wants you rolling around looking like a slob—so I can’t say appearances don’t matter in my family. They matter a lot.

My mom dragged me to this Beverly Hills plastic surgeon with an office in a pristine white building on Sunset Blvd. Uninspiring works of modern art covered the waiting room walls, and on a turquoise-tinted glass coffee table was a massive spread of Vogue magazines.

“Go ahead, pick your nose,” Dr. Shuman said when he put his hand out to shake mine. “Pick any celebrity and I’ll shape yours just like that.”

I picked my nose (I think it was Julia Roberts), but I ended up having to wait until I was 15 to get it done because the bones in my nose hadn’t stopped growing yet.

But the rhinoplasty did not solve all of my face image or body image issues. That’s not to say I’m not happy with it. While part of me knows I’d look more ethnic and exotic with the schnoz, another part of me enjoys the feminine delicateness the fake one brings to my face. And anyway, there’s no going back, so I might as well enjoy it.

Still, there’s the muscular arms. There’s the slight chin. There’s the left eye that’s almond shaped and the right eye that’s more cat shaped. There’s my curly hair that looks like a soggy mop or a tumbleweed, depending on the humidity, and now that I’m working my way through my 30s, there’s no way around developing some cellulite on the backs of my thighs.

All of this devastated me in my teens and 20s, and, to be honest, I can’t tell you why. I had plenty of aspirations, lots of interests in everything from books to science to theatre to music. So why fixating on imperfections in the mirror was a preferred past-time is something I can’t explain. It’s not like I wanted to be a model or an actress or a news anchor or Miss America—who cared what I looked like as a writer?

I do know it’s hugely self-centered, vain and narcissistic to obsess over your appearance, but I’m not sure if it’s right to make a moral judgement on the roots of dysmorphia. Once I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started taking my meds, my perception cleared up a bit and I wasn’t so super concerned with my appearance, although it really started decreasing with age and after I got sober.

Now that I’m in my mid 30s, I simply have more important things to do with my time than stare into a mirror. This doesn’t mean I let myself go or think it’s okay to gain a bunch of weight due to living a sedentary lifestyle and sustaining myself off Cheetos and 7-11 pizza. I don’t do fat, if I can help it, and I don’t do haggard. I simply want to look my best with what I’ve got—with my height, with my body type, with my metabolism, with the curly hair that sprouts out of my scalp and with my 36 year-old skin.

Will I have toothpick arms or toothpick legs? Never. So I don’t ever fault myself for that, never mind that I don’t see toothpick arms as more attractive than heftier arms anymore, probably because I never read magazines and rarely even watch TV or movies, plus my peers aren’t a bunch of prepubescent girls. If I am watching a movie, it’s typically a documentary and probably has to do with chimps or outer space.

I love and accept myself as I am, but I still want to look good. It’s a matter of moderation, balance and always keeping a sense of humor. Because it’s really not all that important. And by the way, guys love my body when I gain weight.

“You’re tits and ass are bigger,” one will exclaim joyfully after I’ve gained five or 10 pounds.

It’s a win-win for us both—they get extra hot for me, and I still get to eat those buttermilk bars.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.