If you visit hospitals often enough, you’ll notice that they operate in an alternate reality. For instance, cancer has not, to put it mildly, been kind to my appearance, which was already in George Eliot territory to begin with.
And yet I have repeatedly been told by doctors and nurses that I have “great skin!” and look “so pretty!” and am apparently unrivaled in my ability to pull off a variety of woolly hats. During a post-operation X-ray, as I lay there in a faded hospital gown watching blood steadily drain into a bottle attached to my leg, the technician turned to me and said, “I have to say, you have a perfect head shape!” A ward-mate once told me I could be a model. It was inevitable, really, that during my most recent hospital stay I should be assigned a nurse whose preferred method of waking me up was to burst into my room and trill “GOOD MORNING, MY BEAUTIFUL GIRL!” at seven a.m.
At first I could only respond to these compliments with the baffled silence I felt they warranted, but I’ve since come around to managing a smile and a weak “thank you”. I know that they are meant well, but they still annoy me because a) as a committed empiricist it offends me to even pretend to believe this nonsense and b) all they end up doing is reminding me just how far from normal things are right now and how much I miss my previous existence in which no-one ever felt the need to comment on the shape of my head to make me feel better.
I vastly prefer the way things are in the real world, where I am instead subject to the startled stares and double-takes of shop assistants, waitresses, and people in the street, especially in the daytime.
Either way, though, I’m not allowed to forget how I look, and it’s becoming a problem. I don’t much care about being bald or having discoloured skin, but I did feel upset when I looked in the mirror one day and discovered I had no eyebrows or eyelashes left. Not only did I look terrible, I looked positively sinister. Now, I have never worn make-up because I find it messy and unnatural, and if men can go through life without having to master the skill of ‘flicky eyeliner’ then so can I. That isn’t to say that wearing make-up is anti-feminist, for the core tenet of feminism is that women should be free to make their own choices, which extends to wearing flicky eyeliner. In fact, I sometimes think that going the way of the ancient Egyptians and making it acceptable for men to wear make-up will put an end to all the hand-wringing over the ‘beauty industrial complex’. Then everyone can wear as much or as little as they want and at least one gender-based double standard will be put to rest.
However, the pragmatist in me recognises that as much as I dislike the idea that one’s looks play a significant role in one’s life (particularly if one is a young woman like myself), I will be doing myself no favours by going around looking like Voldemort’s little sister for the next ten months, especially since I hope to re-join the Muggle world at some point during that time. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I want to look good– I just want to look less ill.
The only way out, then, is to stiffen the nerves and head to Superdrug, where I know I will cower in embarrassment while the lady in the make-up section tries to determine the right shade of eyebrow pencil for my uniquely pigmented skin tone. I draw the line at false eyelashes, though (someone at the hospital once tried to give me some for free. “Would you like these false eyelashes?” she said brightly, and then, seeing my expression, immediately said, “Oh, not your thing eh?” and walked on. I didn’t have to say a word.) A good alternative, the internet informs me, is to paint a little flick at the corner of the eye. Pass the eyeliner.