What is it like to be one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People? I have no idea.
I can tell you what it's like to work closely with one of these magically attractive people day in and day out, to wake up to Matt Lauer and Katie Couric discussing his muscles and come home to dozens of e-mails asking how I can possibly control myself working with such a "hottie."
As anyone who marries a supermodel can tell you, you get used to the kind of intense physical beauty that first stops you cold. It dulls over time until there are days that you don't even notice it. Of course, there are days you do, because flat out, undeniable, in-the-eye-of-every-beholder beauty has a way of piercing through your day.
I see how other people react to this paragon, whom I'll call Hunky Carpenter Guy. There's generally a quick, almost imperceptible pause when he walks into a room. New people need a second just to take it in, to adjust to the fact that someone so genetically different from us has arrived. The moment passes, but I never miss it.
I was happy for him when he made People's list, because he's a decent person and I'm no player hater. But I am human, so I prepared myself for a few days of good old-fashioned self-doubt. I'd need a fuzzy emotional sweater for the week that issue was on the stands, and for weeks after, because it was going to get mighty cold in his beautiful shadow.
Right away, I told myself all the usual things, the things you may even be thinking to yourself right now -- beauty is meaningless, it's just a favorable recombination of DNA, it isn't a reflection of a person's soul or their contribution, it isn't objective and it isn't lasting.
These notions, while true, miss the point. The more I churned them through my head, the more convinced I became that they were nothing but a sad salve for poor losers in the genetic lottery.
I tried to clutch at whatever maturity was within my grasp but it slipped away, replaced with a wailing siren in my brain screeching "Why? Why aren't I perfect? Why?" If you can remember how Nancy Kerrigan sounded after getting slammed in the knee, it was a lot like that. And studies show hearing Kerrigan's voice in your head is the first sign of madness.
"Let's face it, even at my fighting weight and on a good skin day, I'm lucky to make Cat Fancy Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful Cat Owners," I told a friend over the phone.
At this point, there was an emotional pileup that went like this: real emotional pain over something petty; guilt over feeling pain over something stupid when other people have real problems; discomfort resulting from trying to shove down feelings that aren't on the "approved feelings" list; and, finally, excessive snacking.
I needed a way out and it was right there, plain as the Semitic nose on my face.
For the first time in my life, the idea of a rhinoplasty seemed genius. That week, the world became a world of noses. I didn't notice the person owning it, just the nose, the nostrils and the bridge.
For someone who doesn't even own a full-length mirror, I couldn't stop looking at my profile. I ran my fingers over the bridge of my nose so often it bordered on a creepy tic. Is there a bump or isn't there? Does it curve under? To me, there was no difference between those jagged, pointed noses featured in Shylock caricatures and my own. It went from nose to shnoz to major life obstacle before you could say, "Hey, look what happened to Jennifer Grey."
I recalled some postings about me on an Internet message board. One said, "Go back to the mall, JAP." Another read, "Your nose is sexy LOL." LOL? What's so funny, dude?
The nose knows. And I knew it had to go.
No more fears about being shallow, culturally self-hating, selling out. No more worries about the political ramifications of being a Jewish girl with a nose job. My only worry would be how to save up for the procedure, where to stay during recovery, how to juggle all my new work opportunities. The second I got the idea I latched onto it, carried it with me, let it soothe me when I caught a bad angle of myself or saw an unflattering photo.
What happened next will seem too pat, too "wrap up this column with a pretty bow." But it's the truth. I was trying on a dress with a friend and I had one of those moments of self-esteem grace. I looked beautiful to myself. I did a quick nose check and a voice from somewhere easier and more divine whispered, "It's your nose that's making you beautiful."
The problem with this story arc is that it reoccurs. Insecurity comes and goes with all the loyalty and unpredictability of an outdoor cat. Ugly as it may be, this is the truth for me, and to paraphrase John Keats, "Truth is beauty, beauty truth."
Keep your eye out for the latest collector's edition, People Magazine's 50 Most Truthful People. If I can avoid that nose job, I might just make it. Hope they allow airbrushing.
Teresa Strasser can be seen Fridays 8-10 p.m. and weekdays at 5 p.m. on TLC's "While You Were Out" and is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.
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