Her friends saw enviably rosy cheeks. She saw 18th-century painted ladies. Her dermatologist saw a skin condition with an unpronounceable name. After a few false starts, Jessica Winter finally stops turning red.
My facial features have never necessarily matched my inner state. My pupils are somewhat dilated most of the time, as if I’ve just bumped my head or dropped acid. In college I was constantly misplacing my glasses, and I was hopeless when it came to the minimal upkeep required for contact lenses; as a result, I tended to wander around campus squinting at people like the Wicked Witch sizing up Dorothy, even when I was in a Glinda kind of mood. I have a deviated septum—breathing through my nose was a skill I acquired only as a teenager—and a short upper lip, which means that in unguarded moments my mouth hangs open in bovine wonderment, even on days when I feel relatively confident of my three-digit IQ.
Then there are my cheeks. (The ones on my face.) Until recently, they blazed bright red day and night, in every season and emotional climate. I could spend an afternoon curled up on the sofa with a bag of Pirate’s Booty and a month’s worth of Us Weekly magazines and still look as if I’d just run a marathon in 100-degree heat, given birth at the finish line, and felt really embarrassed about it. For most people, a deep blush can signal exertion, coyness, shame, anger. For me, it could additionally indicate boredom, happiness, fatigue, or “What’s for lunch?”