This award-winning essay is the germ for Grealy's later book, Autobiography of a Face (see this database). In this piece, Grealy describes the influence of her experiences of cancer, its treatments, and the resulting deformity of her face on her development as a person.

She explores how physical appearance influences one's sexual identity and over all self worth. She also explores how one's own interpretation of one's appearance can be self fulfilling. Only after a year of not looking at herself in the mirror, ironically at a time when she appears more "normal" than ever before, does Grealy learn to embrace her inner self and to see herself as more than ugly.


This short piece is immensely effective in exploring how appearance and the way the world reacts to us, shapes our identities. While it does not provide the kind of blow by blow detail related in her autobiography, this essay does present a number of poignant vignettes of growing up different and deformed. It effectively address the issue of how women are rewarded and punished for their appearance. It shows how this particular woman, shaped as well by her medical experiences, has huge barriers to overcome in order to fully accept herself.


First published in Harper's Magazine, February, 1993.

Primary Source

The Seasons of Women


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York




Gloria Norris

Page Count