Jennifer Garner and me

I look in the mirror a lot not because I’m vain, necessarily, but because I’m constantly forgetting what I look like.

Really, I am. My appearance startles me all the time. Basic things about it. “Wait, is that really my chin? But for real now: is that actually how it looks? Does anyone have confirmation on this? Do we have proof of chin?”

It’s confusing: I look different in different lights, in different clothing, in different moods; I seem to morph ever-so-slightly with mild fluctuations in the atmosphere, shifting with faint variations in the ambient temperature. Sometimes when someone mentions that they think they saw me on the street the other day, in Cobble Hill, coming out of a burger place, bent furtively over an enormous double cheeseburger, I try frantically for a second to remember how I looked that day. Was it a good day? Did I look like a person I wanted to look like that day? The cheeseburger was good. I know that much.

I am a little surprised that I look like myself all the time to other people. What does that person look like? She teasingly eludes me.

In the evenings, as I grow third trimester tired and lose my ability to attentively smile and grimace at the appropriate moments in other people’s stories about their love lives, I have been watching more and more of the show Alias on Netflix. I love spy things. I love it when the woman spy parachutes into Romania or wherever in her plain, zipped up parachuting outfit and then she unzips it in a single, triumphant motion, and BAM! underneath is a sexy red evening gown with a plunging neckline! She just landed from 1,000 feet up in six-inch heels! And she will very soon be running in them, as the bad guys chase, but never catch her. I love that shit. It makes me want, for the millionth time, to wear wigs constantly. Why are we not all wearing wigs all the time? Wigs seem like so much fun.

(the dress is also bullet-proof, of course…source)

Anyway, Bear thinks Alias is kind of boring and bad, and every time he looks over my shoulder at my flickering computer screen, where Jennifer Garner is round house kicking an enemy of the state in her stilettos, he shakes his head and goes, “None of this makes any sense.” And then I go, “It’s a TV show.” And then he goes, “But it doesn’t make any sense! And she sounds like a little girl.”

Which she does. She sounds just like a little girl, with that sweet, whispery voice, her big, soft eyes always about to well with helpless tears. But she is not helpless! That’s the cool part! It’s feminist! See? She knows kung fu!

But really, if I’m being honest, Alias, for me, is partially just a show about Jennifer Garner’s face. And about her body, too. But definitely starring the perfect, sculpted lines of her jaw, the fullness of her always-pink lips, the clean simplicity of her little nose, her warm, wide eyes. Everything about her face is pure and neatly stated and lovely. She looks amazing in every single wig. It’s a wonder to watch. So many TV shows, it seems, are partly about whatever the plot is doing, and partly about how beautiful a woman is. Look at her in all of these different settings! She has to go undercover as a stripper again!


I suspect that if I had to go undercover, I would probably not be convincing as a stripper. I suspect that I would immediately twist my ankle on the parachute landing, and my six-inch heel would snap right off and I’d limp into the elegant Romanian party with the zipper stuck on my sporty parachuting outfit, one sparkling red spaghetti strap showing, asking if I could borrow someone’s cellphone so I could call the CIA and ask to be taken home—oh, and could I get a double cheeseburger while they are at it? International espionage makes me hungry.


I get up to pee because it’s been five whole minutes since I last peed, pausing Alias just as Jennifer Garner is poutily, deftly seducing a very dangerous Russian arms dealer, and my reflection in the bathroom mirror catches me off-guard. I have been looking at her face for too long. My own face is nothing like it. My own face is heavy, blotchy, uneven. The eyes are surprisingly close together—I don’t remember them being that close together—have they migrated? In the descriptions of the developing fetus, features are always migrating. “Week 20: your baby’s ears have migrated to their final position on either side of his head!” YES! It’s about friggin’ time.

“Week 28: your baby’s testicles have migrated down his abdomen and will soon settle in his scrotum, where they will hopefully stay.” What were they doing in his abdomen to begin with? Thank god I’m having a girl.

I think my baby’s ovaries have migrated to the right place now, and so have her eyes. But my eyes have not.

What is my face’s problem? Why does it not understand that pretty women have simple, sweet, even faces? Where did all of these bulky features come from? What’s with these weird shadows and lines? What the hell, man? Why can’t I just look like Jennifer Garner? Why can’t I at least look more feminine? It’s obnoxious.

