“As women, we are so invested in our outer appearance. If this weren’t true, cosmetic companies would be bankrupt. There would be no need for cosmetic surgery. And if we are being honest, it is something we struggle with everyday. Too fat, too skinny, ugly glasses, wrinkles, stretch marks and the list continues.
Just as men size up other men in a room, women do the same. As we age, younger women remind us they are the new ‘sheriff’ in town. Wrinkles become our obsession. As time goes on, we either surrender to going under the knife, or just surrender altogether.
Social media shows tiny women who present themselves as eating all the time. For some, it is true, but for others, they are a slave to diets, purging or excessively exercising. We look into the lens of our camera and see the flaws, not the beauty. It becomes an obsession of hating yourself and striving to look better.
What would you do if one day you woke up and your face stopped working? I had this experience. In May of 2019, my husband was going to chemo for his recent diagnosis of Pancreatic cancer. I had stayed behind because I wasn’t feeling well. As I woke that morning, I went in to get a drink of water and the water just dropped out of my mouth. I looked in the mirror and half my face was sagging. Paralyzed.
I had Bell’s Palsy. There isn’t a lot known about the illness but it paralyzes your face. Some people get it and are healed within weeks. I was not so lucky. I not only was stricken with Bell’s Palsy, but I was sick with respiratory illness at the same time. I could not talk without coughing. Every breath was an effort. I couldn’t stand the air conditioning and lying on my side caused great pain. I went to many doctors and they had no answers.
As my husband fought cancer, I worked really hard to regain my health and movement in my face.
Most people were kind and said it wasn’t noticeable, but the look of shock in the faces of strangers spoke the truth. I could neither close my eye nor blink. The dry climate wasn’t helpful. I lived with constant eye drops and reteaching my eye to blink by manually forcing it to blink. I worried I would lose my eyesight. To prevent my eye from drying, I had to patch my eyes at night.
I was one of the 10% of people who do not fully recover. My smile was taken away, and that changes you mentally. The physical did not even match the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. The irony is that the common theme for doctors was eliminate stress.
My husband was going through treatments and surgery for cancer and I was fearful he would not make it, plus, my illness was still around. ‘Don’t stress,’ became my mantra. The world around me was crumbling. I dug into my faith and I can say it was a life saver. God says to give Him our burdens and I had no choice but to lean in and let Him carry the burdens. My husband is currently cancer free. For that, I am thankful.
For a woman who started her career at sixteen as a model, a paralyzed face was difficult. At 18, I did not continue modeling because I was modeling in the era where at 5’11,’ and weighing 130 pounds. I was constantly told to lose weight. This was not going to be the life I wanted to live.
I recognize beauty is important to women. Being attractive can be a superpower (today more than ever). While the world says it doesn’t matter, they lie. I appreciate beauty and I like to look nice. Beauty looks different to us all. I enjoy getting up and presenting my best self. And that is OK. We should admit that we love beautiful things. We can be strong and athletic and outdoorsy. Beauty is spectacular as long as it doesn’t become an obsession and take all joy, kindness, and peace from our hearts. The world can handle beauty—no need to compete.
While battling Bell’s Palsy, I have learned to embrace the process of healing. I have taken a million pictures to practice smiling and learning to love the new me. Facial paralysis takes the same amount of therapy as a person does when they lose the motion in an appendage. Therapy is both physical and emotional.
People are generally kind and say they don’t notice, but the real person who needs to believe that is you. My face is healing, but I am left with some weakness I never had before. My face is not even when I smile. I had to learn tricks to fix that issue and an impulsive smile is lopsided. My lower lip still has paralysis and my one eye does not blink at the same speed as the other. Most of the things are not seen in print but in real life, they are noticeably present.
I am 53 years old and I have to be honest, there are really hard days. I sometimes wish I could be the old me.
In the middle of my storm, I have dug deep and found treasures to hold on to. From my husband’s cancer, I have learned to appreciate each day. I have learned to take healing one day at a time. I have uncovered another depth of strength that has gotten me through tough times. I have learned to find ways to release my burdens. And I am learning to love the new me.
As I write this, I know some of you are struggling. We are now in a really hard season. Some of you have never loved the way you look. While we are home, many see images that are contradictory to the message that ‘you are enough.’ I have learned to be honest and say beauty matters. We love flowers and beauty in our world. It is the gift God has given us. It isn’t shallow to want to look beautiful. Really, it is how we define beauty that makes or breaks us. Coming to terms with who we are inside and strengthening our weaknesses is good. We can also wake up and look in the mirror and say, ‘You are beautiful.’ I can tell you that while you may never reach ‘perfection,’ you do realize what you had when it is taken away.
Enjoy your beauty. Place the priority on it the way you want to. Comparison only leads to self hate, and you deserve to give yourself more. Smile the easy smile because when you shine within, it blesses all the people around you. These are not flippant statements but truth spoken from someone who almost lost the ability to smile.
We all have places of deep wounds that can heal but the scar is the reminder of what we can overcome.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Valerie Devine of El Paso, Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more from Valerie here:
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