Hearing recently that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has Bell's Palsy, I was pleased to see her write about her experience in Alternet. Her story is very matter of fact, like much of her writing and other commentary, and I am proud to be in such good company. The story also had me asking an important question: Is Bell's Palsy a feminist issue?
After last week's post about the woman who wrote to Cary Tennis asking why she deserved Bell's, I've been thinking about it a lot. (A flare up in my residual spasming contributed a little, too.) So I've been talking to friends about it, and they have all said that they are amazed at my will to keep living my life as normally as I could through the worst of it. To which I have to answer, "Why would I stop living my life as normally as I could? Isn't that what we are supposed to do during a non-life threatening illness?"
One friend really brought it home for me. She said that it would devastate her, even though she saw me in the worst of my paralysis and didn't think I looked all that bad. But she feels uncomfortable leaving her house if her hair looks bad, or if she has a zit, or if she feels fat; how could she possibly brave the world with half of her face seemingly sliding off? For me, it was a no-brainer. My life couldn't wait for me to get over what was essentially a cosmetic condition. (Of course, that caught up with me when my facial muscles started to burn with pain and my ear became inflamed. There is a reason that the doctor tells you to rest!)
So, are we pushing women too far toward perfection? Are we too judgmental of imperfect women? Even my father will make insulting comments about women on TV who have a crooked tooth, asymmetrical eyes, or a big nose. I feel like my Bell's Palsy was a chance for me to face the world and force people to value me based on my personality, my intellect, all that stuff that really counts. I also realized that some people, complete strangers, were offended by my imposing my lopsided face on them. I got some of the rudest "Smile, dammit" comments I'd ever received. It all reinforced the idea that women are still considered decorative in our culture, as objects to be gazed upon, as if I were required to perform for men at all times. And I simply could not do that with Bell's Palsy.
I hope that most people with Bell's Palsy would take it as much in stride as possible, like I did. Unfortunately, after the Salon letter last week, I know that is not the case, and that there are women who are devastated by what is basically a temporary paralysis that is never life threatening. Vibrant women should not let facial paralysis cause emotional paralysis. I hope that someday, women will not be put under impossible pressure to maintain impossible beauty, and that they will embrace the flaws that life has given them. After all, my smile will always be wonky now, and my right eye will always close when I saw certain words. Such is Bell's Palsy, and I refuse to hide under a rock just to make people more comfortable.
Bell's Palsy Sufferers of the World, Unite and Take Over! ;-,