(another necessary disguise. source)

I experience a moment of despair, in front of the mirror. This is it. I’m finished. I will never look truly good.

This is familiar—this plunge, this dawning horror at the sight of myself. As though I’ve forgotten just how bad it was and then BOOM: there it all is, like flicking on the glaring lights of an operating room, and there’s the bloody truth, laid out on the cold, metal table. There’s no hope for this one. Not even Dr. House could save this one.

This is familiar– the surprise, the rush of disappointment. Damnit, I thought I’d be prettier this time.

This is familiar– the little niggling voice that wonders aloud in my ear if I can even like myself, when I look like this.

Isn’t that what it comes down to? Can I ever truly like myself, really like myself, knowing that I will never, ever look even close to Jennifer Garner? Can I like myself, if it turns out that I don’t even have the potential, the slender hope, of being beautiful?

For a long time, I liked myself less every time I looked bad. It was automatic.

But I’m tired now. I’m too slow, like a brontosaurus or something, for the responsive, immediate viciousness of the beauty velociraptor. The despair subsides—I can’t maintain it. I blink at myself, taking this whole big, complicated scene in. I am a writer, I think. Do I look like a writer? Sure. Why not? Anyone can look like a writer.

I am nice, I think. Which is important to me. Do I look like someone who would be nice to other people? Sure!

I am not afraid to make big non-normative decisions. I am strong-minded. I definitely look like someone who could be strong-minded. Which makes me smile a little.

It’s funny—I never know what to expect when I look in the mirror, but I think that as a person, I feel increasingly consistent to myself. And increasingly, that feels more relevant, somehow. It means just a bit more. Do I actually need to look consistent? Is that important? Do I really need to look like anything? Maybe, just maybe, I don’t need the world to look at me the way it looks at Jennifer Garner. Maybe I never actually needed that, I just got confused. I just got misled along the way.

It’s easy for young women to get misled in this way, there are so many paths going in the wrong direction, laid out right there, practically under our feet already, just waiting for us to walk them. There are herds of other women on them already, leading the way, so that they can look like the only way to go. And then, over here in the underbrush, weaving and cracked and nervewrackingly deserted, here’s another way entirely. This way has lots of overlooks where you can stop and unpack a big, hearty lunch. With pie. God, I want pie. Peach crumb. Strawberry rhubarb, my absolute favorite.


(oh my god, just stop. you’re too perfect. source)

It is important to smile at yourself in the mirror, I think, especially when you look really bad. Especially when you look nothing at all like Jennifer Garner and never will. Especially when you can’t believe you even look like this. It is important to remind yourself that this image, this moment, is only part of a much longer story. It’s a story about an interesting woman with a lot worth liking about her. And you are a writer, aren’t you? So tell it well. And when you are running from the enemy or parachuting anywhere, definitely wear flats. It’s better that way. I’m no international spy, but I’m pretty smart, and that is one thing I’m sure of.

*  *  *

If you were a spy, what kind of undercover work would you hope to do? I’d definitely want to go to balls, if possible, I think. For the gowns.

Unroast: Today I love the way I look right after I trim my own hair. It always feels like an exciting new start.

And speaking of which, here are some hair shots from a reader named Selena. She says: I’m a high school student, and I was planning on cutting off all of my hair right before I graduated, because I don’t want to do the whole princess thing at grad and I get a kick out of surprising people. Then I discovered your blog in a very roundabout manner a few months ago, and reading about and seeing pictures of your fabulous short hair made me wonder why I was waiting so long (I won’t be graduating until next year). I really don’t miss it at all. I was so ready to do this it’s a wonder I didn’t just do it myself in my sleep or something. I donated all 184 grams (about 6.5 ounces) of it. 

Yeah…I have a really hard time not pulling a face if I know a camera is pointed at me. 

LOVE it. And thank you for finding my hair fabulous.


Kate on June 12th 2013 in beauty, body

23 Responses to “Jennifer Garner and me”

  1. Kae responded on 12 Jun 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Congratulations, Selena, on the new haircut – it’s fabulous! (& Congratulations on your graduation, too. :D )

    Love the post – I totally want to be a spy, too; apart from going to balls, I think I’d want to forge papers / passports / documents, and encrypt / decode messages (i.e. all the nerdy stuff).
    (I’m too brainfuzzled to comment on the more serious stuff..)

