Vanity is a devious flaw. You spend years, decades even, convinced of your belief in the sanctity of inner beauty, that physical blemishes don’t matter, that you see things beyond skin deep all while patting yourself on the back in smug recognition of your noble compassion as you recite lame platitudes to those struggling with self-love and then one day whilst contorting your upper reaches between two, opposing mirrors to shave your neckline, you briefly glimpse the crown of your head and recoil in horror at the surprising amount of scalp visible where gloriously thick, virile hair once resided aplenty. Within seconds the shame rains down upon you as you grapple with this sudden influx of superficial vanity and the decades of pompous treacle you spewed to those around you.
I was lucky. My moment of truth came a few years before my hair started thinning, though my pride was no less bruised when it did. Seriously, I had a fucking fabulous head of hair even if I never gave it proper due thanks to rigid, old-fashioned house rules and insecurities after I moved out. Had I let it grow to its fullest potential, Michael Hutchence would have been envious. Alas, my locks shall remain one of the great “what ifs” in barbershop history.
My inaugural confrontation with vanity, ignoring a life-long lament of my oversized proboscis, arrived when I noticed a cream coloured blotch on one of my lower eyelids was stubbornly refusing to disappear. Days became months and months became years and the years became a realization that this stupid blemish was permanent. I was already in my thirties and married so my need for being pretty had diminished a fair bit. Besides, it didn’t really show up in pictures anyway. And, as I said above, I was very pro-inner-beauty, so my first response was to just ignore it and go about my life as if it weren’t there. That wasn’t very hard to do considering I could only see it in a mirror and adults are typically too tactful to mention it. Kids, on the other hand…
I truly was ready to live with it but after about the fortieth kid met me and immediately screwed up their face, pointed, and bluntly asked, “What’s that thing by your eye?” I had my awakening. Suddenly I too was very conscious of my imperfection and all that drivel about inner beauty sounded as tone deaf to my own ears as it must have to others. Oh, I still held strong prejudices towards cosmetic surgery but my fundamentalism was waning. I’m all for the striking visual appeal of a perky pair of Dow Chemical’s best breasts but there are plenty of now unrecognizable celebrities who really should have given graceful aging a fair shot. Granted, I wasn’t getting my face skin stretched across my skull like Saran wrap over a Tupperware container with a missing lid, but I still felt ‘dirty’ even contemplating removal of this blemish.
I summoned up a droplet of courage and asked my doctor for help. She was quick to refer me to a plastic surgeon who just as quickly scheduled me to have it removed. The blotch, I would learn, was a xanthelasma; basically a cholesterol deposit beneath the skin below my eye left eye. They are not uncommon and can appear anywhere around the eye. Though not a serious affliction, xanthelasma can be indicative of high cholesterol. In my case, it isn’t, thankfully. Removal required but a quick freezing, cut, and stitches in the doctor’s office. Having a cavity filled was more hassle. A couple weeks later, once the bruising dissipated and the stitches were removed, I was delighted to see my face back to its original, big-nosed glory. In the midst of a troubling multi-year period health-wise in my life, this was a minor but welcome win. I was able to savour it for perhaps a year.
Xanthelasma, like cats, come back. Not always. Not even the majority times. But nonetheless a significant number of times. And sure enough, mine came back. Only, unlike the damn cat, my xanthelasma returned with friends. The orzo shaped smudge I’d removed was replaced by a triplet of blots not unlike Orion’s belt and a new twin star system burst into existence beneath my other eye. Somewhere Kenny Rogers smirked.
I’ve endured my revived xanthelasma for more than a decade now. During that time I’ve had a family and found myself in regular contact with multitudes of children through school and sport. The fearless inquiries about the “gunk under my eyes” have multiplied accordingly. I’ve also become more adept at detecting the curious looks of adults who remain diplomatically silent despite so obviously noticing. And so I once again summoned up another droplet of courage and made another appointment with my doctor to discuss options for having these things removed.
A lot has changed in ten years. In addition to my thinning hair and procreating xanthelasma, universal healthcare isn’t so universal anymore. This is especially true in the case of purely narcissistic cosmetic surgeries. When I had my first one removed, the procedure was covered entirely by government health care. This time, not so much.
Which brings me to my current dilemma. How much is being pretty worth? The estimate I received to have the xanthelasma beneath both eyes removed came to a grand total of $2000. Would you pay that much to tidy up your eyes? With no guarantee that what has been removed won’t come back yet again? And what if they multiply again? Good lord, I could end up with an entire star cluster around each eye. I struggle to spend more than $15 on a pair of jeans no matter how great they make my ass look. $2000? I could outfit myself in sexy slacks for the rest of my life for that kind of money.
It’s now been three months since my consultation with the plastic surgeon. I have not booked a surgery. I hate this shit beneath my eyes but I can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money to remove them, especially with no security they won’t return. I don’t like the idea of continually paying to remove these flaws every few years and there are only so many times my eye skin can be cut and sutured before I start looking like I’m permanently startled.
Affordability isn’t a hindrance to doing it. I’m cheap by nature, sure, but we can certainly afford the money. This feels a more principled conundrum. I am confronting my vanity and feelings of hypocrisy and wondering what message submission would send to my children. Maybe beauty really is only skin deep when your confidence is paper this in the wake of a thousand tiny fingers are pointing at your face.
header image courtesy of Antique Anatomy via Creative Commons 4.0
Elements of Surgery for the use of students with plates by John Syng Dorsey, M.D. Vol 1.