Insults and Compliments by Sharon O’Donnell

As a woman gets older, thoughtless comments and insults (unintended or intended) can often have an impact on her self-esteem. OK, let’s stop writing in the third person here; it can often impact my self-esteem. 51 can be a precarious age, and it definitely is with me because so much of my life is changing as my oldest graduates from college and I’ve gone back to work full-time. Some dreams are still unrealized, and yet I’ve spend so much time pursuing that dream (writing/publication) that I’ve let other things go that I should have been paying attention, such as developing a daily exercise routine or a consistent skin-care regimen.

A few weeks ago I mentioned in a blog post that I had recently had some knots removed from my left arm. What I didn’t mention was the conversation I had with the plastic surgeon who removed them. He was a nice enough guy, but I’m not sure he realized how his words came across to me. He and his nurse started talking about a micro-dermabrasion treatment that she’d had recently at a related facility nearby. Feeling like I should join in the conversation, I asked about the procedure, which led to my doctor pointing to a mole under my left eye and asking, “Is that like a beauty mark or something?” From the way he said it, I could tell he thought it was more like the ‘something’ than a beauty mark.

“Well,” I began, “people used to call it a beauty mark when it was just a dark freckle under my eye, but over the years it’s just become pretty much a mole. But the dermatologist said that it’s a good mole and has no signs of cancer. So I’ve never seriously thought about taking it off.”

Still staring at my mole, the doctor replied, “That’s the first thing I’d do to your face.”

The FIRST thing??? I’d been in his office 10 minutes, and the man had a list! I didn’t dare ask what the second thing would be. I felt my self-esteem deflating and was amazed there wasn’t a gushing air sound surrounding me as all of my confidence was pulled out of me and into space — kind of like in the Space Jam movie when the aliens sucked all the talent out of the basketball stars. As a mom of boys, that is the image that popped into my head.

I took a deep breath and tried to appear unfazed. “But my dermatologist said if he took it off, it would leave a scar more noticeable than the mole itself,” I offered.

He was about to walk out the door but turned and glanced at me again. “No, no, it would be fine because you have enough wrinkles that it wouldn’t matter.” Whoa. Now that was a low blow. He and his nurse exchanged a quick look between them, and even he realized it. He smiled. “I’m not saying you have a lot of wrinkles, it’s just that you have enough that a small scar wouldn’t be noticeable.” I don’t even remember my response, but I think I just smiled and nodded. Quite frankly, I just wanted him to STOP TALKING. Please God, stop the man from talking.

Later, my husband told me the doctor was just trying to drum up business, but still — couldn’t he have done it in a slightly more positive way?

This happened about a month ago. So you will understand the significance of what happened to me last night. There I was getting some cilantro at the grocery store when I heard someone who was approaching me say, “Hey.” I looked to my left to see a man in a blue Carolina Tar Heels sweatshirt. He then said something, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It sounded a bit like ‘cilantro’ so he was probably asking me a question about it. “What’s that?” I asked, smiling. And then I heard music to my ears. “You’re not single are you?” he asked. I was so surprised that I didn’t know how to respond. So I just said, “No, no I’m not.” The guy sighed and nodded his head and then he was gone around the corner. Obviously, I am totally out of practice with this kind of thing. I haven’t had a compliment in 10 years, much less a pick-up line. I gave no witty comeback or anthing to let the guy know I wasn’t offended so he wouldn’t be embarrassed. Nothing like, “Not in the last 25 years,” said with an appreciative grin. I probably looked like a deer caught in the headlights. So disappointed in myself. I was not the same person who used to go out dancing with my friends in college and have no qualms about being approached or even doing the approaching. But still, it was a compliment. Kind of. In a way.

And I wonder if the good doctor has been hit on in the grocery store lately.

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