How can I get past my scars?
May 26, 2010 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Self-conscious about my facial scars

Shallow Filter: I am, I've been told, an attractive woman. A couple of years ago, I was in an accident that left me with some shallow scars on both sides of my face and on the tip and bridge of my nose. Nothing serious, but definitely noticeable in different kinds of light. I am using Retin-A and it's helping; my dermatologist says that microdermabrasion wouldn't help me.

I am getting back into dating after being single for awhile and find myself extremely self-conscious about my face. I'm getting better, but I'm convinced that people are focused on how bad my skin looks. I know it's vain and stupid, but it happens. And I know that anyone who would judge me for it is someone I don't need in my life, but again...low self-esteem wins. Do people really notice these superficial things, or am I just too focused on it? What I really need is to learn to say fuck it and get over it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Anyone who would judge you for scars on your face is not worth dating, as you already know. I think you just have to go out there and NOT internalize the "unattractive" comments, and know they aren't true. Your scars aren't YOU, are they?

On a side note, you might want to check with your dermatologist if Vitamin E might help at all. I have a facial scar from a dogbite, and it did a LOT of good.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:48 AM on May 26, 2010

My girlfriend has a 3-4in scar coming from her left eye. Is it noticeable? Sure, at first. But I usually don't pay attention to it now unless she mentions it. Does it make her look less attractive? Nope.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:58 AM on May 26, 2010

Attractive is attractive, scars or no. If in doubt, watch Dollhouse.
posted by Iteki at 11:59 AM on May 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

Two words: Tina Fey. Sure, she doesn't talk about her scar, and the coverage of her is (thankfully) often not focused on her beauty or supposed lack thereof, but she is a good-looking woman who proves that there are so many more things to focus on than a scar on her face.

My partner has a couple smaller scars on his face and a couple huge ones on his knee, and I love them like I love the many gray sprinkles through his mass of dark brown hair. It reminds me that he's a real person and has been through life, and that the stories about his experiences are one of the best things about him.
posted by Madamina at 12:00 PM on May 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

A professor I knew in the social sciences once ran the following experiment:

He took college students and told them it was a test of how people acted around physical deformities. He made a big show of getting a makeup artist to put a fake scar on their face while they watched in a mirror, and told them they would then go interact with another student and to record how the other student acted around them.

Except, before they left the room, after they took away the mirror, under the guise of "final touches", they removed the scar. Which is to say, the people had no "deformity" on their face at all, though they thought they did.

Every single one of the students reported the people they were talking to acting weird -- not looking at their face, looking too closely at their face, etc. The professor noticed especially that when asked about it, the students replied "they should have just acted normal!"

This isn't to say it's necessarily all in your head, but... it probably is. People don't notice stuff like this, and don't care. You have a minor scar on your face -- so do most people, frankly. Think about Tina Fey's face scar -- is that an issue for you? I mean, you probably notice it, but does it make you think she's ugly?
posted by brainmouse at 12:00 PM on May 26, 2010 [51 favorites]

Everyone's going to notice your scars. They're on your face.

But no one is focusing on them. What would there be to focus on? The thought registers, she has scars, but there's no next step. It's not like anyone will ruminate on the fact that you have scars, especially because (presumably) they'll be paying attention to what you're saying.

If they're not paying attention to what you're saying, ditch 'em.
posted by purpleclover at 12:01 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

During a recent conversation with a friend of a friend, he mentioned Padma Lakshmi's scar on her arm. I had never even noticed it, and he mentioned (in not particularly woman-positive terms) that it would not get in the way of being physically attracted to her. You'll notice she still looks amazing in sleeveless gowns and in no way tries to hide it.

I also have a facial scar from a dog bite, also recommending Vitamin E oil. I had my bite when I was in the 5th grade though, YMMV. The scar is really not noticeable unless in the right light. When I've told people that I was bitten on the face they sometimes don't believe me, and I have to point it out. If your scars are not already unnoticeable, they will be with time. Don't freak out about it. I really don't think people even pick up those kinds of small details when meeting a person. They will pick up on your confidence and personality.

