Appearance hurts

Even after an intense invasive surgery, I was still judging my own look

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Photo Courtesy of Annalynn McPetrie

Standard's in society and social media hold a burden over individuals, resulting in stress and anxiety.

Michelle Zhang, Opinions Editor

Surgery. Scary for some, intense for many. For me, a chance for a new look and appearance. On December 24th of 2019, I was scheduled for a Bi-Maxillary Osteotomy, also known as a double jaw surgery. What was nice about this procedure was the fact that it wasn’t an emergent and stressful situation. Because of this, a lot of planning, doctors visits and orthodontist appointments was endured to get to that day. It was the big opportunity where I could finally fix the biggest factor that was embellishing its hands on my self esteem: my severe underbite.

I was at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) hooked up to an IV and getting patched up for monitoring. I went in healthy and functioning as a normal human being, but all of that would change after my surgery. 

Prior to going in, I was more than ready. I was finally correcting the severe underbite that had been knocking down my self esteem for years. My family on the other hand was terrified, understandably. My mom shed a few tears and kissed my head before I was injected with a medicine to make me a little more sleepy. I vividly remember saying “Oh I can feel it wow” before I was rolled off to the operating room. After this, everything was a blur.

The surgery was successful with no complications. After this, I spent and uncomfortable night in the hospital, and I was sent home the next day.

Initially, I looked like a chipmunk that had its cheeks full. I was beyond puffy and my lips had swelled to sausages because of the pulling open my mouth. I had my head wrapped to keep my jaws together and a head wrap of ice to help with my pain and swelling. Luckily for me, my jaw was not wired shut, meaning I was able to slightly open my mouth for the best part of this entire recovery; the syringe feeding. 

At this point, I do not remember the following days considering how many pain killers I was hopped up on. I only remember the car ride home the next day and falling asleep while holding two ice packs on my face. The next days consisted of me texting my mom to come down and provide me with more medicine to ease the numbing pain in my face, but on day five, life finally hit me. 

This was when I began returning to basic activities such as walking and showering. (My hair was beyond disgusting and greasy). Day five was also when I finally had an opportunity to look at myself in the mirror. 

I was an ungodly mess. My skin was cracked and peeling from my lips and around my mouth. I couldn’t feel three quarters of my face. I had lost so much weight that my hip bones were finally revealing themselves and my face was so swollen. I looked like a hamster going off to bury its food. There were stitches coming out from my cheeks and my neck was mustard yellow from bruising. Things were not looking good. 

Initially, I knew the recovery from the surgery was going to be a rough journey. I knew that I would suffer from nerve damage, meaning I would not be able to feel certain spots on my face. I knew swelling was going to be a huge factor to my appearance. 

But I didn’t know how much it would affect me.

While I was recovering, I was watching all my friends hanging out for the New Year and functioning as normal people while I laid in bed holding an ice pack to my face and forcing water down my throat through a syringe. I was scrolling through social media seeing all these people with perfect face shapes and jawlines. 

I continuously compared how I looked to people around me and the people I saw online. I hid my face in all my Snapchats to my friends. I did not leave my house for nearly a week because I was so embarrassed of how puffy the lower half of my face was. I cried about how I didn’t look right and how I couldn’t eat right (Which led to a nosebleed that I had to calm down for).

I had every right to feel what I was feeling and my emotions were valid. But as my swelling went down, I kept asking myself.

Am I pretty enough? 

I didn’t feel like myself. Why? Of course because of the surgery, but because I wasn’t fit enough to show my face online or outside. And I questioned this. Why did my appearance matter so much. I had just endured an incredibly invasive and serious surgery and here I was, hating my appearance when I should’ve been focused on getting back into my normal routine. I spent countless hours scrolling through pictures of myself and regretting everything. I was continually comparing myself to the smiling girls on my VSCO feed. 

I was miserable and falling into a pit.

As I did this, I kept questioning why? Why was I comparing myself? Why was I just making myself feel worse about an appearance that was so temporary?

To answer my question, it’s because I wanted people to still like me. I wanted to look good for a just society. I wanted to be pretty enough to get the likes on a picture or the views on my Snapchat story. It wasn’t right. 

Society should not be able to dictate the beauty that I carry or the love I feel for my body. Nor should society be the one to provide validation for the way I look. I am the only one who can do that. 

But today, people constantly nit pick at themselves to fit what others want. As a result, we grow sick. People everywhere are constantly questioning their looks whether that be in person or online as if it’s supposed to matter to the kid sitting next to them. Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist for HuffPost, describes this concept as “Vanity Validation” saying “The one you portray on your networks and the true you, for some creates a double consciousness. Your lauded self on social media is constantly seeking more validation through electronic likes, not life.” 

Because ideal beauty standards that people have put into place only hold a burden. People should not feel the need to conform to what others want for validation online, especially if there is only stress and unhappiness. 

People are supposed to be comfortable in their own skin. Carefree of what the world wants and putting what they want first, as selfish as that sounds. Ironically, we are all about wanting people to be happy and carefree while we continually bash these negative ideals in to maintain the ‘pretty’. Dr Bernadka Dubicka, the chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, explains social media such as Snapchat and Instagram “can be damaging and even destructive” to girls’ mental wellbeing, further backing “There’s a pressure for young people to be involved 24/7 and keep up with their peer group or they will be left out and socially excluded.”

Unfortunately, these findings only further display the overlying issue that the need for a constant presence online is deteriorating the health and wellbeing of minds. 

Individuals shouldn’t care about what others think of their appearance because no one is going to care. I highly doubt anyone is going to remember what I looked like when I popped out from my surgery. It’s so temporary and yet we set our appearances up on a pedestal to display ‘who we are’.