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Letters from Proxima Thule

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A Silly Thing to Post About on a Sunday
I was looking at kylecassidy 's picture of me from Worldcon and thinking: why do I always look pissed off when I'm just listening?

My face has very little neutral ground. Well, my personality doesn't, really, either, and maybe those two are connected and maybe they're not. I'm not really a neutral kind of girl. I'm either happy and expressive like a freaking muppet, or it settles into a look that codes as irritated and angry to those who don't know me, and sometimes people who do. This leads people to think I'm an angrier or more unhappy person than I really am.

I suspect it's because of my jaw.

When I was about 12, I went to the dentist and he talked to us about my jaw. It's off, he said. Your teeth don't come together right. The two jaws are not aligned. See? And he smiled, showing me his perfect teeth, and then pointing out mine in the mirror, and how, yes, my jaws did not come together perfectly, but skewed to the left.

And then, as if I was Joan of Arc and this was a freaking Inquisition, he showed me the device he'd use to fix it.

I don't really remember what it looked like, except that it would have covered most of my upper jaw. What I remember is his vivid description of how every couple of months I would have to come in so that he could tighten the screw he would drive through the roof of my mouth until my teeth aligned.

My stepmother asked if it was dangerous, if it would cause problems with speech or eating or anything. The dentist said no, it's strictly cosmetic. But her teeth aren't right.

They left it up to me. And at 12, I said no. Please do not put a screw in my mouth for two years. I'll deal with my looks.

Actually, by 12 I was pretty good at saying no to cosmetic procedures. When I was 10, I ran through a plate glass door and carved myself up pretty good. I still have extensive scarring on my legs and a small chunk of my thigh missing--oh, the things you wanted to know about me!--in part do to a doctor who was less than an artist with the needle. For about a year, my mother took me to plastic surgeons to talk about how to get rid of the scars, how to deal with the missing muscle tissue. The answer, slowly, became clear: I could take two years off of school because surgeries would be ongoing and make it impossible for me to walk while they restructured my right thigh. And still, they wouldn't be gone, they would just be smaller. Again, it was up to me.

Again, I said no. I was sad, a 10 year old is ever so eager to grow up beautiful and I was reasonably sure this blew my chances. But I wasn't taking time off of school for some stupid slight reduction in ugliness. I said: I'll tell people I got bitten by a shark. That's a better story.

So the mouth thing was not such a big deal. And credit to all involved for letting me decide.

But to this day, my jaw really is off. You can see it most when I'm not smiling. The left side of my mouth droops down, just a little, into a frown. It makes me look unhappy, even when I'm not. I have to be full of bounce to avoid that innate frown. But it's the mark of a choice I made, and so are my scars. Control I had over my body. The first control, really, over something that couldn't be taken back.

So if you see me and I look frowny and upset and angry, or like I'm about to punch someone, it's not that. It's just that when I was 12, I said no to contraptions and ridiculous concern over the perfect symmetry of my face. It's not really a frown at all.

My neutral expression falls somewhere between "grim" and "we are not amused, peasant". I've actually found it useful to train myself to maintain constant tension in my facial muscles in public, so that when I'm out and about my face falls somewhere between "bemused" and "good-natured idiot". You may notice that when I'm tired or just really comfortable around people, I drop the mask a bit.

I'm not even sure how to do that training.

At least it keeps me from being harassed by sexually deprived fans at cons. I look like I'll cut them.

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I was there while Kyle took photos. You don't look pissed, you look intense, as if you are listening intently. It turned out to be an intense conversation and well worth hearing. Bravo for opening a vein like that.


This was a lovely entry, but I think that a couple of letters might be missing off the last word. Unless you suddenly wanted to start talking about your hair :)

I love intense looks and find them much more attractive than vacant smiles.

My personal, non-butter-uppy opinion? That is a very pretty picture. It's just societal convention -- in particular, a U.S. one -- that says that girls and women have to be perky and bouncy and smiley all the time. That particular entitlement that causes a few men to continuously go, "Hey, cutie, why don't you smile?" when you are walking down the street and happen to be not looking ecstatic for a few seconds, because, say, your wallet has just been stolen.

All right, that was me projecting (more than) slightly. I'm sorry. But still!

You look like you're thinking. That's all. If I sound a little snappish here, it's because of all the slings and arrows we have flying at us daily, making us insecure, I would like this to not be one of yours.

Funnily enough I don't think I parsed you as frowning except the first time we met. But then I think you actually were a bit pensive.

My Rolfer points out to me, in light of scoliosis but also true in other ways, that no one's body is symmetrical. The trick is to work out a balance that's not harmful.

I think we mainly agree that you're gorgeous!

You don't look pissed off in this photo!

title or description

You made my friend's day posing for that, by the way. :D

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You look like a Pre-Raphaelite to me, except less wimpy.

You look gorgeous! If slightly annoyed gorgeous. ^_^

Your haaaaaaiiiiir... if we ever meet in real life and I manage not to make an idiot of myself babbling, you'll still have to watch out for me. I like to play with long hair. Like a cat. I might get tangled. D:

I also play with long earrings. Especially if they're metal and shiny.

An exasperated photographer once said to me, "Either you look as if your best friend just died, or you're grinning like an idiot. There's no middle ground."

Whatever. Fine. Photograph somebody else, then.

I too escaped dramatic orthodontia at age 12, but I didn't have to be brave; my family ran out of money. I salute you.


