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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!

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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! :-)


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