  2. J responded on 12 Jun 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    Oh my, how serenditpitous (is that the right word?). My partner has just caved and agreed to watch Alias with me (finally! Only took almost 5 years! We’ve just watched the Tarantino 2 parter The Box). I’m a sucker for a good JJ Abrams story, I think he should write for Doctor Who one day, he did the whole time travel thing quite well in the first Star Trek movie.

    I also used to ache while watching Jennifer Garner, but this time round, I’ve been admiring her arms for the thing of beauty and strength they are, not comparing them or being envious. But admiring from afar, I don’t think I could actually do her job, I’d find it too difficult being constantly inauthentic (and wanting to slam Sloan’s face into a brick wall at every given opportunity).

    And Selena – way to rock the short do! You look amazing! You (to paraphrase my favourite Doctor Who speech of recent years – from The Girl Who Waited) have become your haircut.

  3. Lucy responded on 12 Jun 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    “This is familiar– the surprise, the rush of disappointment. Damnit, I thought I’d be prettier this time.”

    I say this exact statement to myself about twice a week. The record player goes around and around. Some days louder than others.

    Thanks for this.

  4. Sarah responded on 12 Jun 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I loved Alias for all those reasons you mentioned.

    Have you seen Dollhouse? Not only is it a Joss Whedon series, but Eliza Dusku (my biggest girl crush) is the star.

    Unlike Alias, she actually ‘becomes’ the character she’s supposed to be playing (Through brain re-programming stuff).

  5. Jiminy responded on 13 Jun 2013 at 5:17 am #

    1st aside – It keeps cracking me up that spy series always need to have at least one episode happening in Romania (where things are really scary and Russian arm dealers roam the streets :) ). It feels sort of badass to come from a country that inspires that kind of `I have no idea what it’s like, but if shit happens, it must be there` :) )) .
    2nd aside – Could it be that cooking-baking programs are the equivalent of spy series in starring these absolutely perfect pies and dishes that you could never reproduce? I mean, the photo of the strawberry-rhubarb pie hit a much deeper chord of unattainable perfection in me than all of JG’s wigs put together :) )) .

    And finally – I know exactly what you mean with the surprise second reserved by the mirror. Mostly the one in the elevator at work, when I had just left home persuaded that it’s not that bad that particular day. But I have to say it felt worst of all during the last trimester of my pregnancies, when I simply postulated that I had some different business at that particular time and stopped pausing in front of any mirror at all. It just wasn’t me, while at the same time I was the most me. What I mea is… be this wonderful writer you are and become the awesome mom you have in you and you know what? I believe your face is going to grow into you as this `war` slowly subsides. (i hate it that I can’t manage short and snnappy comments! )

  6. Carina responded on 13 Jun 2013 at 6:49 am #

    What’s been bothering me lately is, why does the face matter so much? Really, why? I recently gave up wearing make-up, especially to work because I’m there… you know, to work. Not to be pretty.

    While I was applying my mascara on the train I kept seeing all the men, reading the paper and drinking their coffee, and I thought how their faces are totally acceptable as they are, so long as they’re clean. So I am taking the same approach, and feel infinitely better for it. It won’t help my career to try and paint myself as a Pretty Young Girl anyway, so I’m not going to. My motto now: this is my face. Get over it.

    Really love your blog, by the way.

  7. Kate responded on 13 Jun 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Of course re: Dollhouse :-)
    Actually, doesn’t it seem like the nerdy genius character is almost exactly the same in both?

  8. Kate responded on 13 Jun 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    That sounds like a really good motto.

  9. Erin Lee responded on 13 Jun 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    This is a funny post (not funny, ha-ha, the other kind of funny) because when that whole Dove commercial came out about women describing their appearances to an artist, I thought about what I’d say if someone asked me to describe my face. And I realized that I really, really couldn’t describe how my face looks. I don’t have any unique features, other than maybe too-thick eyebrows when I don’t pluck them enough, or my green eyes. Otherwise, the ‘shape’ of my chin, of my nose? I can say, it’s my mom’s nose, but that’s about as far as the thought goes. It’s not pointy, it’s not round. My chin isn’t pointy or particularly round. It’s just normal… ‘normal ME.’ So I thought maybe I should study my face and come up with adjectives for it. …. nahh. That might not turn out well, so I think I’ll hold off and not dissect my face just yet. I kind of like Normal Me the way I am, no need to delve into it for little things I dislike (too-large pores? monthly acne?).

