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Q: Which physical attributes have unknowingly become a part of your identity?
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“How come everyone always remembers you? Is it the gap between your teeth?” asked a friend when she found out that I was still in regular touch with a woman we had both met at the same time.
The gap between my teeth??!! I was taken aback, speechless - which doesn’t happen very often.
From all the things about my face, about me - was the gap between my teeth the thing she was attributing to me being memorable? Wasn’t my curly hair, green eyes, or the extra weight I carried a more probable physical characteristic to call out? I’m not going to lie - it made me take a moment, a few moments to think about that gap.
I even asked my dentist about it at my bi-annual teeth cleaning visit. “Do you think this gap is growing? Should I do something about it?” He said he could do some sort of treatment to close it out. It would be quick, wouldn’t cost much and if I didn’t like it he could reverse it back.
I came home and asked my husband - should I fix this gap between my teeth? Please don’t, he said. I like it. I wondered if he liked it or if he was just used to it. The seed of insecurity had been planted, and I had tended to it, ensuring it grew. I called my best friend who usually has sage advice… she said if it really bothers you then take care of it. But then threw a name of some actress that had it and how she thought it was cool. Of course I googled her and that didn’t help.
How people perceive you can be so wildly different from how you perceive yourself. I have a strong sense of self - but most of that comes from my thoughts, my feelings, my personality - all the internal things. I assume that other people remember me for all of these internal attributes and not so much my physical characteristics. This incident has made me aware that others see a view of me that I don’t - except for those occasional glimpses in the mirror. And that’s okay, because I can’t be too bothered about changing their view of my physical self as I’m much more focused on how they feel in my presence.
As for that gap between my teeth? I made an appointment with my dentist twice and changed my mind at the last minute. It’s been a part of me for so long, it has become a part of my identity so I think I’ll keep it… for now at least.
I looked down to see my reading glasses broken on the floor of the airport. My younger one had accidentally stepped on my glasses while playing a game with his brother during our layover. As he looked at me remorsefully with tears welling in his eyes, I held back the angry words at his clumsiness. But I was upset. I loved those glasses and they had become a part of my look especially these days when half my face was covered with a mask.
I was new to wearing glasses - something I had coveted since my teenage years. When I hit forty and my eyesight finally started to give in, I was thrilled at the prospect of finally wearing glasses and adding a new fashion accessory to my look. Now I was left on my vacation with a backup pair of $15 CVS reading glasses that were neither fashion forward nor face flattering in their design.
My heel caught in a sidewalk crack and the only pair of heels that I had brought on vacation was now in two pieces. Oh no - how would I carry off all the dresses on my short five foot frame without my three inch heels? Suddenly I didn't feel so confident about the look I had envisioned for this tropical holiday. I was already feeling insecure about my hair - a defining feature of any woman’s appearance. I had recently made a significant change to my hairstyle, chopping off my hair for a new look. The loss of these physical defining features of my appearance - glasses, heels, hair - was dampening my holiday mood.
So I sat with these feelings. And started to realize that I had become too attached to these physical attributes. I needed these reminders of the impermanence of things that I identified with. My internal self had changed over the past year. Was it time for my external self to shift as well?
Maybe it's time to let go of this image that my mind has created based on my outward appearance. And embrace the age and wisdom that comes with it including the gray hair. Maybe I have become too reliant on material things to show my uniqueness. And instead it is time to grow my interests “wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life” as nicely stated by Bertrand Russell in his essay “How to Grow Old”