It was 1996 when puberty dealt me its final, mocking blow. I had woken up to an itchy chin, and I assumed I’d been bitten by a mosquito. I looked in the bathroom mirror to confirm the bite and instead saw an inch-long hair growing out of my chin.
I shaved my entire face except for the eyebrows.
Though I managed to hide it well, my own obsession with my chin gave me away. I always fidgeted with it to see if any new hairs had sprouted. The excessive touching led to irritation and breakouts. Shaving the uneven skin led to nicks. Applying depilatories, though it worked initially, seemed to have a nourishing effect on my hair follicles, producing thicker strands that grew faster. I resolved to pluck them at first sight, but would often stick my chin into turtlenecks out of frustration.
I fixated on it and got pretty down on myself--until I met my Aunt Bert, my extended-family doppelgänger.
The first time I saw her, I was visibly stunned. I scanned every inch of her, rejoicing in my head over every similarity we had: the same thick thighs and calves paired with impossibly small ankles; the same wide yet softly rounded shoulders; the same cherub cheeks and dimples; the same lopsided smile.
And, finally, the same chin hair. The strands were gray and long, but she wore them proudly.
I remember when her sisters were trying to convince her to trim it along with her uneven mini-fro, which was shedding as a result of chemo, by jokingly mentioning the prospect of meeting a handsome suitor.
“I have cancer," she replied. "A man is the least of my worries.”
I giggled. She laughed. We also shared the same morbid sense of humor.
I knew her only during the two years before her death, yet she taught me, more than anyone else, about self-esteem, pride, and dignity, both in theory and in practice. Watching her endure everything cancer threw at her while looking like... well... me and loving herself completely cemented her impact. Without her I would not be the confident, borderline-narcissist I am today.
Ultimately, with Aunt Bert's help, I came to terms with my chin hair by realizing the following:
1. No one cared about her chin hair! This woman had a goatee growing under her chin and few people noticed. If only a handful of observant people noticed her quasi-beard, how many will notice the one strand I forgot to pluck?
2. She didn’t care if anyone noticed her chin hair! If others noticed it, most were too embarrassed to say anything about it. The audacious few who spoke up looked like insensitive a-holes picking on a cancer patient’s appearance. Either way, she was unfazed. Win-win!
3. Life is too short to worry about something as inconsequential as chin hair. Just figure out what you want to do with it and move on. Want to keep it? (It’s winter. No judgement here.) Do you, boo. Tweeze, wax, shave, laser or leave it be. Just make a choice and move on.
As I age and start to look more like my equally alluring mother, I won’t betray the lessons my aunt taught me.
The greatest gift of a doppelgänger is the opportunity to look at the things you dislike about yourself objectively. I found my aunt so beautiful and amazing that, by extension, I began to see myself through the same lens.
Sometimes we can be so hard on ourselves that we fail to see all that is right with us. Not everyone will encounter a doppelgänger and have the kind of experience I did, but a lookalike isn't a prerequisite for accepting your supposed flaws. All you need is a mirror.