  10. Ali responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 3:09 am #

    My secret spy power is the ability to blend and not to be noticed…. it’s a power that has only come on in recent years, when I was younger I was forever the subject of a sideways glance or even an admiring grin.

    I sometimes resent being invisible, but other times I am thankful for it as I can slip by and not feel judged (and yes, I know that mostly it is me that is doing the judging). And the sad bit is I’m only 41, surely that’s too young to have become invisible?!!

    I totally understand “being startled by my appearance”… I can go from pretty cute to freakish in less than one day. And in photos it gets even worse… I am continually asking myself “is that what I look like” or “I am more like this?” I am on a dating website and even though the photos are recent I worry that potential dates may not recognise me, as I think I am prettier without animation.

    But I’m learning to acknowledge that how I look is directly related to my mindset and that I can change my mindset. I have control over how I think!

    Thank you for another great post, I really enjoy how you write and how you see the humour. I am glad to have discovered you, thank you for making me smile. x

  11. Sarah responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 3:45 am #

    @ Kate

    Yes! what is it with the nerdy genius always being the same.

    I know lots of nerdy genii who are quite capable socially…most of them even have wives/girlfriends. Why do they always make the smart one socially inept?

  12. Sarah responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 3:53 am #

    @ Ali, “I think I am prettier without animation.”

    I think I’m the opposite, every photo I see of my self, its like my face is stuck between two expressions and I just end up looking strange and not me…actually I usually look drunk in photos.

  13. San D responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 9:35 am #

    Heck with being a spy, I had my heart set on being Jessica Fletcher, and now that I am 64, I think I am right for the part of detective! In a funny way it is in my blood, my father, early on, was a detective for awhile. We just came back from a quick jaunt to look at properties in Maine too! (looking for Cabot Cove, LOL). But as @Ali found out, when you become a woman of a certain age in our society you become invisible, and what a way to use THAT power, but to BECOME a detective! I fully expect you, Kate, to be writing about invisibility as you reach that “certain age”, but alas I’ll be dead, so I won’t be able to read your take on what it is like to be looked at as if you are not there.

  14. Kate responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 10:41 am #

    @San D
    I think you make an awesome detective–I’m glad I have you as a role model.

    Sometimes I think there are things about pregnancy, actually, that render me invisible. Or at least, differently visible. Like, weirdly asexual. I’ve been trying to put it into words but it’s hard.

  15. Leah responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Are you reading my mind, Kate? At what point am I not going to feel disappointed when I look in the mirror? How many times am I going to put myself through that disappointment? When I look at my reflection I cannot believe that people treat me as nicely as they do. Would I find my appearance pleasant to look at on someone else?

    I am in awe of women I find even moderately attractive. I find myself watching them, thinking to myself “oh, this is how attractive women behave” and trying to approximate their behavior. Oh it is frustrating and maddening.

    And men I find attractive? I can barely bring myself to look at them. I imagine them saying, “i hope that girl doesn’t look at me. Ha! why would she get her hopes up that I would be interested?”

    I remember as a teenager telling my mom I hated my appearance and in addition to telling me I was beautiful (which I never believed) she would say something about how I better learn to like how I looked because your appearance only gets worse when you get older.

  16. Lucy responded on 14 Jun 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I totally understand you.
    I have this huge girl crush on a model named Karmen Pedaru, sometimes I even think I might look like her. Then I look in the mirror, found out I don’t and feel awful. Thankfully, I usually get over it soon.

    Awesome post, as always!!!

  17. Barbara responded on 15 Jun 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I found this post very amusing and easy to relate to. I like to say that there are “friendly mirrors” and “unfriendly mirrors.” They seem to reflect our images differently. I can leave the house thinking I look acceptably good, catch my reflection somewhere else, and go “What was I thinking!”

    Has anyone noticed that in some stores/boutiques the mirror is angled in such a way as to give a lengthening, i.e. slimming, reflection?

