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.