I didn’t realize until I was about twelve years old that not everyone got “Tomato Face”. I only figured it out at that point because when you hit that age, everything becomes Painfully Evident and you suddenly notice everything about yourself that is different (as in different = wrong) right at a time where you are not very emotionally equipped to handle “different”. Actually, I was different in a lot of ways, but mostly these other ways were not visibly different. However, there was no hiding Tomato Face.
As a thin, wiry, physically active child who ran around with the other neighborhood kids in the streets and fields playing dodge ball and baseball and even shot hoops with our next door neighbor (who was an Older Boy), I would ride my bicycle far and wide, pretending it was my horse, and be outside all day long. I even used to swing from a knotted rope in an apple tree. In retrospect, some of it sounds pretty idyllic. Of course, I would be getting quite the work out and would get sweaty – sometimes my head would even pound. I had no idea what my face looked like. I assumed everybody else was just like me. But apparently, when I do any kind of exertion, be it running, dancing, biking or even walking fast, my face gets bright red – alarmingly bright red, like a tomato. Tomato Face. It just took one kid to mention it, and then I looked in the mirror and there it was. Tomato Face, Tomato Face. Tomato Face!!! Tomato Face is a VNPS (Visibly Noticeable Physical Situation) which is one of those things we sometimes end up with and subsequently work to transcend as we grow.
As you can imagine this harmless but obvious VNPS did not bode well in gym class, that proving ground of hell where you either had to look terrific or excel in a sport or just be incredibly popular – none of which I was (has this changed at all in school?). Be it relay races, sit ups, gymnastics, whatever, my somewhat sallow complexion would get so red that I would look like I was sunburned. The other kids would be sweaty and looked like they had gotten a healthy workout, which actually translated into something casually cool. Conversely, I appeared to be having a stroke, which was a seriously dweeb condition.
TF concerns itself only with the face. It does not extend into the torso or extremities. There is no Tomato Arm or Tomato Body. It is just a beacon, a stoplight, a torch, an Early Girl garden variety perched upon your neck. As I have aged, TF has invoked some questions and sometimes concern from others. “Did you burn your face at the beach?” or “Are you alright?” are the most popular. My blood pressure is fine, and perhaps an hour later, TF will invariably fade and I will return to just being a sweaty individual. What is worse, now I don’t even have to exert myself at all. I can be sitting there minding my own business when suddenly a hot flash will hit and there it is…..Tomato Face. If you have ever seen the cover of Little Feat’s “Waiting For Columbus”, this is how I visualize myself when it happens.
This condition has been particularly embarrassing at the gym, where TF appears about ten minutes into a fast walk on the treadmill and remains for the duration of any workout. I do not look trendy. This is one of the reasons I don’t like to work out at a gym (well, there are a few reasons, but I will save that for another post).
Years ago, when I mentioned the issue of TF to my mother, she brushed it off and said “Oh, I get that”. I never really saw my mother with Tomato Face, as her complexion had a lot of ruddy color in it anyway, unlike me. She didn’t seem to think it was very important though, and so I lived silently with my TF mortification, and sometimes, decades later, I still have to tell myself to “get over it”.
However, I do know for sure that it is genetic, because among the many DNA “gifts” I have passed on, both of my daughters have inherited TF and I hear familiar laments from them. All the post dance recital photos of them display Tomato Face, and they are not happy about it. There are so many things worse than Tomato Face, but never the less, I am so sorry girls, I really am.