We live in a time where the word beauty is thrown around like a ball, and all the women are stuck in this demeaning “monkey in the middle” game, jumping up, throwing elbows at each other, and sometimes viscously doing whatever it takes to win. We’ve bought into this lie that beauty is somehow one shape, one size, one hair style, one makeup style…. one everything really. We’ve believed the deception that beauty is only attainable through jumping through a series of hoops, and that by doing this, the ultimate judge of beauty will crown us with a gold medal, saying, “Congratulations! You did it! You’re beautiful now!”
I know that whole scenario sounds absolutely ridiculous, and the truth is, IT SHOULD!
Contrary to what the media, our old-school moms, and insecure friends tell you, I’m here to propose that YOU ARE BEAUTY!
Having gone through two rare diseases now, thyroid cancer at the age of 17 and chiari malformation at 27, my belief in beauty has been tested to the limits. I had a total thyroidectomy and have a pretty large scar right in the center of my neck. I struggled with it because when people would talk to me, that’s all they could look at. My macho-man grandfather would tell me that it’s my “battle scar” to cheer me up, but that’s not really what a young girl wants to hear when outward beauty is her main concern so I would try to wear clothing that would cover it up. When I moved to away for college, my first day, waiting outside of my first class, a man rudely pointed out my fresh scar and said “did someone slit your throat?” I replied back, “obviously…” trying to slough it off, but I was crying on the inside.
Chiari malformation doesn’t cause an outward appearance shift, but the things that I catch myself thinking about make me want to hide. The first symptom that I experienced was hand trimmers to the point I could barely write my name legibly; this isn’t all the time, but when it happened, I felt so embarrassed and out of control. The first time I noticed it, I was getting my hair done at my salon, and I was holding my smoothie cup in my left hand. I looked down and my hand was vibrating intensely. I quickly set my cup down. This was before I diagnosed. It’s been a challenge to not let the fear of this birth defect control my life; wondering if I will have to have brain surgery, how long I can live with this, will I be able to have children, will this have other effects on my body over the long haul, etc. I have learned that this defect is typically not fatal, but for me, knowing that something is not exactly right inside of me can be invitation to fear and question my life and my beauty. (Rita Springer’s Battle album has been my mantra in this season especially Defender and Carry Me)
I find that in my moments of weakness, my definition of beauty changes, and my standard shifts to what I don’t have; meaning that beauty is never attainable for me. But as I continue to surrender to God every fear, worry, concern, insecurity, etc. I continue to grow in my identity, and realize that my beauty is not based on the presence or absence of certain things. It’s not dictated by complete health. It’s not questioned in the presence of illness or disease. Beauty is just who I am.
I was recently asked to expound on my mission statement for The Beauty Project and explain what it means to live a life fully and unashamed, really embracing your beauty. To be frank, growing in your identity and embracing your beauty is not something that happens over night. it is the accumulation of you nurturing and watering the seeds of confidence, beauty, and the encouraging words you receive throughout the day. A wise woman recently told me that you can’t force and pressure a seed to grow. All it requires is for you to show up everyday, water it and be patient. I believe living your life fully and unashamed requires the same process. Here are some glimpses into my discoveries.
1. Embrace self-love and self-acceptance
I believe that living a life fully and unashamed and embracing your beauty is possible when we learn to love and accept ourselves first without having to have the approval of others. When we’re constantly consumed with people’s opinions and expectations for us, we lose who we truly are. Personally, I had to take some time and weed out what others’ and my own negative opinions were of me and embrace what the actual truth was before I could get back to ground zero and start loving myself. It’s hard to love yourself when you’re not sure who you are to begin with.
Then I started accepting who I am, but also figuring out the things that I need to work on and grow in. Self-love doesn’t mean that nothing needs to change in your life; it’s simply the state of mind that you’re a work in progress, and you’ve given yourself full permission to do so without shame.
"You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously."
