When you're a kid, you don't worry what anyone thinks. You go around saying whatever pops into your head or picking your teeth, and it never occurs to you that someone might think you're gross, awkward, or ridiculous. That was me — picking my nose, snorting when I laughed, wearing white after Labor Day — I just was who I was.
That all changed one day at the tender age of twelve when I was getting ready for a family photo. We were having a formal family portrait taken with our dogs (doesn't everyone do that?), and I was getting frustrated with my bangs. I couldn't get them to do whatever a twelve-year-old in 1985 wanted bangs to do.
So I went into my parents' bathroom, all dressed up, with my hair done as best I could manage, and asked my mother, "Am I pretty?" She looked at me and said, "You will be when we get your nose done."
I was stunned. My nose, as noses tend to be, was right in the middle of my face, and I had just been told that it was ugly. So long, innocence.
To be fair, let the record show that my mother has absolutely no recollection of making this comment. I know this because in high school I took a class called Human Development, taught by Mrs. Wildflower. In it we had to keep a journal (her name was Mrs. Wildflower — what did you expect?), and when Mrs. Wildflower read my story about the nose incident, she called my parents. That afternoon I came home to find my mother crying. She said, "I never said that. I'd never say something like that." I'm sure she was telling the truth as she remembered it.
Nonetheless, I had my nose done the minute I turned sixteen. Or didn't you hear? But what I realized as a twelve-year-old was bigger than that I was destined for the plastic surgeon's chair. I realized that how other people saw me wasn't necessarily how I saw myself. Feeling pretty or smart or happy wasn't all there was to it. What I hadn't considered before was how I was perceived. And it wasn't the last criticism I'd hear about my nose.
Little did I know then how huge a role public perception would play in my life. My nose, and pretty much every other "prominent" body part and feature, would be prey to gossip and tabloids in just a few years. But the unwanted attention wasn't limited to my body.
According to the press, I was the rich, spoiled daughter of TV producer Aaron Spelling. They claimed I grew up in California's largest single-family residence. They said that my father had fake snow made on his Beverly Hills lawn for Christmas. They said I was the ultimate example of nepotism, a lousy actor who nonetheless scored a lead role in her father's hit TV show. They pigeonholed me as my character on Beverly Hills, 90210 : Donna Martin, the ditzy blonde virgin. They later talked about my wedding, my divorce, and my second wedding. They reported that I'd been disinherited and was feuding with my mother. They told about the birth of my son. What I learned from my ugly nose was true times a million: The details of my life were and would always be considered public property.