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Alyssa Sheinmel on Identity and Beauty: “No matter what we look like, every day is valuable”


facelessAlyssa Sheinmel’s ‘Faceless’ is a moving story following one girl’s journey towards recovery and self-discovery. Maisie is forced to figure out ‘who she is’ again after a terrible accident. But it also puts the question to the reader ‘who are you?’ And are we placing too much pressure on ourselves to look a certain way?  Check out what author of ‘Faceless’ Alyssa Sheinmel has to say about the topic:

I have a confession to make. I spend plenty of time thinking about how I look. I think it’s fun to take selfies and wonder what angle is the most flattering. I enjoy staring at the clothes hanging in my closet and plan my outfit for the next day. I buy fashion magazines and dog-ear the pages with tips from celebrities (and their stylists and make-up artists) that promise to teach you how to put on your blush and eye-shadow just right. A few weeks ago, a group of my girlfriends came over and somehow all five of us ended up in my bathroom, going through my medicine cabinet, picking and choosing which products we thought would make our skin look the glowiest and which make-up would make our eyes look the brightest.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. I don’t know when it started. My mother used to spend a lot amount of time looking in the mirror – did I get it from her? In sixth grade, every single girl in my class at school was watching the same TV show and the morning after it aired we would discuss what our favorite characters wore and who looked good and who looked bad – did we learn it from each other?

Like a lot of people, my concern about how I looked was at its height when I was in high school and college. It was less fun then than it is now to say the least: I counted calories, certain that if I could just lose a little more weight, the rest of my life would fall into place – the boy I had a crush on would fall in love with me, I would make more friends, I would get better grades, I would get into the university of my choice. (What my weight had to do with my grades and college admissions, I don’t know; I think it was just part of the picture of how I wanted my life to be.) A few months into my freshman year at Barnard College, a girl who lived down the hall taught me how to make myself throw up, something I continued to do through graduation four years later.

I thought a lot about appearance and identity while I wrote my new novel, ‘Faceless’, the story of a sixteen-year-old girl named Maisie whose face is so badly injured that she chooses to undergo a face transplant – a rare but real procedure – to repair the damage. What if I woke up one morning with a different face? What would people think of me then? Not just the new people who hadn’t met me before, but people who’ve known me for years – would their opinions change? Would I seem like a different person to them because my outside had changed, even if my inside stayed the same? And, can a person’s inside stay the same, if her outside undergoes a radical change?

I tried to figure out the answers to those questions for my main character, but the truth is that even at the end of the novel, Maisie still doesn’t have all the answers. Because the truth is, perhaps these are questions for which there simply aren’t any real answers.

Maybe we spend so much time worrying about how we look on the outside because we’re always, almost constantly, changing on the inside and we want our outsides to reflect that. Maybe sometimes it’s the other way around and we want our insides to catch up to our outsides. Either way, perhaps with every selfie we snap, every shot we post on Instagram, we’re trying to capture not just how we look at that moment, but also how we feel, who we are. Even though we know perfectly well that those feelings can’t ever really be captured in a photograph.

In ‘Faceless’, after her accident and the surgery that follows, Maisie doesn’t look the way she thinks she should. She may never look the way she wishes she did. That’s something I could relate to, after having struggled with my own body obsession. If we’d had Instagram then (I know, I’m dating myself!), I’m sure I would’ve posted pictures only on my ‘thin days’ and run for cover on the days when I ‘felt fat’. Those days were worthless to me, so why would they be of interest to anyone else?

Of course, I would have been wrong. Because no matter what we look like, every day is valuable, even those that aren’t recorded in photographs and videos that we upload to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. I like to think that’s something Maisie understands by the end of ‘Faceless’. Maybe it’s something readers will take away from the novel as well.

You can get your copy of ‘Faceless’ here.

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Written by Sarah Clare

Sarah is the Lead Writer and Design Queen here at Maximum Pop! Sarah holds an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University, and a BA in Creative Writing with English Literature from Marjon (BIG UP THE MARJON MASSIVE!). Sarah joined MP! after seeing an advertisement for writers on Instagram – because where else would a design master find their dream job?

Sarah is currently working on an expose on Draco Malfoy in her spare time. But not if his father hears about it.

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