2. Be vulnerable and authentic
We live in a day where this idea is idolized, but in my opinion, not practiced very often. It can be intimidating to let our guards down and allow people to see the real us. Let’s be real, sometimes we don’t even know what the real us is! There are so many influences and open doors that can easily influence the way we present ourselves to the world. However, I believe that living a life fully and unashamed is grounded in the ability to be authentic and vulnerable with our stories. When you are the real deal 100% of the time, you have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. And by you being authentic, you are giving the people around you that same permission and courage to openly tell their stories too.
We all want to be seen, known, and heard for who we truly are, but sometimes fear tells us that what we bring to the table isn’t good enough, which means, we’re not enough. But that could not be further from the truth. Our growth is dependent on our ability to allow ourselves to be seen, known and heard authentically.
So I would say start practicing using your voice; practice telling your story with safe people, choose outfits based on what expresses you best instead of wearing what everyone else is, listen to music that you like in front of your friends, get involved in events, clubs, activities, outreach opportunities that you’re passionate about despite if others are doing the same, and don’t be afraid to form your own opinions and beliefs even if it contradicts your peers. All of these small choices reflect who you are, your own unique beauty.
"Be kind to yourself in the process of becoming different." - Hannah Brencher
3. Take Risks
The only way you fail is if you don’t try at all. Taking risks has probably been one of the hardest things for me. I’m that person who will read the last page of the story, will skip ahead in the season to know what happens to my favorite character (I’m full of all the spoilers) so that type of need for “control” does not lend it’s hand for me to get out of my comfort zone and take risks.
I was that kid that tried to do what everyone else did so that I wouldn’t stand out, wouldn’t make too big of a splash and draw attention to myself. But the truth was, in my heart, I was marching to the beat of my own drum, fantasizing about going A-wall against conformity and taking risks.
I didn’t start taking risks until I was in college though. After I recovered from having thyroid cancer, something inside of me just snapped and I realized that life is so short (cliche, I know…) and that I want to really live my days and not just exist. From there, I started wearing what I wanted, coloring my hair the way I wanted, openly jamming to all my old school music that wasn’t necessarily popular with people my age, and I even started letting people see my big ole quirky personality - like the kind of personality that only your family members know about and joke about in front of your friends to embarrass you.
My latest risk was quitting my career and starting The Beauty Project. My career was my identity, but I’d been feeling this push to quit, and start something from scratch, so I did! And it’s been the best ride - hard work, meeting new people, being pushed beyond all my boundaries, financially risky, and learning to trust and lean on the people around me more than I ever have before.
So my words of wisdom here would be to take risk out of wisdom. There’s nothing wrong with being calculated, but over calculation will talk you out of it. Have people in your life who really know you and who can give you advice, voice their concerns and be your support system. And be prepared to stretch and grow more than you can imagine. :)
"Sometimes life is about risking everything for a dream no one can see but you." - Unknown
4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to have fun.
This is something that I am currently still practicing daily, and I’ll probably try to practice this for the rest of my life. When you’re completely engrossed in something new like a career, dream, hobby or even building your family, it can be easy to become narrowly focused. My mom used to call me a “bull-dog” because if I wanted something to happen, I’d make it happen. While that can be a great quality, it’s also hard to allow yourself the space to enjoy the little things or to do things, see people, or go places without an agenda.
To me living fully and unashamed is not just about the hard things we overcome like body image, insecurities, fears and doubts. It’s also about giving ourselves permission to take a day off of work without feeling guilty, to buy paint supplies just because we want to take a stab at painting, or to simply make a fancy meal with cocktail drinks for friends just because.
I think it’s about releasing the idea that every second of your life has to be delegated to something that’s going to be financially profitable, impress others or put you way ahead. If you’re super scheduled, and don’t have a lot of spare time, put ‘fun time’ on your calendar, and plan it out.
"Success is not dependent on what career you choose. Success is dependent on you choosing you, then bringing all you are into all you do." - Dr. Lauren
Wherever you’re at in your journey - healthy and whole, fighting hard, researching or just trying to be present in the day-to-day, make it a practice to not question or doubt your beauty. You are Beauty. You were made in the image of beauty Himself. There’s no one size fits all beauty standard, and your life, calling, passions, quirks and the essence of your being are proof of that. You have permission to embrace your beauty and live your life fully and unashamed.