Dear Prudence

I Look Like I’ve Been in a Fight, but That’s Just My Face

How do I get people to stop commenting on my genetic condition?

A woman holds a hand to her face and her other hand out in front as if to say, "Stop."
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a woman with dark circles under my eyes. It’s a genetic trait (my dad has them too), but my case is severe. They’re concentrated on the inner corners of my eyes and extend up the sides of my nose and onto the upper eyelids. My whole life people have commented on my eyes, asking if I’m tired or sick or (on a couple of memorable occasions) asking if I had been in a fight. I get plenty of sleep and have tried all the creams and home remedies under the sun, but the best I can do is wear a good concealer and foundation. I used to be very self-conscious about this and couldn’t bear to leave the house without makeup, but I’ve been able to more or less accept my appearance and now sometimes go to the gym or run a quick errand without makeup. Occasionally if I’m running late for work, I take my makeup bag with me and only apply concealer during my morning break. This happens only two or three times per year, but every time, without fail, multiple people comment on it and make me feel terribly self-conscious. Today my boss saw me, gasped, and asked me what happened. I said it is just my face, don’t worry, I’m fine. She said, “Oh, well you must really hate Mondays!”

That nearly brought me to tears. I hate feeling like I need to manage my own appearance to make other people more comfortable interacting with me, especially since this is a common cosmetic issue that doesn’t affect my job. I worked really hard to overcome my self-loathing over this, but it all comes rushing back when people say things to my face. My office is super casual, there is no dress code, and many of my female colleagues wear little to no makeup and don’t receive these types of comments. I know I need to talk to my boss and other colleagues about this, but I dread drawing more attention to my biggest insecurity, since I know people “mean well” and want to make sure I’m feeling OK. What can I do?

—I’m Fine, It’s Just My Face

I’m not sure that they do mean well! Or rather, I’m sure they like to think of themselves as generally caring, attentive people—who among us doesn’t like to think of ourselves that way?—but gasping at someone else’s face is not a well-intended action. It’s a thoughtless and an ill-bred one. There’s a reason we teach children to compose their faces at a young age. It’s an entry-level expectation in polite society that we don’t ask others about aspects of their appearance they cannot change, nor do we whistle or gasp or arrange our faces in such a way as to nonverbally communicate our shock, horror, or faux-concern. It’s very rude, it’s completely unnecessary, and your boss (and colleagues) are capable of restraining themselves. All you have to say to your boss and colleagues is, “Please don’t gasp when you see my face without makeup or draw attention to my undereye circles. I know they’re there. It’s genetic, there’s no amount of sleep or rest or water that makes them go away, and I’m doing just fine.” That’s a totally reasonable, professional request, and you don’t have to justify it by divulging a lot of personal information about how hard it’s been for you to accept this part of your appearance. Just make the request and let it stand on its own merits.

Dear Prudence,

My ex-husband was allowing our youngest son to live with him. They had a verbal agreement over paying rent. My son lost his job and was unable to pay the rent for a couple of months. My ex was charging my son $500 a month for just a room and was not including his meals in the arrangement and was quite mean to him. My ex had my son doing a lot of side jobs to help around the house. One day my son came home, and his dad kicked him out without a place to go and only gave him his essentials. He kept all his valuables and told him that when he paid his back rent, he would get the stuff back. My son is a budding musician and his dad kept his guitars, amps, keyboards, etc.

I am fuming. To kick your son out without a place to stay is bad enough, but to keep his stuff is almost theft in my opinion. I took my son in immediately. I want to blast my ex for this, but my son said no—he will pay him back to get his stuff, and then he is cutting ties with his dad for good. I have an older son who already cut ties with him. Their dad is an alcoholic and very unreasonable. I should feel sorry for the ex for alienating his sons for the way he treats them, but it’s his own fault. My question is: Is it theft that he won’t give my son his property back? Can I get the police involved?

—Collateral or Theft?

It may very well be illegal to hold on to a tenant’s (even one with an informal verbal lease) equipment in order to pursue back rent, but the solution isn’t for you to call the police on your adult son’s behalf. It’s for your son to contact the local tenants’ rights board, consult a lawyer, and learn more about his options. If he decides not to involve the police, even if you disagree, that’s his choice to make, and you shouldn’t do more than to offer (limited) advice. I can understand why you want to go after your ex-husband—he sounds like a very unpleasant person who’s alienated most of your children already. But you can’t make up for his failures as a parent by being overly solicitous on your end. You’re already helping your son out by giving him a place to stay. Let him figure out how he wants to honor the remainder of his financial agreement with his father, get his own stuff back, and move on. You might also want to come up with a written lease agreement with your son, while you’re at it. Even if you only want to charge him a token amount, I think it will be better for you two to agree at the outset what he owes, what you can reasonably expect of each other, and just how long you’re interested in letting him live with you.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

I have a 2.5-year-old son who is biracial (my partner is black/African American and I am white). He is quite verbal, which is super exciting, but he has that keen ear for words he should not say. While we have not run into this issue yet, I fear it is around the corner: My father-in-law uses the N-word often; he even refers to me by it sometimes, as well as most people in person and on TV. Our in-laws don’t live close, so he is not exposed to this often, but I know it is a matter of time before he picks up on this word in particular. My partner and I have discussed use of the word by our son in general terms, but we know he has no way to understand any nuance or meaning of it at this time—and that ultimately, I am not the appropriate parent to lead this talk anyway. I feel like other taboo words are a bit easier to brush aside if he says them, but not this word. What response should I be ready with if/when the day comes that my son repeats this term?