I freaked a photog out with that when I was getting my high school senior pictures done. Between shots I was just staring at him, then he'd start the countdown and boom, smile, then turn it off again. He said it was a little unnerving. :)

I wouldn't call that a pissed off look, probably because I often sport a similar expression. To me, it looks like you're a bit tired, but focused on activity occurring outside of the shot.

Applause for your adolescent self. My father has occasionally expressed regrets that we didn't have the money for orthodontic work, but I'm happy enough with my crooked smile.

There's also the "women are expected to smile or are assumed to be pissed off/sad" (aka "cheer up, love, it might never happen" being shouted on the street....).

I used to always look like I was scowling in pictures in the past. I'm better now.

See, that is *my* pensive, focused look. My jaw might be a bit straighter than yours, but that's my look as well. People always look at me a bit funny when I'm listening because they think I am about to shred their argument or something.

Surely it is a mark of genius! :-)

When I was about 12, a dentist tried like anything to convince me and my mother that I should get braces. It was like pulling teeth (ha!) to get him to admit it would be purely cosmetic. At which point my response was "I'm not planning to be a news anchor or an actress. No thanks!"

I can dig that. Good on you for taking control of those things.

I tend to look angry and frowny when I'm listening and trying to concentrate; it's something I inherited from my mother. We're Serious People (we come from a long line of Serious People, military and farmers all the way back to Germany), and it's just something we do. But it's a soft kind of frown, the one that's not focused on anything in particular, really. It's the VERY focused, VERY pissed look that's best to avoid.

I think you're beautiful and I have the same facial expression range even though my jaw isn't out of alignment. I'm concentrating, people! Not angry! :p

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Good on your family for putting those decisions in your hands. It sounds like the "fix this" options in both cases were on the extreme end, but still -- there's a lot of parents in America who would think that's what's best for their kid.

I, too, look vaguely pissy when my expression goes neutral. No specific identifiable cause of it in my case; it's survived extensive (and at least moderately necessary) orthodontia, headgear and the whole shebang.

I said: I'll tell people I got bitten by a shark. That's a better story.

I was tempted for a while to say that my scars were the result of a shotgun blast. In truth, they have no cause anyone's been able to identify. The cluster on my shoulder is maybe from vaccinations; the others, who knows.

i said "no" to the jaw fixing too. my two right incisors are backwards. i have a uniquely crooked face. it's helping me take over the world.

I was in a car hit by a freight train when I was 15. The train was barely scratched, the car was totaled, and I was badly damaged. The least of my problems was 150 stitches on the right side of my face, reattaching my earlobe and closing the wounds caused by safety glass shattering. I had one dermabrasion (a real one, where I was under general anesthetic and the doctors wore what looked like welder's face-shields) to clean off some of the scar tissue.....and that was it. I didn't want more surgeries, since I was having to go in every six months for more work on my legs so that I could walk. What difference did some facial scars make?
A lot, according to some doctors. One even said to me "Well, you can't go around looking like THAT for the rest of your life, you'll never get married!" I'm pretty sure I sneered at him. I was a 16 year old girl who wore combat boots and dyed my hair purple, so looking like someone had burned a spiderweb into the right side of my face was a BONUS, in my crowd.
The scars faded. They're still there, but mostly unnoticeable. My husband says he likes them.

I'm reminded of a goth college classmate who was so excited to get carpal tunnel surgery because it left really cool scars that looked like she'd slashed her wrists.

It's hard for me to parse that photo devoid of context, because I've met you enough times that I read that expression as intensity and not pissed-offedness. (Okay, it could be intensity due to pissed-offedness.) The key thing is that I don't think a still image does you justice, because you inhabit your face and your body in a very active way.

I'm glad you were able to make your own choices in these matters. I like your face, again because I see it as you being alive. (I can't offer my opinion of your thigh, not having examined the area. ;-)

I used to be super self conscious about my legs. I've almost never in my life worn short skirts--though now that's more about my weight. I don't know, it's just part of me now, I don't even think about them. It kind of cracks me up that so many of my friends have never seen them. I win ALL Jaws-style scar contests.

There's a song by a band whose name I'm not coming up with at the moment, though I saw them live once when they opened for Robyn Hitchcock:

"You should wear with pride the scars on your skin. They are maps of your adventures and the places you've been."

I had braces for years and headgear designed to pull my lower jaw forward. And guess what? It eventually went back to where it had been. I've never had a problem talking or chewing, so fail to see what the big deal was about. Fortunately, when my mother threatened me with plastic surgery to fix my lumpy knees (the result of many falls as a kid and probably some gravel ending up on the inside), she was mostly joking. I think.

Though I only saw you in person once, I'd be hard pressed to consider you as someone who looks grim or frowny! Often what we may perceive as our own flaws are what make us attractive or unique to others.

ETA: It bugged me that I couldn't think of the band name so I googled the lyrics. The band is: Poi Dog Pondering.

Edited at 2009-08-16 08:53 pm (UTC)

Oh, the palate spreader! I was one of those kids who had one of everything orthodontic (neckpiece? check. headpiece? check. rubber bands? check.)--EXCEPT for the dreaded palate spreader. I had a book with line drawings of every single torture orthodontic device, and every time I looked at it I was profoundly, devoutly glad that I did NOT have to have the palate spreader. That thing terrifies me to this day.

I had a palate spreader. Twice. Second time with braces. And a kind of mask to pull my upper jaw forward that reminds me of Hannibal Lecter's that hooked up to my braces with elastics.


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