Ugly Eyes

I don’t have pretty eyes.  Well, actually, both of my eyes are pretty individually but together the effect is not good.  My eyes look crossed.

This abnormality has no health effects for me whatsoever.  Some people with cross-eyes have double vision.  In such cases, surgical correction resolves the problem.  Not me. My resourceful brain looks out through my weird eyes without seeing double. In fact, ophthalmologists have informed me that if I did surgically alter my eyes, I would ruin my vision.  Since it is an ophthalmologist’s job to make people see better, not to make them prettier, ophthalmologists have universally advised me against any intervention.

That is not the case with everyone else in the world.

A good number of well-meaning (?) friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers have gone out of their way to encourage me to do something about my eyes, not that I ever asked any of them for their opinions.  Take this conversation with a stranger on a bus as an example:

eyesRandom Stranger:  “Your eyes are crossed.  You should get surgery and straighten them out.”

Me: “I know they look like that but it doesn’t affect my vision.  My ophthalmologist says that surgery would make me see double.”

Random Stranger:  “Well, you could wear glasses from then on to correct the double vision.  That would make you look better anyway because the glasses would cover your eyes.”

Seriously? Random Stranger thought I looked so hideous that I would be better off spending outrageous amounts of money operating on my healthy eyes with the intended result of ruining my vision for the rest of my life? Are eyes for seeing or for looking at?

I shouldn’t have been so shocked.  People choose looks over health all the time when they submit themselves to dangerous and expensive surgeries (or diets or fad treatments) to alter their appearance, even if these attacks actually make their bodies less functional.  Why should I be surprised that people expect the same from me?

When I was growing up, my gorgeous mother was particularly vexed by my eye situation. I inherited her lovely blue eye color (thanks, Mom) but it pained her to see that pretty color wasted by such lousy presentation. Throughout my childhood she tried to help, diligently bringing me to a variety of eye specialists in the hopes of arriving at a satisfactory solution. Fortunately, my mom kept the importance of my physical beauty in better perspective than that stranger on the bus; she was not willing to subject me to a surgery that would destroy my vision, but more than once, I saw her beautiful eyes cry tears of frustration when yet another doctor came to the same conclusions.

My own ugly eyes released many a tear as well, especially during my teen years.  Mom took my tears as evidence of how badly I wanted attractive eyes.  She was partially correct. I wish I could say that I am above caring about how I look, that my ugly eyes don’t bother me. That isn’t true. However, while I sometimes glare at my eyes in the mirror or sigh as I look at photographs of myself, I am only moved to tears when other people make a big deal about my eyes.  The negative attention bothers me more than the irregular facial feature that provokes it.

At one point, after one of those crying sessions, my mom encouraged me to get a priesthood blessing for my eyes.  The blessing promised me that eventually science would come to my aid and resolve my ugly eye problem.

That blessing was about two decades ago. My faith in that prophecy has since waned.  As my first wrinkles begin to appear around my eyes, I wonder if it would be worth the bother at this point to submit to intervention, even if a harmless one were discovered. Haven’t I demonstrated that even with ugly eyes, I could find a mate, hold a job and even appear on television occasionally? Perhaps pretty eyes aren’t as necessary as friends, relatives, acquaintances, strangers, and I thought.

However, another part of me can picture myself seizing the opportunity if science finally finds the cure for ugly eyes.  Maybe I’ll be an old grandma, retired and already free from any risk of workplace discrimination, decades past the taunts of childhood peers or rejection from superficial boyfriends.  At that point, I would have no rational need to beautify my eyes, which would be hidden behind bifocals, anyway. Would I be happy that science had figured out how to make me a slightly prettier old lady?  Or would I be disappointed in myself, because I still cared so much about something so trivial?

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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26 Responses

  1. No Smiley Face Here says:

    Almost all of us have something we’d like to change about our appearance. I have greenish colored teeth. Not stained or unclean, so, that no amount of bleaching will help. Because of that, I rarely smile with my lips parted, especially for photos. I guess I could spend thousands of dollars for veneers, have teeth capped, and so forth, if I really felt that strongly about them. I have always been self conscience about them. I also wait for science to come up with a simple solution, and though it might be trivial, would probably have something done if it didn’t involve any damage to my teeth. They may not be pretty but they’re solidly built. I know some parents have surgery performed on their Down Syndrome children to make them look less “Downish.” Hard to judge them for that effort as everyone must make their own choices and live with them.

