The Angst of Surface Beauty

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By Cathy Rae Smith
Founder of Culture Magazine

Okay, though I would like to think of myself as having ample character, there are just those unexpected challenges life presents that can only be explained as character building. My recent such challenge has been this mysterious allergic reaction to who-knows-what that causes the facial tissue around my eyes (from brow to cheekbone) to get red, swollen, itchy, and dry (read: wrinkled). It started a year or two ago where it would just show up out of the blue, gradually diminish over the course of a week or so, and then be gone for months. This situation has progressed to the point of nearly perpetual red eye area irritation to varying degrees on a continual basis for the past couple months. I thought I could visually remedy this by literally painting on under eye cover over the red. Unfortunately, there was a reaction on the affected area, resulting in an even worse condition.

Finally, I went in to the dermatologist, who, to his credit, masked his look of horror fairly well, and said, “Guess why I’m here!” He offered to take a biopsy, which would mean extracting facial tissue from around my eye, resulting with bleeding, stitches, a black eye, and a “hopefully” small scar. Asking for something less dramatic to begin with, we have opted for allergy patch tests down my back, scheduled to come soon, at the point of this writing.

Feeling that one can rise above any challenge, I have pulled baseball caps low on my face and gone out into the world to do whatever I need to in casual mode. I have instructed fitness classes, laughing about my “little red monkey eyes” as we circled for the weight and stretching portion at the end of workout, in which I have been in the center, (think zoo exhibition).  There have been times when the more dressy option of chic, dark sunglasses supplied the appropriate fashion solution. All in all, I find that a large dash of humor liberally spread over the situation is in order. Ironically, a close friend of mine who is very fair-skinned recently visited the dermatologist. He gave her a prescribed cream that causes the chemistry of the sub-dermal tissue to change so it can be more resilient (to moderate sunlight and such). The two-week process of this cream actually causes the tissue to turn a violent red, rendering her face a look of raw hamburger, in my opinion. Now, I have been staying in and shying away from sporting my “little red monkey eyes” about town unless necessary. Whereas, she just goes out and about as though nothing is any different. However, in one another’s company, we have had hearty laughs as to who will scare more small children in our wake.

Now, coping calls for humor, but the quest continues for solutions to the cause. Though I had never seen or heard of such a thing as what I have recently experienced in the course of its outbreak, I have now encountered several people that have either experienced something like this or know women who have. My dentist said his wife has a similar occurrence lately, which looks like she has blackened eyes. He said people take a sidelong glance at him as a potential wife beater. He said she has been using vitamin E oil and bag balm around her eyes to keep the skin moist. I had been prescribed some creams for extreme outbreaks, but it is to be used sparingly as it can actually thin the skin and cause eye damage. Therefore, the vitamin E and bag balm sounds better to me. I had a nurse tell me that about a year ago she broke out in an all-over rash with no prior experience. I am of the layman’s opinion that there is something fairly common being experienced by several women, cropping up without warning. My guess is that it is probably a combination of hormonal changes within our current environmental existence. I shall keep you posted as to any “medical” insights that may come to light for me.

In the meantime, if you have encountered any such “inconveniences,” feel free to air your experiences. We may as well rally our spirits, find answers via our united efforts, laugh over the humor it can supply, and bask in the wealth of the beauty found through fellowship. After all, it is the beauty of friendship that has much greater substance over the beauty that merely goes skin deep, (especially when that skin is not being particularly cooperative).