Out in the Open

'Somebody asked if I was me'

Rebecca Rosenblum fixed her jaw pain but opened a Pandora’s box when the surgical procedure changed how she looked — and how she related to her appearance.

Rebecca Rosenblum used to look, as she puts it, "horsey." But she says she was satisfied with her appearance.

When she started getting severe jaw pain, she was told the fix would involve her jawbone being broken and then reset. What she didn't know at the time was that the surgery would alter her appearance and how she related to herself. 
Rebecca Rosenblum underwent jaw surgery that ended up changing her appearance. (Mark Raynes Roberts)

"I started to see the surgeon and the surgeon was very excited about how pretty I was going to be after the surgery. And I was just horrified. I had no notion at that point that I was going to look different, and as soon as I said that I didn't want that [to the surgeon] — I didn't want to change my appearance — he said 'Well, you don't look normal now.'"

Rebecca says she felt pressure from the doctor who would operate on her to accept the cosmetic part of her surgery, to the point where he gave her an ultimatum: he would not operate if she continued to argue with him.

She gave in, knowing she needed to fix the jaw pain that plagued her.

"To him, a very respected surgeon, it would be embarrassing for his final product not to look the way he felt I should."

Following the surgery, the bones took a while to settle. This, along with mixed reactions from family and friends when seeing her new face, complicated how she felt about her appearance and her new face.

"Some people would go right by me. Somebody asked if I was me. And other people didn't notice."

Two years after her surgery, Rebecca published her first book. She says getting headshots for it was a meaningful moment. It was then that she realized "this is going to be the me going forward."

Rebecca says this experience changed how she thinks about her appearance and its permanence.

"I think it made me less invested in how I look. It was so beside the point in the end. It's kind of allowed me to pull back from certain ways of thinking about my appearance and just let stuff go a bit more and focus on things that are less visual. I can do a lot of other things that are going to be more important than this change."

Rebecca Rosenblum's latest novel is titled So Much Love.