  2. Diane says:

    I had a cleft palate when I was born, I had corrective surgery when I was nine, my speech is as good as it gets, its quite nasally. I’ve had people tell me I should talk into a tape recorder as if listening to what’s on the tape recorder will help me when I’m speaking, I’ve also had teachers come up and hold my nose close.(Not kidding) In college, I was forced to take a public speaking class in order to obtain my degree and my professor felt free to tell me he flat out did not like the sound of my voice and quite enjoyed interrupting me in an effort to all out humiliate me.

    The thing is, I don’t hear the nasal y tone of my voice so none of these things matter. I wish people would stop looking and paying attention to how people look, sound and listen to what we have to offer to people. I think we all get along a lot better

  3. Em says:

    I get tired of the weird expectations of the world. It isn’t enough that magazines tell us how we should look, we’re actually policing each other to make it happen. My hair is light brown/dark blonde. A color that has many uncharitable names including mousy, dishwasher blonde and dirty blonde. Last week my hairstylist referred to the color as “drab” and, like everyone in her profession who has looked at my head, urged me to get highlights. Why does the world need another bottle blonde? Really, why? Do we not have enough women pretending to be naturally blonde? I sit at the back of my chapel and can see everyone’s head. The answer is yes, we have enough women who wish they were blonde. I feel the nondescript color actually makes me interesting and unique because you can’t dye your hair this color, and everyone is so busy being a dusky brunette or a peppy blonde or a fiery redhead that we mice actually have something unique going.

    Obviously I could change my hair with no adverse effects, unlike your eyes. But I wish we didn’t assume that someone else WANTED to look different, NEEDED to look different.

    • Rachel says:

      Em, I really appreciate this comment. When I was a child I was blonde. And then that changed. My hair became a darker version of the color you describe. I had one sibling with beautiful auburn hair, another with beautiful dark dark brown hair, some with lighter hair (to count as the “pretty” blonde people try to get), and then there was me. My mom said no dying our hair until we were 18, but when I was 16 I convinced my sister to give me highlights–and they were light. Then later I dyed my hair black. And then blonde again. And then red. And etc. It was always changing, and I didn’t feel “pretty” unless it was some freshly dyed, very pigmented color. On my mission my own hair color started to grow out, and when I was in my last area, I cut it short enough that my hair was all mine. It felt so good. And then for some reason when I got home I dyed it again. I am happy to say, though, that it has been entirely my own hair color for the last 4 or so years. And no, it is not as dark as I wish it was, but it is mine.

    • TopHat says:

      I have that hair, too. I haven’t dyed it in years and actually got it cut today. I mentioned thinking about dyeing it to my stylist and she said, “But you have such a wonderful color!” which absolutely shocked me. Because I cut my hair short, the few sunlight-induced highlights that I do have tend to get cut out. It’s hard to give it a textured look. I actually kept some of my length today just to have some sort of color variation.

      I’ve decided to call it “honey blond.”

  4. MB says:

    I predict that if that medical breakthrough comes when you are an “old lady” you will be happy for younger women who wish they could change their eyes but that you will have come to the point in your life where you are at peace with your unusual and intriguing eyes and will honestly and happily prefer to spend your time doing things other than recover from ocular surgery.

    Old ladyhood can be a pretty calm place to be.

    • Emily U says:

      I love this response.

      April, I have those wrinkles appearing, too, and while I guess I’m supposed to be lamenting them and rushing out to buy wrinkle creams, I kind of like them. I think the reason is that I’ve never loved my physical appearance and I’m glad to be in a phase of life where it matters less than it used to, and I expect it will continue to matter less and less. If I could only pick wisdom or beauty, I’d pick wisdom for sure. I think you’re a wise and compassionate woman, and can only assume that your experience having eyes that are lovely in a non-traditional way has played a role in making you so.

  5. Diane says:

    I also forgot to add, I am a 47 year old white woman who grew up in the 70’s. This statement alone does not really mean much, but put into context that I was the only white girl in my school who had a set a full lip. Well, I’ll leave it up to your imagination the names I use to get called.

    I have my just deserts now, because many of these same people are now pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to get the lips that I have naturally.(now slinking out of the room).

  6. Caroline says:

    Beautiful post, April.