My boyfriend says my scars just prove what a bad ass I am. I'm not saying that every guy you'll meet will be as awesome as my boyfriend, but a real connection will absolutely overcome superficial things.
posted by fontophilic at 12:05 PM on May 26, 2010

FWIW I didn't even realize Tina Fey had a scar on her face til right now and I've seen every single episode of 30 Rock. Some of them multiple times. And I definitely look at her face a lot.

And now that I've noticed it, it is pretty noticeable, but I really didn't see it until someone pointed it out.

So, my point is, maybe it's not really that noticeable. You probably think it's more noticeable than it is because it's your face and you're so focused on the scar.
posted by tweedle at 12:06 PM on May 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

Congratulations, you've been promoted. If by chance your scars aren't effectively invisible, you will no longer interest that sad subsection of men who insist on physical perfection in their mates, or who are so immature that they can't really hear what you say. You've probably improved your chances of finding someone among the throngs of the true and interesting.
posted by amtho at 12:14 PM on May 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

I revoke what I just said. Apparently no one notices scars.
posted by purpleclover at 12:15 PM on May 26, 2010

Actually yeah, I just had to google "tina fey scar" to see a little arrow pointed to it.
posted by fontophilic at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2010

Do you notice other people's? Probably not.

I have what I remain deeply convinced is THE BIGGEST SCAR EVER on my lip. I refused to wear lipstick for like five years after I cut it on the conviction that it highlighted the scar. Nobody else has ever, ever noticed it until I pointed it out, and then they usually inform me that I am crazy and you can hardly see it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:23 PM on May 26, 2010

"Get out of your mind and into your life" would be a good choice of self-help book.
posted by okokok at 12:25 PM on May 26, 2010

Shallow Filter, you say? OK, I'll bite:

Scars are sexy. Anything that is truly beautiful is flawed. Scars are the visible punctuation in your life's narrative. They denote triumph over suffering. Wear them with pride.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:29 PM on May 26, 2010 [18 favorites]

I have scars on my face as a result of childhood accidents. One is partly obscured by my lower lip, but definitely there, even 20+ years later. The other scars include two small slices out of the bridge of my nose and other bits in that area as a result of a plastic organizer shattering on impact with my face in front of all my third grade classmates. Tie your sneakers, kids.

Mine are somewhat faded but you can't miss a slice from my nose, or so I thought. You know what? Nobody really ever notices them.

You're always going to be more aware of them than anyone else. I still see mine, but people generally never know until I tell them. Try to let go. I don't think about mine anymore but I used to.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:35 PM on May 26, 2010

Do people really notice these superficial things, or am I just too focused on it?

Notice or care? In my experience nobody ever dislikes their self-perceived imperfections LESS than other people do.

0.1% of the population gets to be the physically flawless Platonic idea of beauty. The other 99.9% of us have various blemishes, bumps, sags, scars, bald patches etc. The only reason you're more focused on those scars than any other physical imperfections you might have is that you haven't had as long to get used to them. You see them in the mirror as a change from your face w/o them.

But new people don't see them that way. They're just another aspect of your appearance. They're going to be more prominent to you for a while - perhaps forever - because they don't match your mental image of yourself. Try not to let it bother you. It'll be hard but you can remind yourself they don't mean the same thing to you that they do to others.
posted by phearlez at 12:35 PM on May 26, 2010

I'm with BitterOldPunk. Have you tried playing up the badass angle?
posted by johnnybeggs at 12:35 PM on May 26, 2010

I am, I've been told, an attractive woman.

I know that "it could be worse" is never much of a consolation. But as an unattractive woman with a scar, I have to remind you that you're doing a lot better than some people already!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:36 PM on May 26, 2010

Seconding BitterOldPunk. Read "Delight in Disorder." Scars add character. Character is sexy. You are sexy. Go out and date someone who agrees.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:36 PM on May 26, 2010

Shallow Filter, you say? OK, I'll bite:

Scars are sexy. Anything that is truly beautiful is flawed. Scars are the visible punctuation in your life's narrative. They denote triumph over suffering. Wear them with pride.