  18. Ali responded on 16 Jun 2013 at 2:17 am #

    Oh! @Barbara I too believe in “friendly”/”unfriendly” mirrors! The mirrors in my home are often on my side, they’ll tell me that it’s ok to go outside… But outside, well, some of those mirrors are downright cruel and mock me as I walk past when only 5 minutes ago I got the ok from my mirror…

  19. Melinda responded on 17 Jun 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    No disrespect to Jennifer Garner, she is very pretty, but I find it interesting that you would compare your looks to hers, Kate. She has what I consider “generic” beauty. You have “unique” beauty. All of the things that you view as flaws are exquisite…it’s just a matter of finding the beauty in yourself when you look in the mirror.

    I’m one of those women who doesn’t look like Jennifer or Gwyneth or any of these women who are touted as beautiful. I’m a short mixed-race woman with pale skin, kinky curls, small boobs, big hips, short stubby legs, and all the things that society deems “ugly”. I’m still on the journey to seeing beauty in myself because for so long I’ve been told that who I am is unacceptable…hair too nappy, skin too light, not white enough, not black enough, too skinny, too fat, not pretty enough.

    But despite all this, I can’t think of a single celebrity I would want to look like. And my self-esteem is LOW. Maybe I wouldn’t mind having Halle Berry’s height and slender body (ditto with Jennifer Lawrence, she’s gorgeous!) but I really don’t want to trade places with them…except for having more money. Society and pretty much everyone tells me I should crawl into a hole because I’m not a silken-haired blonde with big boobs. I’m not white (per the racist “rules” of society), I’m not conventionally pretty, I’m flat-chested, and I’m not thin anymore. But I’m trying to fight my way out of this.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that you are enough. You have beauty. You are a woman of strength and character and substance. So you don’t look like some Hollywood version of beauty, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t beautiful. You are SO beautiful. Your honesty on this blog is so real and moving because you aren’t afraid to speak the truth. You are carrying life inside of you. That is beautiful. Your pixie/elf looks are beautiful. I would bet dollars to donuts that Jennifer Garner sometimes feels down when she looks in the mirror. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was pressure on her to lose the baby weight after having her daughters…no one is immune to this bullshit, not even the so-called “beautiful” ones.

  20. e responded on 19 Jun 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    I really love Jennifer Garner. I think she’s a great actress and she seems pretty down-to-earth (as far as celebrities go). Plus, I love that she didn’t seem to be in a huge rush to lose her baby weight after her various pregnancies. She seems like a girl I’d like to be friends with. But it’s worth mentioning that the face you describe in such detail isn’t her natural face. (Example, if the Internet is to be believed:

    Now, I don’t care one way or the other if she’s had work done; it’s completely her choice! I agree with you that she is stunning. But I think it’s only fair to point out to you that not even Jennifer Garner started out looking like Jennifer Garner, so in comparing yourself to her, you’re setting yourself up against a truly impossible standard. Truly. Impossible. Even for her!

    Anyway, thought I’d throw that out there. This was a lovely piece; I can completely relate to the thing you said about being surprised about looking like yourself all the time to other people. I am similarly baffled and perplexed by this! Thanks for sharing this.

  21. Diana Prince responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Fantastic blog! Birthday cake, and derivations there of, is my favorite food. This blog helps readjust the set point from where you think it should be (Jennifer Garner) to where it really is.

    I’m not exactly in your shows but my husband cheated and then left when our baby was 10 weeks old so I’m a single mom who is trying to raise a little girl, learn how to date, hold down a job, and make sure my house stays standing – all while trying to stay relatively fit, attractive and hip! (does my daughter even realize how hip a mom she is? She’s only 2 1/2). I write about my journey at

    (I just read your Jennifer Garner piece on the Huffington Post and re-posted it as well :)

  22. Eat the Damn Cake » stuff people do on TV but not in life (part 2) responded on 13 Nov 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    [...] Now, because I had so much fun coming up with my first list of stuff people do on TV/movies but not in real life, I wanted to do another. I’ve been keeping this list on my phone as I sit around endlessly nursing and watching (mostly bad) TV.  It will be immediately clear from this list that I tend to watch violent shows about spies. [...]

  23. Joy responded on 11 Apr 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    I had to comment. I never comment. But this time I had to. I’m obsessed with Alias at the moment. I actually laughed out loud at your post. That is a very rare thing indeed. So, I thought you should know. Funny stuff. Relatable stuff. After watching Alias for a while I sometimes pretend to be her, try to mash my face into expressions I think are hers…