When I was four years old, I suffered a bad fall from the “monkey bar” of my swing set. I had been intrigued by the older girl next door who could flip endlessly on her monkey bar, and I was convinced that if she could do it, I could too. With visions of being a circus acrobat and my long, blonde hair flying behind me, I flipped over and over on that bar until I suddenly lost my grip and landed face first on the wooden slats of the glider.
Apparently on my way down, my chin caught on a nail head, and the next thing I remember is running down the hill to our house with my hands cupping my chin while screaming in terror as the blood gushed through my fingertips. I remember the man next door came running, and when my dad came out of the house and saw me, he ran back in to grab several hand towels and then carried me to our car and held me in his lap while the neighbor drove us to the hospital.
I vaguely remember the fear on my dad’s face as I bled through one towel after another. I don’t remember anything else from that day, but because of later explanations I do know my chin was stitched up, and I know the doctor told my dad that he wasn’t able to do a very good job because I had already lost so much blood from the long, jagged cut. He also told my dad I would have a nasty scar and that at a later date we would want to have plastic surgery to correct it.
That surgery never took place. My dismayed parents simply couldn’t afford it. Consequently, I grew up with an ugly scar on my chin, and that scar–and other people’s reaction to it–severely damaged my developing self-image. Once I overheard a lady telling my mom that I would be such a pretty little girl–if it weren’t for that scar. And when I was growing up, other kids in school and complete strangers in the grocery store were always asking about my scar, which made me very self-conscious and very unhappy with the ugly girl I saw in the mirror. I remember daydreaming in high school about how much better my life would be if we could just afford the plastic surgery, but when I realized that surgery was financially impossible, I would dream instead about having prettier hair, a curvier figure–anything that might take the focus away from my face. (Unfortunately, those dreams weren’t attainable, either; this was years before the miracle of mousse and volumizing shampoos and conditioners, so my hair was always straight and stringy. And as for the figure, I’m not sure if the terminology still remains, but back then it was known as a “carpenter’s dream”).
Eventually I was able to come to terms with the scar on my chin. The years faded it slightly, and make-up camouflaged it and made it a little less noticeable. A couple boyfriends (one of whom I ended up marrying) also liked me in spite of my scar and helped me to overcome some of my negative self-image. I have never felt pretty because of it, but at least I no longer feel ugly, either–I’m just me, imperfections and all.
As I’ve gotten older (and a little bit wiser), I’ve learned that I’m not alone in being dissatisfied with my appearance; in fact, I read recently that a whopping eight out of ten women are unhappy with their reflections in the mirror. I was saddened by this statistic but also surprised. When I look around me, I see beautiful women everywhere; how can it be that so many of them are unhappy with their appearance? Can’t they see how truly beautiful they are?
And the simple answer to that is no, they can’t. And the reason they can’t is that our society (our media, our men, ourselves) places too much emphasis on physical attributes, and almost every woman I know has at least one physical attribute she despises and, consequently, obsesses over. Their butts (and guts) are too big, their breasts are too small, their noses are too long, their legs are too short, the hairs on their head are too few, their chins are too many … the list goes on and on (I didn’t even mention the flabby thighs and flappy arms). Like me, they focus on their imperfections and allow those imperfections to paint an ugly picture–and in so doing, they fail to even notice their true beauty.
I know many women who are physically attractive; they have magnificent hair, gorgeous eyes, a lovely face, a great figure (and yet many of them don’t think so). But the truly beautiful women are the ones who radiate beauty from within. These are the women who are great mothers, loving their own children and often other people’s children as well. These are the women who go out of their way to take care of their neighbors and complete strangers. These are the women who–no matter the situation–always have a kind word, a helping hand, a warm embrace, and a giving heart. These are the women who volunteer time they don’t have to do the things that no one else wants to do. These are the women who always have a gracious smile for the rest of the world, despite whatever hardships and inner struggles they might be facing. And these are the women who make everyone around them feel better just by being in their presence.
I feel blessed to know so many of these women. They make me want to be a better person, and they give me an inspirational example to follow. I’ll bet you know some of these women, too; in fact, you might be one of them (whether you’re willing to admit it or not).
According to the poet Kahlil Gibran, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” Perhaps if we all try a little harder to give less emphasis to the physical attributes and instead focus more on the “light in the heart,” we will not only see the beauty all around us, but we will also recognize and appreciate the beauty within us. Let’s take the first step together: When you look in the mirror this morning, smile and give thanks for the beautiful woman smiling back.