A Plastic Surgeon Refused to Fix My Facial Scar, and I'm So Grateful

Updated 01/31/18

I’ve lived the majority of my life with a slightly off-center upper lip. It’s part of who I am. I wasn’t born with it, though—it happened because when I was nine years old, I was attacked by a relative’s dog, who apparently had a taste for little girls’ upper lips. Though the exact details of the ordeal are still a blur, a quick-thinking emergency room suture done to stop the bleeding left me with a noticeable, lumpy scar that I can’t say I ever paid much attention to; that is, not until the “Instagram makeup” trend took hold.

Two years ago, as Instagram evolved into a curated source of perfection in every corner of the lifestyle space—from food to travel to beauty (extreme contour, lip fillers)—I began to feel self-conscious of my facial scar for the first time ever. It’s the exact opposite of what I see dispersed throughout my feed: Imperfect. On any given day, a scroll through Instagram yields picture after picture of influencers serving their best looks. And though their influence provides a source of inspiration, on a deeper level, it slowly made me doubt my own beauty. The photos I was quick to double-tap, ones featuring plump pouts and texture-free skin, showcased what I might’ve looked like had a dog not bitten off a chunk of my lip. At 25, I’d already lived with my scar for 16 years, but I suddenly had to wonder: Could fillers be the answer for me, too?

Before hopping in a dermatologists’ chair, I went to see a plastic surgeon to find out what could be done to surgically repair my upper lip and make it look like the one I was born with. As I sat in the waiting room, nervously reading a brochure about “Mommy Makeovers,” I started to feel a twinge of apprehension. What if I don’t recognize myself with perfect lips? When the nurse called me back to the room, that apprehension mounted.

“Why are you here today?” she asked.

I told her I wanted to see if there was a way to fix my lip.

“Why do you want to fix it?” she pressed.

“I’m just curious,” I said. As I spoke, I grew even more anxious. The nurse finished tapping my health history into a tablet and told me the doctor would be in shortly, leaving me to my own thoughts. “I can’t wait to hear what they say,” voiced my mom, who drove me to the appointment. Thankful to have someone in the room to distract my clouded mind, I told her I couldn’t wait either, which prompted a moment of reminiscing on the night her baby spent in the ER.

“I just remember your grandmother calling me crying,” she said. I had been visiting my grandparents alone when it happened, and while my memory is a little fuzzy all these years later, I remember the event in flashes. I was bending down to pet the cocker spaniel mix, likely too close to its snout, when all of a sudden, a set of sharp teeth lunged toward my face. I stepped back to feel the dog’s jaw tighten around my upper lip. When it eventually let go, I ran to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and saw blood gushing from my face. “I don’t even remember going to the hospital,” I told my mom.

Just then, I heard a knock at the door.

Attempting to fix my facial scar reminded me why flaws exist in the first place: to make us unique. To tell a story. 

Facial scar - lip scars
Macy Daniela Martin

Clad in scrubs, the doctor cheerfully entered the room and began his exam. As he took a peek at my scar, he too pressed me for a reason I wanted to fix it. I don’t know, I thought, before once again stating my curiosity. I couldn’t tell him it was because of Instagram, right?

After what felt like an hour, the doctor explained why my scar healed the way it did. It turns out that the asymmetry is due to tissue loss that occurred when the emergency room doctors stitched it up. The suture was applied over my Cupid’s bow, which is what makes my lip pull to one side. The scar’s lumpy texture is a result of the healing process, he said. And that’s when he gave me a shocking sense of relief.

“I’m not confident there’s anything I can do to make it look better,” he said. “I don’t think it’s worth it to operate.”

I expected to feel some sort of disappointment at the news that my Insta-perfect dreams would never be realized, but the reality was that I was surprisingly happy to hear a board-certified plastic surgeon tell me my lips were going to remain imperfect. (I didn’t even want to see a derm afterward.)

Instagram (and society at large) tells us that plump lips, luscious hair, and slim figures are the keys to success, happiness, and an abundance of “likes,” but attempting to fix my facial scar reminded me why flaws exist in the first place: to make us unique. To tell a story. No one else in the world has my lumpy, asymmetrical Cupid’s bow, and that’s a beautiful, badass thing. I wouldn’t be me without it.

You know an imperfection is worth keeping when even a plastic surgeon doesn’t want to fix it. The doctor didn’t even charge me for the consultation, so I wound up with this life lesson for free.

Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.

Next: Read how one beauty lover uses her makeup routine to cope with mental illness.

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