I have a fat face.
My cheeks are round, my chin isn’t very prominent, and when I bend said non-chin down toward my neck, a swell of skin erupts, a spare-tire, proto-double chin.
This face has been my reality since I was born—I inherited it and all its side effects: cheek pinching (which still persists, even now that I’m 26), being mistaken for one of my students (it’s all fun and games until people think there’s no chaperone), and the ever-present self-doubt and, yes, body image issues that come with my lack of visible cheekbones, my chubby chin.
Some days, I look at my face and see beauty—the way my eyes open and open, the delicious fullness of my lips, the warm glow of it all. Other days, I look and see nothing but flab, unwanted extra, ugly, too much, too much. It’s one thing to have a bad self-image day when you’re just walking around in your regular life, but to have it—as I recently did—the morning of a performance, of teaching a master class at my first real college visit as a published author–is another thing entirely. First, the frantic hotel room scramble—what can I do? How can I make this face look thinner? Then, going back through all I’ve eaten—did I have this double chin yesterday? Am I just gaining weight rapidly? Then, a consideration of makeup. But no—I remember how, after a few days of wearing the stuff, contouring my fat face away, I grew tired of it and wanted my skin to breathe.
I had, the night before, fallen quite in love with my bare face, and I was eager to wear it to match the pretty twists in my hair. But that morning, all I could see was my chin opening up to another chin. My intricate twist pattern mattered little—there was no saving my head from being a big wad of bad.
I recall an article published by a well-respected and widely read magazine about the most attractive faces. They were all angular, all chiseled and defined. Not a big cheek in the bunch. Not a brown cheek in the bunch. How can I compete with faces that are thin—skin stretched tightly across a cage of bones?
I went back to the mirror. I only had a few minutes to get it together before heading down to eat with faculty and students—I had to be on my game, I had to be able to present my face and all the rest to the world and be confident in it.
There is no formula, no magical potion to turn a fat face into a skinny one.
There is also no formula for self-acceptance.
I stared and stared at my face until I saw it: This face belongs to my mother, my sister, my aunts. My face is full, yes, but filled with good things: the instant recognition that I’m Jennifer’s baby at any family function, the ever-present joy that comes from my baby-cheeks. Full and not ugly, because beauty is bigger than cheekbones or Instagram eyebrows or how many chins you can count forming above your neck.
That morning, I think I had to remember that a face, a body, is not beautiful because it meets beauty standards proclaimed from on high, or even because someone else calls it beautiful—it is beautiful because it exists. It is beautiful because that is its natural state of being. Each face, each chubby cheek, each eye, big or little eye, is beautiful. And, staring at myself that morning, I saw it. There in the black of my pupils, in the curve of my face, in the way my cheeks are so full they seem to spill over—I saw gorgeous glitter and its unending shine.