Yeah, I came here to say this. Scars can be really hot, honestly, especially when worn with pride. Life bangs you up a little, or at least it should. You have absolutely nothing to be self-conscious about, and I can tell you that without even seeing you.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:42 PM on May 26, 2010

posted by Cuppatea at 12:48 PM on May 26, 2010

nthing scars are hot.
posted by xammerboy at 1:01 PM on May 26, 2010

I once had a coworker confide to me that she was horribly self-conscious about the scar on her face from a scooter accident a few years previously. I'd never noticed that she had a scar.

My boyfriend wears a prosthetic eye and is self-conscious about it but although I've known him for ten years, dated him for three, and lived with him for seven months now, I still find myself occasionally gazing soulfully into his prosthetic under the impression that I'm looking into his other eye. (Which he finds funny, luckily!)

So, yeah, like everyone is saying, chances are that nobody's really noticing your scars. And put me into the camp that says scars are intriguing and sometimes quite sexy - they tell a story, and sometimes they're a badge of honor or commemoration of survival. (If they bother the person who has them because they're associated with bad memories, then that's another matter, of course.)
posted by telophase at 1:19 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have any facial scars, but I do have a 1" long scar on my right index finger, and a 4 1/2" scar on my ribs.
The finger scar I've had since my brother nearly cut my finger off when I was two (make sure your folding stroller is fully locked before inserting baby!). Now, a difference here is that I can't remember ever being without it, so it doesn't bother me. But it's in a relatively prominent spot. I can't look at my hand and not see it. However, in my whole entire life, only one person has ever noticed it without prompting. Scars which are very noticeable to the bearer are very often not at all noticeable to others.
The scar on my ribs, however is quite noticeable if I take my shirt off. It's long, jagged, and the skin is a little puckered around it. When I was a teenager I worried some about dating and boys and this big scar, which wouldn't be apparent until I took my shirt off and then, hey! Surprise! Your girlfriend looks like she was in a knife fight! I had many of the same worries you have expressed. Would it be a turn off? Would guys be repulsed? It was something I was pretty scared of, because, really, teenage guys are not known for their graceful reactions to surprises.
All of this worry was needless. The most I've ever gotten is "Woah. Um, what happened?" Dudes just do not care. As far as I can tell, the only people who are interested at all are doctors, who find it confusingly positioned.
So, yeah. I'm not sure this will be helpful, given that my scars are not facial, but I hope it helps you. Your concern is completely understandable, but probably misplaced. Carry yourself with confidence, even if you don't feel it inside. People will almost certainly not notice the scars if you don't bring their attention to them.
posted by Adridne at 1:23 PM on May 26, 2010

What I really need is to learn to say fuck it and get over it.


I have a minor congenital facial deformity. As a child, people asked me about it constantly - every introduction required yet another explanation, and some people would bring it up every time they saw me, as if something might have changed. Then when I was fourteen I had corrective surgery. It was not entirely successful, but the questions just stopped. I've come to realize that it was basically due to my attitude about it: I had had fixed at as best possible and could live with that, so everyone else needed to just deal. Now it's almost a decade later and I think time has basically undone the surgery, but I myself still don't act like like there's anything wrong/worth discussing. The only ones to ever ask now are children and even then it's very rare, and always phrased as "I noticed this and wondered why".

Maybe people do judge me for it, though -- but doesn't it sound so ridiculous when I say it that way? What would they have to be judgmental about in either of our cases? I was born, and you were in an accident -- hardly worth mentioning to anyone worth our while.
posted by teremala at 1:40 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Who cares if people notice the scars or not – you notice them, and they bother you. It's likely something that will bother you for the rest of your life.

