A Woman’s Right to Choose Her Face

About five years ago, my right eyelid started to droop. It probably happened gradually, but one day, I looked in the mirror and it was all I could see. Before long, it was the first thing I spotted in every photo. I looked tired, or drunk, or stoned, or just plain weird. Most people in my life assured me it wasn’t noticeable, but to me, it was my most prominent feature.

For a while, I tried to just accept myself the way I was, just like we women are supposed to. But as time passed, I found myself stepping aside when a camera was pointed in my direction. I kept cute group shots stored on my phone instead of posting them on Facebook. I avoided looking in the mirror later in the day, when the droop was at its worst. (And for the record, I’m a person who used to love being photographed and looking in the mirror. No shame.)

Before you tell me you’ve never noticed it, please consider the fact that I’ve made every effort to hide it from you – for example, posting the selfie on the left instead of the one on the right when I wanted to show off my new haircolor…
Glitter and Goat Cheese - Hiding ptosis in selfies
And only posting a tiny version of this photo in a larger collage …
Glitter and Goat Cheese - More ptosis in a photo with my husband
Those are nowhere near the worst – I still can’t bring myself to post a photo where the droop is really bad.

Finally, last spring, I was at my annual optometrist appointment, and my doctor noticed my eyelid. He said, “I see you have ptosis in your right eye. Had you had it checked out?”

Ptosis. The scourge upon my self image was a real thing, and it had a name. It wasn’t in my imagination and it wasn’t just a cosmetic imperfection to be accepted and ignored.

My eye doctor sent me to a surgeon, who did some tests. She determined that my ptosis was affecting my vision and that repairing it would most likely be partially covered by my insurance.

Even so, I felt ashamed to even consider it. I mean, I can see. My vision is fairly decent when I’m wearing my contacts or glasses, and I’d most likely need them regardless of the droopy eyelid. Though ptosis is a medical condition, the procedure would certainly be elective. And as women, we’re told that elective procedures to change our appearance make us vain, and shallow, and inauthentic.

So, when the surgeon ordered blood work to rule out a few potential causes for the ptosis, I took it as an excuse to drop the whole thing. Having blood drawn has always made me nervous; I once nearly passed out at a blood drive. Avoiding that kind of situation seemed to be a valid excuse.

But over the past year and a half, I haven’t found myself any closer to accepting my facial asymmetry. I still cringe when I see myself, and I’m starting to realize that it’s not OK to feel that way. This isn’t an issue with my inherent self-esteem or self-worth. I’ve been to therapy – this isn’t the kind of thing we discuss. This isn’t a problem with my mind. It’s a problem with my face, and I can fix it. So I’m going to.

There’s been a lot of discussion about altering one’s natural appearance lately. Maria Del Russo at Refinery29 has written about whether #NoMakeupSelfies are throwing shade at women who choose to wear cosmetics and followed up with a piece on makeup bullying. BuzzFeed recently posted two social experiments: one that featured an editor going sans makeup for a week, and another with a usually natural staff member trying the opposite. Both posts had mixed responses, with readers criticizing both sides. And of course, we’ve all got something to say about Renee Zellwegger’s new face.

Personally, I love makeup. Every morning, I apply my HAC like warpaint, following up with a filled-in brow, perhaps a subtle smokey eye, maybe a bold new lipstick shade. It’s one of my favorite daily rituals, and when I miss it, it affects me deeply.

This isn’t because society has taught me that I have to be aesthetically perfect (or as close to it as possible) to be a worthwhile person. I don’t have poor self-esteem when it comes to my physical appearance in general – in fact, I rather like my face (minus the droopy eyelid). I just like it more with makeup on. When I’ve done a good job on my makeup, I feel like the best version of myself. And when I feel like that, it makes everything else a little easier.

I’ve seen the studies that say both men and woman prefer a more natural look on others. The problematic implication is that women should consider how other people will respond to their face before they decide what to do with it. Similarly, after I got married, I had several male coworkers ask me why I still put so much effort into my appearance, since I’d already snared a man. I won’t even get into how vastly offensive that sentiment is.

The fact is, there are many women who wear makeup or style their hair or dress up for themselves. For the most part, I’m one of them. I want to like what I see when I look in the mirror. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my husband and his opinion matters to me. But I don’t wear makeup for him. I do it for me.

Every woman should have the right to choose the best version of herself. Whether that version colors her hair purple or lets her gray roots show, goes bare-faced or piles on three coats of mascara, embraces her wrinkles or plumps them up with Botox – it’s her business. It’s about what makes her happy.

For the record, I think Renee Zellwegger looks nice. But I doubt she cares about my opinion. Her face – whatever she’s done to it or not done to it – isn’t for me or for any other blogger or Bridget Jones fan. It’s for her.

This week, I should get my blood work back and will hopefully move onto the next step toward getting my droopy eyelid repaired. I’ve already been told by several people that I’m crazy and my face looks “fine.” Honestly, I don’t really care. It’s not for them. It’s for me.

  • I’m obsessed with this post – thank you so much for sharing and for bringing some perspective to this whole RZ gossipfest.

    We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t regarding makeup, cosmetic surgery and keeping up with appearances in general, so it’s a good reminder that even if other people don’t agree with something, it really doesn’t matter. Our only concern should truly be ourselves.

    You do you, lady. Cheers!

    • 100% agree — there’s always going to be someone with something negative to say, sadly.

