Face Values

In my television critique column (http://tinyurl.com/6rfecc), I referred to the incident wherein Yang Peiyi was not considered pretty enough to sing to the world before the camera, at the start of the Beijing Olympic Games. Lin Miaoke was – and so the former’s voice and the latter’s face were used – thereby insulting both girls, and possibly marking them, and a third girl who was rejected after having won, because she was considered “too old” (at ten years of age), psychologically for life. Unless they are resilient.

The incident took me back many, many years – to when I, as a child often found myself in a similar position to that of Yang Peiyi.

One particular incident – which I shall not be repeating here, springs immediately to mind… I was about 13 years old at the time, and about the only thing I could do was to disguise the facts a little, and write it up as a short story. This, I sent off (handwritten) to Rediffusion – and to my surprise, it was actually chosen for broadcast – and I got £5 for it… as a cheque which the cashiers at Barclays Bank would not encash for me because I had no means of identification. Did they really think a teenager would forge, or steal, a cheque?

Maria Loporto, the lovely lady who at the time worked at Lombard Bank, called her manager and I told them how I had come by that princely sum – and handed me a crisp £5 note with which I bought a pair of tennis shoes for myself, and a some things to share with my mother and my sister. One of the newsletters that I receive recently gave the word “Strawberry” as a prompt for a writing exercise. For some reason, the aforementioned story leapt to my mind – although the girl in it had had a harelip. Please read this, and consider it a plea against Looksism.

The Strawberry

She was used to it.

The minute she turned her head, she could see the commiseration in the eyes of all those who saw her face – with its puckered strawberry mark covering the right side of her nose and a part of her cheek. She knew what they were thinking.

“What a pity…” Sometimes, though rarely, though, the attitude was different. It was sheer, unadulterated disgust, as if somehow, the smear on her face would grow and infect all those who looked at it. Some people actually drew their heads back when they saw her. And then they tried to cover it up by saying inane things like “I thought you were someone else…” or “My! What a beautiful head of hair you have…”

Then, too, she knew what they were thinking. “What a monster…” Her widowed mother was too poor to pay for laser surgery. Since her condition was not life-threatening, she could not get it done on National Health.

And so she had lived with it.

There were the ignorant people who never failed to point out that her mother must have wanted strawberries so badly during her pregnancy, that she had transferred her wish to her daughter.

And old wives’ tale that never failed to hurt. Some of the children in her class made funny remarks about her being careless with the strawberry jam or tomato conserve. Some grown-ups actually assumed she was stupid, just because her face was marked. Talk about discrimination and stereotyping.

She worked hard, way beyond her years, to develop a veneer behind which she could hide. Her luxuriant chestnut mane of hair flowed down to her waist – and she thought that it distracted people from her face. And it did – until they saw it.

But he was different. He did not wince; he just smiled, and asked her out. He told her he fell in love with her, the minute he saw how her eyes sparkled as she comforted the little girl in the shop who had dropped her ice-cream cone. She had moved to buy her another one while the child’s mother was still ranting at her for being careless. She looked up at him coldly.

“I don’t do pity!” she said. But he persisted.

That was yesterday. This morning, I cut my hair. It’s no longer important.

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