Get them removed by a good plastic surgeon. The cost is lower than you might think (especially if you're already paying for Retin-A out of pocket, assuming it was prescribed for purely cosmetic reasons), it's a very quick procedure, and in my experience, the results on my face were fantastic.
posted by halogen at 1:47 PM on May 26, 2010

I have a scar on my right forearm that is about three inches long and an inch wide, and very shiny and weirdly textured. It's slightly less visible when I don't have a tan. So, every summer, people I have known for months or years always wind up asking me, "What happened to your arm?" So here I have this scar the size of a bottle of lotion on a very visible part of my body, and no one even notices it normally. I actually went on a date recently with a guy I'd seen five or six times, and he didn't notice it until just then.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:01 PM on May 26, 2010

A very close relative has a 3/4-inch scar on her right cheek. She works on and off as a commercial model. You may have seen her in your Sunday ad circular playing the role of "Mom holding plate of Pizza Rolls" or the like. Scar not an issue.
posted by chazlarson at 2:02 PM on May 26, 2010

I have a facial scar that you can't really see that well anymore, but it was more prominent in younger years. People notice. "How'd you get that scar?" they'd ask. And then it was over. I'm a guy, and we do get more forgiveness in the roughness and scars category - it can even be a plus. So I'm not a great example of whether scars get you rejected by potential mates or not - I did fine in that department. But I can confirm that people do notice, and that nobody ever seemed to mind. Without seeing how noticeable yours are, I can't guess at what percentage of guys might rule you out because of them or if people would use a scar-related nickname for you lightheartedly behind your back. If they were pretty bad, yes, I know plenty of guys that, when surveying all the possibilities out there, would put a bad scarface in the discard pile. "Too bad about those scars" they might say. At least the younger versions of the people I know might have said that. This would be offset to some degree by the underlying level of hotness. Some people would never be able to get past it, and as others have said, would be doing you a favor by removing themselves. But in the end, as you interact with people and get to know people, really I think even past a pretty minimal level of familiarity, the scars would not be a disqualifier for having relationships of various kinds with them. You're a living breathing woman standing there in front of them, which for many guys is already enough. And with age, as people learn the often hard lessons of loss of youth, little things like that take a back back back seat to finding someone to be happy with. Your last sentence is the right thought, and you'll get there. Accept, put in perspective, and move forward with all of the myriad other things about yourself that people will experience. As for the self-esteem, be aware that nothing is hotter than confidence. Own it!
posted by Askr at 2:05 PM on May 26, 2010

I'm still going, "what Tina Fey scar?"
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:31 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Echoing others above; I had no idea Tina Fey had a scar. I had never noticed and just did an image search and it took me a while to find it on her face. So, for whatever that's worth.

Scars are sexy, when I notice them.
posted by sa3z at 2:43 PM on May 26, 2010

Given the situation you describe, I think you'd be feeling self-conscious regardless of whether you have scars or not. Like if you didn't have scars, you'd be feeling self-conscious about your hair, or the way that you tend to hold one shoulder higher than the other, or the slight asymmetry visible in your left ankle when the light is right.

It's okay. Accept it for what it is: a manifestation of your insecurity. Who wouldn't be insecure at "getting back into dating after being single for awhile"? It's normal, it's an imaginary problem, it's something you'll have to get past.

WE love you. That's the important thing, right?!
posted by ErikaB at 2:56 PM on May 26, 2010

I think you need a good way of talking about your scars. One that will get the topic out in the open without too much fuss and embarassment for you, and possibly, if you are the storytelling type, a good story.
If you say people will notice them, then I believe you. But what they will notice most, I think, is how you treat your own scars. If you mumble something, they will remember you as the person who was uncomfortable in her own skin. If you are able, when you notice them noticing, to talk freely about how you got those scars in an accident and how it is still difficult for you to adjust but you're getting there (if this is true for you), then they will remember you as being pretty awesome, easy to be with and brave.

If the scars themselves are enough to drive them away, then they were not good people to date and I agree with the person who said you should see this as a kind of promotion.