  • Get it girl. Do what makes you happy. I feel really weird if I leave the house without my eyebrows done. I can deal with not wearing foundation or blush and the whole nine yards, but if my eyebrows aren’t done, i feel really self conscious. So I do my eyebrows. I think I look better with them cleaned up and filled in. People have told me it’s not a big deal, no one will know the difference. But I notice the difference. And I don’t like it. It’s all whatever you want to do to make you feel beautiful. Some women feel beautiful without makeup. I’m not envious. I think we’re just different women,

    • Exactly. I think it’s wonderful when a woman loves her face without makeup, but that isn’t me, and I’m OK with that, too.

  • Alison

    AMEN, SISTER! Great entry!!! I have really been allowing this “anti makeup” attitude make me feel bad about myself lately, and I SHOULDN’T! Also, thanks for putting a name to “ptosis”- I too get a droopy eyelid sometimes, especially when I’m tired, and it has caused me to hate photos of myself – including many of my (expensive) wedding photos!! I’m going to ask my eye doctor about this too!!

    • Ugh, it’s worst — I spotted it in my expensive wedding photos, too. 🙁

  • Thank you for sharing, and writing such an awesome post. My sister always told me that I should stick to berry lipsticks because brighter pinks make me “look old.” Doesn’t stop me from buying and wearing it because I love pink and I want it on my face!

    • Whaaaat? I thought pink was supposed to be a youthful color! Either way, glad you didn’t listen. 🙂

      • I don’t know. She’s in fashion and thinks she knows everything, but I buy what I like, and don’t really care if it’s on-trend or whatever.

  • If something bothers you, I absolutely think you should be able to get it “fixed” without guilt. I definitely would – it’s your face and you wear it!!! Do what makes you feel good!

  • Katie

    I didn’t comment on any of the RZ stuff because of what you say: it’s her right to do whatever she wants to be happy with herself. She also has a right to keep some privacy about what she decides to do with her own health and body.

    I had an elective surgery to correct a non-life-threatening nose problem (I couldn’t breathe through it at all sometimes) and having never had surgery before that point, I now have a great respect about how much pain and healing is involved. Like… I would never recommend my husband get his crooked nose fixed (he broke it in his youth) but if it’s disturbing his breathing or sleeping, then I would be all for it. He is a little self conscious about it, especially because certain angles in photos really bring it out, but I find him very attractive and recovering from surgery with the nose stopped up full of gauze and not being able to breathe with fever and pain was just so much “ugh”. If he were actually really disturbed and bothered by how it looked, then of course I’d support him to change it, but he’s not, so I just tell him to keep it as is and if he wants to correct a breathing problem in the future then he could straighten it at the same time.

    I’m still happy I made the decision to better my nose’s insides and I guess that if I had an issue like yours develop that I would think about fixing it. Surgery is of course no fun, but yes, you want and deserve to feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror. If you have a way to do that, why not take it? Good luck with the surgery and fingers crossed for minimal pain during recovery!!

    • Well, that sounds unpleasant! Glad it all turned out well for you, though. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Christina Lynn

    Hey girl. Do what you want, particularly if it smashes down all the negative feelings about yourself! You have a right to feel confident and sexy in your own skin – even if it requires a simple eyelid procedure : )

    • Thanks – hopefully it is simple!

  • thumbsup3

    Great post, Steph! I have a variety of issues when it comes to my appearance that I plan to write about eventually on my blog. (Your honesty will inspire me when I do.) But in the meantime, thank you for being so open about this!

    • Ooh, I hope you do! I’ll look forward to reading it. 🙂

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  • Katerina

    Hi there! I just came across your blog and read your two blog posts mentioning ptosis. Firstly, I want to say thank you for this post. Everything you wrote here word to word resonates with how I feel and have been feeling. I’m currently 23 and noticed about two years ago that my eyelids began looking different. I was in college and stressed and getting minimal sleep so I assumed that my eyes were just a little droopy because of lack of sleep. It was only after graduating last year that I found the time to see a specialist about this and it took 3 appointments for him to understand why this was bothering me instead of kind of making me feel like I was being vain. Looking at pictures from before my ptosis saddens me because my eyes used to be my favorite feature. Like you, I loved being in pictures, but now I find myself avoiding pictures and not posting the pictures that I do take with friends to facebook. Even though my ptosis is mild, it makes my eyelids look significantly different because my eyebrows are higher since they are compensating for it and my eyelids appear more sunken in (the creases are deeper and higher). Family members and friends I mention this to tell me they can’t tell the difference and tell me I’m over exaggerating, but at the end of the day I’m the one who sees myself in the mirror everyday and notice the changes. I feel so guilty being upset about this because I have so much to be blessed for, and I am. Whenever I look at before and after pictures of people who have had their ptosis successfully repaired through a surgery, I get so excited, but then I feel so selfish for wanting this surgery, especially since in my case insurance most likely won’t cover it and my parents will probably have to pay for it since I am currently applying to law schools. It’s worse when doctors tell me that since it’s “not that bad,” I should wait for it to get worse and then get it fixed. I understand where they are coming from but I feel like they don’t understand. I am young and I can’t imagine continuing to be so self conscious about this when I’m supposed to be starting a career and meeting people and enjoying my 20’s. But at the same time, many days when I see how droopy my eyelids are after a long day or after having a glass of wine, I feel like crying. You’re beautiful both with and without ptosis. I was wondering if you would consider writing a post about your experience with the ptosis surgery. Or just answer a few of my questions. I would greatly appreciate it. Did you have your ptosis repaired internally or externally? If it was externally, how long did it take for the scar in the crease to heal? Does it look normal now? Did it hurt? Also, if you don’t mind sharing- at what age did you notice your ptosis developing? As this is something that mainly affects older adults, my doctor has suggested that maybe my everyday contact lens wear contributed to it? Do you wear contacts? Thank you again so much for this post 🙂 And you look great!!