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I have that kind of face. The one where people love to startle or appall me because my eyes get huge. I am making capital of it currently for a project. (Well, not literal clinky capital. It’s a freebie.) I have to do three large paintings for a play about bullying; the paintings are supposed to be by a talented eighth-grader, so I’m on my A-game, or feeling that I have to be, being insecure and all. But the first one is of his favorite teacher, and I thought, “Hey, swell! I can do a portrait of my daughter and maybe get some actual life practice in!” But no.

The teacher is explicitly described as having that kind of face. He has apparently not only caught her with her eyes bugging out, but in the middle of being about to laugh. The princess’ eyes do not bug, so it’s self-portrait time. She took an uproarious and unflattering photo of me, and I’ve sketched it in. God, but I have a fat head.

I used to think I was really unattractive because most photos of me do this. It’s hard to have strong self-esteem when you apparently look like your own caricature. Then when I was in my forties I woke up and realized that I was quite pretty; in fact my face matches the Golden Mean triangle thingy (which I am not a fine enough person to find and link for you) pretty well: Math says I’m lovely, so it must be so.

But that’s only when my face is behaving and holding still for a special event, instead of doing its usual squirmy bit. If I am writing fiction (or thinking about doing it) it twitches and wriggles and grimaces as if there were something more wrong with me than there really is. So I generally look like “benignly goofy fat lady who might give you spare change.” (I’m assuming, because beggars seem surprised and disappointed when I sail on past without remunerating them.)

But I don’t get any rewards for being pretty per se, no more than having passed it on to a pretty daughter. No, what people care about is that I make The Face in all of its myriad shades of meaning. And they love it. They burst out grinning and practically jiggle up and down. They’re not laughing at me (much), but just plain old enjoying creation: I have a gift.

I’d rather have emotional privacy; be able to tell a lie if I had to. To be thought of as that stately, attractive beauty who is aging so well. But I’m betting that the world would run smoother if we all just shut up and appreciated what our friends do about us, without wishing for somebody else’s imagined something-or-other.

It has taken me fifty years to realize that the very best thing about my face is that I am looking out of it, and as I do so with some transparency and it’s well-received, I should take that as a fine compliment indeed.

Although perhaps not, as the complimented face is one of the scrunchier squintier ones. Sigh.

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