I think your scars are a twofold opportunity.
1) you can see by the way people react to them whether they are superficial, gauche, or just the right kind of interested and openminded.
2) it is an opportunity for you to show character and ease.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:57 PM on May 26, 2010

Thirding scars are sexy and seconding the Dollhouse bit.
posted by NoraReed at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2010

Still so young to travel so far
Old enough to know who you are
Wise enough to carry the scars
Without any blame, there's no one to blame

-- Crowded House, "Distant Sun"
posted by kirkaracha at 3:22 PM on May 26, 2010

My eyes are two different shapes (one is pretty much a lazy eye that just can't keep up). I've gotten everything from "I didn't know anything was up with your other eye!" to "hey, what's wrong with your face?" from someone who was barely an acquaintance. for what it's worth, i told them about what happened to my eye that made it the way it is in the most pathetic sounding way possible to make them feel shitty for even having the nerve to ask me such a question. If someone really wouldn't be interested in me because my eyes are uneven, well, fuck em.

You already know you are probably making a bigger deal out of your scars then they are. However, if it made you feel a little more secure, you could always get a consultation with a makeup artist learn the best way to cover them up for dates and special occasions.
posted by inertia at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

So several years ago, I met this guy who had a huge scar on his cheek from getting his face stuck in a bicycle when he was really little (I don't even know how that's possible?). I thought "hm, he's cute. oh whoa, he has a scar, I wonder what it's from. man he has a really nice smile." As I became friends with him (and dated him for a little while), I realized that I totally stopped noticing the scar. If someone else asked me about his scar, I actually had to pause and think "what scar?" because I always forgot about it, even though it was like 5 inches long right across his cheek. People really stop noticing scars once they get to know you. And even if they get to know you, the scar won't be the first thing they notice. Just smile and charm them with your personality and good looks, just like this guy did.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 4:14 PM on May 26, 2010

I have a small scar on my face from some cosmetic surgery. I think it is SO obvious, however most people have trouble seeing it when I point it out (or they are being polite). That being said, it makes not a lick of difference what other people think of it if it bothers you. Suggestions of "scars are hot" and "who cares what other people think" are nice, but at the end of the day, people like me (and you) just wish they weren't there and want them to be less obvious.

For me, I moisturize it like crazy and make sure to NOT try to cover it up with makeup. I don't know exactly what your scars look like, but with mine, the more I attempt to hide it, the more it seems noticeable to me. A great moisturizer in the morning leaves my skin looking all glowy and I feel like that overshadows my scar. I also wear eye makeup which draws attention to my eyes and away from the offensive face part.
posted by tryniti at 4:39 PM on May 26, 2010

So many people have said it better than me, so I'll just tell you to put another chalk mark beside the 'scars don't mean a thing' option. In fact, I would probably be more inclined to talk to a woman with interesting scars.
posted by komara at 4:42 PM on May 26, 2010

Scars equal a lifetime of stories. But if you're not ready for your story to be told, Mother of Pearl can help minimize the look of scars.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 5:06 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The accident didn't kill you. You have scars from the accident, and they prove (to me, at least) that not only can you survive difficulty, there's a good chance that your story might be more interesting than the story of someone with no scars. I'm not going to go full-bore 'scars are sexy', because I think it's more nuanced than that: scars are interesting. Interesting people are more fun to talk to than uninteresting people. Uninteresting people, to me, are not sexy.

Like I said, the accident didn't kill you. Don't let your scars kill you. Own them. Realize that, if they ever come up in conversation, you have an interesting story to tell. Hell, you could even tell a different story every time! Did you hear about anonymous? I heard she got that scar rescuing a baby bear from a flooded river! Really? I heard she got the scar when she was in the Marines!

Own your scars. Have fun with them. (Spoken as a guy with a three inch scar down the middle of his spine)
posted by Ghidorah at 7:47 PM on May 26, 2010

2nding inertia. born crosseyed, still crosseyed.

thanks to decades of glasses, it's only noticeable when I'm really tired. sometimes youngsters with bad manners will look over their shoulders when I speak to them. I just say, "yeah, I *am* talking to you. can you tell me what time the number 22 bus comes?"

everybody who matters to me thinks I'm gorgeous, even though I've been told my normal gaze goes somewhere over the recipient's left shoulder. there are hundreds of millions of ordinary-looking people. congratulations on your distinguishing marks.

oh, but don't knock over any convenience stores looking like that ;-)
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:50 PM on May 26, 2010

I know of two girls that have facial scars. One got it from being stabbed, the other one from a potentially fatal accident (no one was even seriously injured fortunately). And you know what, although they felt pretty bummed about the scars at one time, neither of them is concerned with their scars anymore.

