My daughter’s 6th birthday party didn’t start off a total disaster. A handful of kids joined us at an art studio for a drawing lesson and other activities. I had a peculiar feeling that morning that the party wouldn’t be a good idea–I still can’t explain why–but when I saw the old-fashioned fun they were all having playing “Duck, Duck, Goose,” I started to pat myself on the back for a job well done.
But then, right in front of my eyes, yet too far away to do anything, my daughter Julian rounded the corner between one of her “ducks” and “goose,” slipped on the carpeting, and flew face forward into the sharp metal corner of a chair. We ran out–before even serving the cake–to tend to a nasty puncture wound just below her right eye.
Our pediatrician examined the gash and automatically mentioned a pediatric plastic surgeon who could revise the scar once it healed. After all, he explained, “If she was a boy, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. For them, scars are cool. But she’s a girl; it’s totally different.”
I was stunned. I went into my default “girl power” mode, wanting to eschew any notion that looks were an issue. I opened my mouth to fire back with something clever like, “My 6-year-old’s face is not an ornament made to please the public.” Or, “Her inner beauty far outshines any so-called outward flaws.” But instead what I said came out more like this: “Thank you, we’ll get the number of that surgeon from the front desk.”
It turns out I’m just as vain as he is. Once I learned how bad this scar might be, all I could think about was how it would permanently mar her appearance; apparently that was enough to trump my hypothetical feminist values. I just couldn’t reconcile both parts of the issue. I wanted to only see my daughter for her beautiful soul, but I never had to accept any external imperfections before this one smacked us both in the face.
I agonized over considering whether to revise the scar and what it meant that I might select cosmetic surgery for a 6-year-old. Was I just looking out for her best interests, or deciding she was simply unacceptable with a facial flaw? I wondered, “What kind of mother looks at her child and tries to edit what she sees?” I called the plastic surgeon anyway. The receptionist said we would need to wait for the wound to heal and have it checked out in a few months to know if scar revision was an option. The initial visit would be $350, just for a look. The actual surgery would cost a lot more. I scheduled an appointment for four months later, and hoped I wouldn’t need to use it.
I was disappointed to find that many of my friends were unequivocally pro-surgery. I guess I wanted more people to agree (and help convince me) that it was a crazy idea. Even my super feminist love-your-body-for-what-it-is best friend told me to go for it. When I asked her what I was supposed to tell Julian about a surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, she suggested I say, “We are just fixing it to make it look the way it did before.” Other people were less subtle: “She’ll hate you when she starts dating if you don’t do it,” said one friend. “Let’s face it, this is a society that cares about looks first, and anything else later,” said another.
I knew I should just consider myself lucky that Julian only ended up with a laceration to her cheek and not a blinding wound to her eye, and move on with my life. But I couldn’t shift my thinking from focusing on her looks, and then I couldn’t stop feeling guilty for letting myself focus on her looks. I wondered, what if it had been her eye that was pierced and not her face? Would it be easier to cope with a permanent disability instead of having to face the fact that deep down I’m just, well, superficial? Of course not. But while I claim to be low-maintenance–I can’t be bothered to dye my gray hairs, and I only wear high heels once a year–despite my best efforts, most of the time I’m worried about what others might see when they look at me. Would electing surgery mean I am somehow passing that burden on to Julian? I want her to grow up confident because of who she is, not what she looks like. Still, I can’t stop wondering if I should fix this for her anyway.
Our appointment with the plastic surgeon is coming up. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll keep it.