Commentary: Facing The Superficial | KERA News

Commentary: Facing The Superficial

Dallas, TX –

Several recent news stories have reminded me how much we're judged by our faces. First, the gushing rush of reverse snobbery to anoint the dowdy British singer Susan Boyle, whose talent show audition has had over 60 million YouTube viewings. Then Connie Culp, the Ohio grandmother who became America's first face transplant after her suicidal husband shot her point blank. And today, an interview with American vets mutilated by improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Ms. Culp's press conference she advised us to think twice when someone's appearance is repugnant adding, "You never know what happened to them". True. But I know what happens when people hop this "Beauty is only skin deep" bus. It's generally a free ride to nowhere signifying nothing but temporary pretense.

Ironically, my Mother, herself a natural beauty, was the intellectual pragmatist regarding superficiality. Like any good parent, she told us that a person's looks were never something to judge. Yet one night I was watching an old movie and asked her to join me. She asked, "Who's in it?" I answered, "Barbara Stanwyck". "Not interested," she snapped. Of course I questioned, "What's wrong with Barbara Stanwyck?" The unlikely reply? "Don't like her looks." "Mother, you always told me you can't hold someone's looks against them." To which she delivered a dead-on salvo: "I can certainly hold someone's looks against them if they're supposed to entertain me."

The better half of this story is that Mother's second husband was a man, not unlike the soldiers I saw interviewed today, who was grotesquely disfigured when he was a handsome 21 year old SMU student. He looked like the deformed ghoul in House of Wax, hiding beneath his hat after decades earlier being burned with a radium machine by a dermatological nurse during an acne treatment. This man's face had literally fallen apart, later patch-worked with skin grafts resembling an eel skin handbag. His lips were plastic as was his nose.

Yet Mother fell in love with him and ultimately told me there came a time when he no longer looked abnormal to her. It was Beauty and the Beast - love conquering all. Yet everywhere we went, people stared and children screamed and fled with no admonishment from their parents.

Time ultimately makes any of us the invisible person ignored by a cashier in a checkout line. Some people like Susan Boyle know nothing else their entire lives. Others, like Ms. Culp or Mother's husband or those patriot warriors? It's overnight. And they are rarely ignored. Likely they're treated like intrusive monsters, unable to be loved for who they are. Or were.

It's all well and good to celebrate a Susan Boyle or praise a mutated soul's courage. But we humans are addicted to smooth-skinned youth and beauty. To pretend many of us would pay to see a Susan Boyle movie is perverse. And kissing a man with plastic lips or even asking Ms. Culp to dinner? How sad is it that we grow up and forget how we loved those fairy tales where the ugly' frog we feared was in fact a prince?

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.

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