I think scars add characters. IMO those two girls are ever more attractive BECAUSE of them. It's part of you and you should not be ashamed of it!
posted by jstarlee at 11:39 PM on May 26, 2010

When I was 12 I was in a car accident and was left with 250 stitches in my face. I have HUGE scars in very visible places -- just over each of my eyes, next to my mouth, a few tiny ones on my lips, and one that spans the entire width of my forehead through the eyebrows. People claim that they never see them, but I have a hard time believing that. I'd like to, but even though they've faded and sort of softened into my face, I just don't see how someone could NOT see them. Honestly, I think most people aren't really paying that much attention. I suspect they are more worried about their own scars, or weird eye shape, or hair issues, or late rent payments or whatever.

I can't give you any real advice on how to feel better about your scars. Mine came early, and they were a part of the package I had to deal with as a teenager figuring out identity, the definition of beauty, self-esteem, relationships, etc. (I can imagine that is somewhat easier to adjust to than becoming scarred as an adult.) There was, for me anyway, some initial shock at the fact that I was so irrevocably changed. I felt so helpless and angry, and I mourned the loss of some imagined perfection that I could never realize. I can also tell you that I USED my scars as a funnel for self-esteem issues. It's a lot easier to assume that a person doesn't like me/is looking at me funny/is uncomfortable around me because of my scars than to admit that I'm abrasive/I'm wearing a ridiculous outfit/I freak out around strangers/etc.

What I really need is to learn to say fuck it and get over it.
Trust your instincts here. The thing is, I wouldn't trade my scars - and the lessons I have learned because of them - for anything. I was forced to define beauty using more terms than "physical attractiveness." I learned about the necessity of sunscreen, so I'll never go all leathery from sun damage (seriously, the scar tissue stays white while everything else gets tanned or burnt in my case - sunscreen is your friend). I've learned that some people are just assholes who can't see past the superficial, but these people are not worth your time. I've learned that the people close to me really do love me for who I am. They have to because I'm "flawed."* I've learned that people have scars because they've Lived Life and Shit Happens. They usually come with interesting stories of badassery or death defiance. So, if you can find a way to make them work for you, instead of fighting against them, it will get easier. Eventually, they will just be another part of your face and you may not even notice them yourself anymore.

*I don't really think I'm flawed. Scarface Girls unite!
posted by Eumachia L F at 12:21 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think scars are kind of cool and hot. They keep people from looking generic. Especially if you're otherwise attractive, your scars will keep you from looking like those generically attractive people the media inundates us with. I don't know about you, but I can't even differentiate people like that in real life anymore; people are so used to seeing "attractive" people that now people need something special about them to be worth noticing. I'm willing to bet if I saw you without scars I wouldn't even process you -- what's one more attractive person? -- whereas with a few scars I might notice and think, "Whoa, she's hot."

So consider them a good thing, even if people notice them.
posted by Nattie at 10:33 AM on May 27, 2010

Oh, man, I just read KateHasQuestions's comment and it reminded me my husband has a facial thing I completely forgot about. He has this little nub on one of his cheekbones that was going to be a third ear, hahaha. Yeah, no one notices, and I'll forget it's there for years at a time.
posted by Nattie at 10:36 AM on May 27, 2010

I have a huge crainiotomy scar the whole length of my head and it is usually hidden by hair but sometimes looks like a denty part. It's literally a skull trench! I try to have a sense of humor about it and that helps when people say dumb stuff about it. Once one of my friends tried to color it in with a sharpie the color of my hair before I went on a date! My vote is scars are sexy, too, especially when they are not lumpy skull ones.
posted by ShadePlant at 11:13 AM on May 27, 2010

A lot of people actually find scars attractive, in the same way that people like redheads or freckles.
posted by Phalene at 5:13 PM on May 27, 2010

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