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Piece 2, S/S 2023 Collection: Mirror, Mirror on the wall does it even matter how I look at all?

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


I returned very recently from an interstate appointment with what was described by the dentist as my last chance. For now. My last chance to have a denture made to replace the 7 teeth, all in a row, from my upper left palette that I lost after major surgery back in 2017. The same surgery that my heroic doctors spent 18 long hours removing a nasty rare and cancerous tumour growing inside my face. Sounds gruesome. And it was.


The doctors had to cut out my upper left palette entirely and create a new one using bones and skin from my leg. But they also radiated that brand spanking new bone for the six weeks that followed, to really eradicate the sucker. In doing so, I have unfortunately experienced what is called bone necrosis. Bone death. This means that getting new teeth with permanent dental implants is just not safe right now. I have been on the hunt for the right denture for almost five years. Many trials. More errors. And in between, literally just living without teeth on one side of my mouth.


I know I write about these heavy facts so casually. That is because 5 years have passed since I’ve looked this way. But at the dentist’s today, he asked me a question that really rattled me. After realising how little my mouth actually opens now, he first asked me how do I eat? This one didn’t cause me any concern at all. Easy. I cannot bite into a burger anymore, that’s for sure. But if I cut my food up into really small pieces or eat delicious and mushy vegetarian Dahls, eating only on one side of my mouth just ain’t an issue.


But then, he asked me how do I manage socially? The question itself was not a difficult one. The answer was simple. I just do. I get up every day, get dressed and just go where I gotta go. Toothless mouth and all. But, it was the perplexion on his face as he asked that got me all thinky thinky la la. It was implied, by the nature and tone of the way the question was asked, that managing socially would be in some way difficult and/or requiring of a particular strategy. It made me stop for a second and contemplate more fully just how it was that I had indeed managed socially.


Obviously, after being told you have a tumour in your face that is attached to nerves that will threaten your life if it is not removed quickly, I am not sure you give much thought to how that extraction might leave you looking. Alive will do, thank you very much. And then after they removed it, all I cared about was that I was still here. It was probably the gratitude I held in my heart for being able to continue to live my life and raise my new baby girl (who was only 18 months or so at that time) that carried my feet out the door every day, looking the way I did, for the first couple of years.


But when I thought about it today, I did actually have an accidental strategy for how I coped with looking a little different to everyone else outside of the safe boundaries of my home. I don’t know if people were just being kind, but so many people that I have expressed my momentary vulnerabilities to about wishing I had teeth have said that in all honesty, they have simply stopped noticing it. I thought today about the universally known legends who have experienced epic changes to their appearance after a trauma, or who were born with disabilities. The two who came to mind were Turia Pitt and Dylan Alcott. I realised that when I look at both of them, the very last thing I notice is burns or physical disabilities. Honestly. And I think there are two reasons for that. First, they have become and portray themselves as so much more than what they are lacking. And secondly, they are unapologetic about their differences and do not seem to try to cover them up in any way.


This ownership of who they are, differences and all, overshadows any sense of deficiency. And the awareness of the many other parts of them that are functional and/or are not damaged or disfigured dominates what people see. In these two phenomena, lay the heart of my own personal strategy for ‘managing socially’, for showing up to fancy parties or confidently entering the Board room at work or just hanging out in public, meeting new people. Do I get deflated every time I get one of those surreptitious lingering side glances from strangers I pass who notice the gaping hole? Yup. Do I wince in pain when people whip out their cameras? For sure. Do I get tired of coming up with funny stories for innocent children’s enquiries about where my teeth are every time that I pick my daughter up from school? Bloody oath. And do I have serious insecurities about whether my husband still finds me attractive? Absofreakinglutely.


But what I have been served up by the Universe in having my physical looks impacted by my cancer surgery, possibly permanently, is a fast track master class in understanding the philosophical and literal truth of the great cliché that it is what on the inside that truly counts. Straight up, that is the absolute tooth of the matter (pun intended). Living your life in dependence of how you look on the outside, in a mirror or in a selfie to feel good, happy or worthwhile is a precariously fragile mode of living. Even just with natural aging, you are on a teetering precipice. God forbid, something happens to you that altars your appearance unwillingly.


Your essence though, your contribution to the world, the impact of your kindness to others. These all exist and continue through any change to your external appearance. And for me, unlike a change in physical appearance, they are the kind of human qualities that are actually much more noticeable if they are unsavoury or removed. I am not hanging up my Givenchy heels or Drunk Elephant ™ Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops just yet. It is OK to want to look and feel our best. I just won’t rely as much on a piece of reflective glass to decide whether I am enough. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall does it even matter how I look at all?


PS: My quote muse today was from our 2023 Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt, the founder of The Body Image movement. Love the skin you are in is the name of her game. How wonderful that shaming body shaming is now considered a mission worthy of such accolades?



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5 Comments


Guest
Feb 22, 2023

Brilliant. “ Living your life in dependence of how you look on the outside, in a mirror or in a selfie to feel good, happy or worthwhile is a precariously fragile mode of living.” Love your writing so much 💛

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Guest
Feb 20, 2023

Perfect, like you x

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Guest
Feb 20, 2023

While many of us live an unremarkable life, you are living a remarkable one. Thank you!

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Guest
Feb 20, 2023

Beautifully written Sarah! x

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Guest
Feb 19, 2023

Wow-you are incredible dear S! That’s why we love you x

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