Growing up, I took the inherited traits from my parents for granted. The features I loved on them were apparently not available for passing down via genetic selection; my Mum’s sea-glass eyes and Dad’s strong jawline becoming things I’d envy from a distance.
Instead I got my Dad’s nose and boring brown eyes. Mum gave me her small chin and cheekbones, but mine never gained the same pronounced quality – which has been a source of bitterness for many years. After all, what’s the point of sharing DNA with these people if you don’t get any of the good bits?
Almost inevitably, when I became a teenager I began to resent the hodgepodge of people on my face, wishing for anyone else’s features than the ones I’d been landed with. Dad’s brown eyes made him look handsome but seemed watery and plain on me. Mum’s small chin didn’t look sweet either, it scooped into my soft jaw and looked misplaced.
The features that looked beautiful on my parents looked strange and pasted on me. For years, I felt like a hastily-made copy that didn’t hold a candle to the originals. The more I loathed myself, the more I found myself yearning for the model-looks I was seeing in magazine spreads and on Instagram. I’d spend hours imagining myself with pillowy lips and sculpted cheekbones that everyone else seemed to possess.
But when I was seventeen, Dad died after a long, drawn-out illness with bowel cancer. Over four years I saw the effects of chemotherapy and surgery play out across his face and body: his hands oozed blood from where they had cracked, and his face swelled with angry red welts as a side-effect from his treatment.
When he finally passed, I wasn’t sure who the man in the coffin was. He looked like Dad, sure, but I struggled to place him against the vibrant father I knew from my childhood. It was agonising to know that every part of my Dad as I’d known him, healthy and sick, was gone from the world.
After his funeral, I remember looking in our bathroom mirror and staring into my reflection. The girl staring back looked terrible. Then for a split second, I thought I saw my Dad. It sounds stupid, but in a moment of sheer exhaustion, grief (or even madness at this point) – he looked back at me. And it was the eyes that stayed. Red-rimmed and bloodshot, those brown irises were steady in their existence. He was here. He always had been. And now I keep him alive with me.
After so many years of hating the face I was born with, it finally clicked: I’d been given a genetic gift. There is a strange weight in carrying the image of someone who’s gone, but I also have my Mum’s likeness and her sage words in my ear: “you’re your own person, too.”
There’s so much pressure on us to conform to certain standards of beauty, so much so that we want to cast away the traits that form our identity in pursuit of it. But really, we should be celebrating them! Our faces show our histories and in turn, we take our inherited traits into the future; including the features from those who are no longer with us.