Something that can hurt as much as the stares, ridiculing comments and discrimination because of my face is the look of surprise from people who see me for the first time.
I popped into the before hours post office on my way to work today, rang the doorbell and the woman who answered was physically shocked. Her body jumped, her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped.
I told her my PO Box number and asked why she got scared, was it because of my face. It might not have been a fair question but it was my first reaction to her reaction. I guess I wanted her to know the discomfort I felt when she looked at me like that. She defensively said no.
When she returned with my parcel, she genuinely apologised. “I’m really sorry, I wasn’t expecting it”, she said. I thanked her and said “no one expects someone to look different.”
That’s the problem. Visible difference is not the norm, it’s not expected, and it can be frightening for some people. Maybe it’s because of the beauty ideal, because of people with visible differences cast as villainous characters, or because of the history of hiding people like us away. It can be hard to be on the receiving end of this fear when I’m just going about my day – not wanting to scare anyone.
I didn’t smile and say “that’s ok” when I thanked her for her apology – because it’s not ok. It’s not her fault and she was really embarrassed and sorry. But it’s not ok that society conditions people to recoil in fear when they see someone with a visible difference.
This morning was another teachable moment; another time when I am not sure if my response was the right one. I wasn’t very warm in receiving her apology – I regret that a little. I could have told her what was “wrong” with me, that I write about this stuff all the time. But I think in my reaction to her reaction to my face, she has a little more insight into what it’s like to look so different people jump in fright.
The parcel she gave me held several prints and the USB that contains our wedding photos. Hundreds of photos from the day I felt my most beautiful. I wish she could have seen them instead of my just-washed, bright red morning face which scared her so much.
We have one chance to make a first impression on someone, and her first impression of me – through the little porthole door delivering my parcel – scared her. This is confidence shattering.
If you see someone like me who looks different, really think about how your reaction to our appearance will impact us. Try to control your shock. Don’t treat us like monsters. Greet us and treat us like we are the most most beautiful person you’ve seen. Be kind. Because we – because I – never want to scare you with our faces.