But it got me thinking about what I might have looked like if I hadn’t had the operation, and I think it might have been something like this. Now that’s a pretty deep uncanny valley right there. I don’t know anyone who thinks that looks better than this. I’m happy to hear we can have an argument and you can tell me about it. But it’s quite off-putting looking at that face.
And I think there’s an uncanny valley of ugliness too, and it relates perfectly to notions of ideal beauty. We try to define ideal beauty like it’s Mount Everest and that everyone needs to climb it. That’s actually wrong. Ideal beauty is much better when we think about it as a million different points on the map. Sure, if you want to go to Mount Everest, go. Walk up to base camp, wave at the summit. But then choose your own point on the map and walk away from it.
Because it’s the choices that matter and my — funnily enough, my ugliness made it easier for me to own my face than many of you. But we all face choices every day. I had one choice when I was 14, about one aspect of my face and I exercised that choice and it has governed how I look for the rest of my life. But we all make choices every day to shave, to wear makeup and if so, how much, to wear piercings, to bleach our lip hair, all those kinds of things.
And those sorts of things are what give us entry to the tribes who want to enter. Choosing to dress like a Goth is exactly the same choice as looking like a bearded hipster. It’s just a different decision.
So a year or so ago, a friend of mine, an artist friend of mine Nick Stathopoulos asked me to make a decision. He asked if he could paint my portrait. And I said, OK sure, no worries. I figured at worst case it would mean I had to sit still for a while. So I went and sat for Nick and he did some sketches and talked about some of his ideas and then I went away and he invited me back a couple of months later to see progress on the work. And I went into his studio and looked at this massive portrait of my face and just stood silent for two whole minutes. And this is what I saw.
Now until then I thought owning my face meant no one else could own it. But I looked at this portrait, disturbed, voiceless, silent, crying because it seemed to me that Nick had gone and owned my face for me. It seemed like this portrait captured every piece of pain, every bit of life I had felt since I was 14. And I think the important thing there is plenty of other people will try to own our faces, but have they put a million brush strokes into owning our faces.
You can own your face, too. Owning is choosing. Choose to accept your face. Choose to appreciate your face. Don’t look away from the mirror so quickly. Understand all the love and the life and the pain that is part of your face, that is the art of your face.
Tomorrow when you wake up, what will your choice be?