    The commenters are right – we all have things we’d change about our bodies if we could. In my case it was a bump on my nose — which I’m not proud to say I had removed when I was 17. I’m sad that it was so important to me that I made that choice. But I also can’t deny that it meant a lot to me at the time. I’ve passed my nose genes onto my children, and I’m hopeful they will have better perspective than I did.

    • Rachel says:

      Caroline, I have one of those bumps, and desperately wanted to change it for many a years. I also dated a not-nice person who told me he would only marry me if I got a nose job and boob job. Needless to say, I did not get either, and did not marry him. But, I do understand. It took me a long time to be grateful for the nose I have, and to be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel happy that I see my dad in it, rather than silently being saddened by it. I figure it will mean even more that his face is in my face when he passes, and I look forward to telling my children whose nose it is.

    • Diane says:


      I remember watching Barbara Streisand give an interview once, the person( I forgot who it was) asked her if she ever considered getting a nose job. Her answer surprised me. She said “no, because she was afraid that if she got a nose job it would affect her singing voice”

  7. Rachel says:

    Once upon a time I read a beautiful blog post by the beautiful Ash Mae that I can’t track down now, but she wrote about a song or a poem with the line, “Love your unloved parts.” It stayed with me since that time, because I (as many of us) have those parts. For me it was and sometimes still is my nose, as I mentioned to Caroline, above. Ash Mae’s post helped me begin to love my nose, as did meeting someone else who saw beauty in what I could only see as ugly: it was simply a friend who once exclaimed, “But that’s your best feature!” when I told him it was a tad bit hard for me. Now I try to see it that way, as one of my best features, and something that makes me me, rather than one of many women with more dainty noses.

    I wish that human beings could be nicer to each other in general, and I often think that when human beings are not, it is because the world has made them feel fragile too. It is easier to feel a little bit tougher if the mirror is placed on someone else’s perceived inadequacies than on our own. But the real point, is that what the world says is inadequate is really enough.

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    My response is to say that your eyes aren’t ugly. Different maybe. Not ugly.

  9. spunky says:

    I LOVE what Kelly Ann said and second that. The irony of life- in wanting to be individual, yet look like everyone else (or what we perceive everyone else looks like). I love that your mother was so good to teach you that beauty is on the inside. Not everyone has that, and that, I think, is more valuable that anything appearance-related.

    Love this post. Thank you.

  10. Alisa says:

    I have many physical imperfections. My nose (which I had surgery on), my skin (which I’ve tried scores of prescriptions and regimens on), my body size (done lots of exercise there too). The thing is, what is worse than having these issues is the horrible comments people make. I would like to say I have been above it, but they have been awful. I’ll never forget when I was newly married and my mother took me to get a makeover with some lady who coached beauty queens. She asked about my irregular nose, and when I hesitated (already sheepish about the makeover accompanied by such an audience), my mother-in-law said, “It’s the kind of nose you would see on a plastic surgeon’s wall.” Eventually, that was the remark I used to justify the expense of the surgery to my husband, but it was only one in a long line of comments made to me. If others just didn’t care so much.

    I often hear people on feminist blogs talking about how horrible plastic surgery or other treatments are, and sometimes these bloggers (who I know in real life and are *gorgeous* women) will say, “I don’t do all my beauty routine for others, I do it for me, for my empowerment,” to show they’re somehow better than those of us just trying to get by without some stranger approaching us and embarrassing us about our appearance. I think there needs to be some sensitivity here. And I’m not saying my rhinoplasty was feminist. But let’s be a little more sensitive and realize those of us who grew up being made to feel insecure still might be working out our issues. Even when I see these empowering memes about body size and beautiful women of every size, it’s usually because they have great skin, so in some ways it just passes the discrimination on. What happens when a woman who has tried everything to clear her skin sees that? It’s still placing women’s importance in how beautiful she is to an outside standard.

    But speaking of body size and comments made by children, this article has a really great response from a mom to her daughter about having “fat” legs:

    And lastly, April, I’ve observed that your children have your absolutely gorgeous blue eyes, and I think they’re were lucky to get that from you.

    • Alisa says:

      It was my mother-in-law who took me for the makeover and made the comment. Sorry, I said it was my mother. She’s a good woman, but her comment hurt me deeply.

    • EmilyCC says:

      Alisa, thanks so much for the “fat legs” link. That’s the sort of example I need as I try to figure out how to talk to my kids about my body.

