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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 20 July, 2019

Roundly rejected: Learning to ignore the message that we need to look less like ourselves

‘I just thought I had a face.’

I WAS TEN when I learned I had a round face.

Up until then, I just thought I had a face. 

understand Source: Giphy

In much the same way I didn’t give any thought to the shape of my two arms and two legs, neither had I once considered the shape of my face.

It was just my face; food went in my mouth, snots came out my nose and sometimes shampoo got in my eyes.

And then I learned that there was more to my face than just that, and it might not always be seen as a good thing.

While rifling through old family photos and documents as part of a primary school project, I came across an old passport of my mother’s and was interested to see that it included more details than the current passport did.

There was a space for occupation, eye colour and, interestingly, face shape.

My mother’s was described as ‘oval’ – a detail I idly made known to those around me.

Looking over my shoulder, an adult in the room laughed and remarked: “Well, yours would certainly go down as round, Niamh.”

Cue tittering.

The way the sentence was uttered and the chuckle which accompanied it made it clear that ’round’ definitely wasn’t the most coveted of face shapes.

And despite the fact that I hadn’t – until moments after unearthing the passport – been aware that this was a feature that was ever even considered by the wider world,  I felt a surge of embarrassment that I didn’t possess the ‘right’ shape.

It was a throwaway comment – certainly one of the less hurtful critiques I’ve had about my appearance over the course of my life – and yet it inexplicably cast a long shadow.

And sometimes that’s just how these things work.

Over the last two decades, I have chosen haircuts recommended for people with ’round faces’, prefaced trying on hats with wry comments about my likeness to Meg from Family Guy, and perhaps most crucially, never had my photo taken without posing in such a way as to conceal the ’roundness’.

So far, so standard; we all have our hang-ups.

But I have – on and off over the last 20 years – vaguely considered whether I would have ever given the shape of my face a passing thought if the message hadn’t been delivered in the vein it was.

Yesterday, I came across a tweet, crying out for women like me.

On one level I was immediately envious that these women were going to be taught how to pose with their big round faces, and look good while doing so.

And on another – more rational level – I was irritated by the implication there was a method which had to be employed in order to conceal our natural face shape, despite the fact I had been succumbing to that very implication for years.

Considering it was in London, I couldn’t easily show up protesting the message behind the shoot while sneakily trying to pick up tips.

Not only would it be disingenuous, but the airfares at such short notice might cripple my already unstable bank account.

And then I saw journalist and author, Bryony Gordon, had also gotten wind of the tweet.

And in just three sentences, Bryony articulated everything that is wrong with a society that consistently tells people that everything would be better if

Her opener spoke to the ten-year-old’s understanding of her appearance mere moments before she opened that passport.

My face is shaped like me.

Her second sentence highlighted the message many of us communicate to loved ones, but fail to internalise ourselves. 

I best pose for a picture by being me and not worrying what me looks like.

And the final line? A sentiment which regrettably can only be described as a work in progress for many of us.

And I hope that one day, women will be able to exist without the bullshit notion that their lives would be better if they could just look a little less like them.

But who knows; maybe just like that ‘face-shape’ section of the passport, that bullshit notion will soon become a thing of the past too.

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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