  11. ZD Eve says:

    As the mother of a son with dwarfism, I really appreciate this post, April. My son, who’s 2 1/2, doesn’t know he’s different yet, but he will soon. As a parent I feel daunted by the prospect of helping him accept the body he has when–inevitably–others are going to inform him that he’s less than acceptable.

  12. jks says:

    I’m so sorry that random strangers are so rude! I am also sorry your mother’s anxiety about it actually came through. I myself have anxiety that I try to protect my children from because I don’t want me worrying about a situation actually create more of a problem than the actual problem.
    As a mom, if I have an opinion or worry about one of my children’s physical features I make sure I never mention it in front of them. I refuse to be the one to give them a complex.
    If it is something that they notice, or others notice, I try to discuss it rationally. Also, once I emailed my family before visiting to ask them to refrain from commenting on my daughter’s height since she has to deal with comments daily about it and it might be a welcome change for her to have people greet her without comment about a physical feature.
    I rarely mention their appearance, but when I do I am matter of fact about it and always positive.
    Finally, one thing I try to teach them is that when someone loves you they like looking at you no matter what you look like.

  13. jenna says:

    I had to have some moles on my face removed last week in order to be tested for melonoma. I was tempted to just hide my bandaged face in the house, but ya know, life happens. While I normally am pretty average looking, this week people noticed me. First off I am sorry to everyone here who has to dealnwith rude strangers all the time. I thought it was interesting in my case how some people would run and hide when they saw my face, while others would go out of their way to smile and help me. It was interesting to see what kind of people I was interacting with. While I didn’t enjoy being so inconspicuous, I enjoyed others kindness.

  14. EmilyCC says:

    I love everything about this post, April. Thanks for sharing it.

    I’ve been thinking about this in the past couple days because of my son who has paralysis on one side of his face. This effects his speech, and we’ve been told that his speech might not improve because the affected muscles don’t tend to respond as well to the work outs we put him through every day.

    It’s a balance as I try to help him with his speech because it is frustrating for him to not be understood by others and helping him to embrace that crooked smile as much as I do.

  15. Starfoxy says:

    My husbands Grandma has eyes very much like yours, and she hated the way it made her look so much that she destroyed most of the pictures from her childhood. My husband and his mom would dearly love to have those pictures because it is the person that they love, not how she looks.
    And honestly I think that beauty non-compliance is one of the most feminist things a person can do, while at the same time also being one of the hardest things to do. I have nothing but admiration for you for putting your health first.

  16. Diane says:

    The Renfew Center for women who suffer eating disorders and located in a suburb of Philadelphia is holding a wear no make up day event. I was saddened when I read all the nasty comments by complete strangers as they attack the women at the center. Among some of the comments,’ Get a brain,(not directed at me, but at the very idea and the writer of the blog post) this event is going to change anything, donate some money so they (the women at the center )can get some therapy. I responded with what I thought was a thought provoking, if not compassionate response by saying that by not wearing makeup we learn to accept ourselves for who we are, for being unique and accepting of our imperfections. I also explained that by doing this we are forced to give up the non existent perfect body that Hollywood has been trying to force on both Women and men. Someone responded to my post by saying,” That is what ‘ugly”people say.

    This really makes me sad. But, would you go without makeup to go”‘ugly” for a day?

  17. Jessawhy says:


  18. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s hard to have facial features you don’t like very much.
    When I was younger I had an overgrown upper jaw (when my teeth closed my lips still had a ways to go). I had jaw surgery right after high school. I never knew how completely invasive it was until a few months ago when I observed the same surgeon performing the same surgery on a young woman. It was horrifying. There was scraping, drilling, sawing, cracking, pieces of bone flying about, blood, screws and plates. It was 3.5 hours long.
    Honestly, I can’t believe I (and my parents!) subjected myself to this kind of surgery to appease my vanity and self-esteem.
    In the end, my teeth are a little crooked (all of them, on a slight slant), one tooth died and is gray, and my upper gums are permanently numb. After seeing the procedure up close, I’m really lucky I didn’t have more problems.
    I’m very much in favor of women loving the bodies they have, but I struggled with it as a young woman and still do.

    It makes me sad that people who love you (as well as strangers) comment critically on your eyes. They are really beautiful, and just being a tiny bit off doesn’t take away from that.
    Maybe we can help you come up with good one-liners for rude strangers.

    “We all have something a little bit off about ourselves. I can see that yours is tact.”

  19. Viviana says:

    Well, I simply thought your eyes look beautiful. The colour on them is just an enhancement and not a “waste”

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