“Let’s face it… the teenage years are always the most difficult, and my road to discovering my individual worth began here. Bottom line: I hated the mirror and never felt like I was enough. I spent countless amounts of time in Sunday school lessons and seminars about beauty and worth, and yet, I couldn’t quite seem to visualize in my head how it all applied to me. I was told time after time by my peers how I wasn’t smart enough or how I lacked in one thing or another. Due to physical disability, I wasn’t as quick to think on my feet as some of my friends were, which lead me to believe I was just plain stupid. Stupidity was also implied through that sarcastic comment that rolled off my peers’ lips on multiple occasions: ‘It’s a good thing you’re pretty because you don’t have much else going for you.’ Those words cut deep as I let them penetrate my heart and allowed them to affect how I viewed myself and my worth. For these reasons, I rotted in the belief that if I could look ‘perfect’ then maybe I might have something to offer in the world.
At this time in my life, I spent a lot of time watching beauty ‘how-to’s’ on YouTube, and wondering why my hair never seemed as shiny, or my teeth as straight, or my lips as full, or my skin as clear as all the girls in the videos. How did they master this idea of ‘perfection,’ and yet no matter how hard I tried, I would never be enough? No amount of makeup or hairspray could help me reach the level of physical ‘perfection’ I could see in others. And yet I didn’t pause a minute to strive for anything less than excellence in my appearance.
As you can imagine, living in a way that makes everyone else happy and comfortable with you can be very exhausting, and I often wondered what it would be like if I ever resolved to show up to school as someone who was comfortable in my own skin (without all of the extra makeup and hair care). The truth was, I couldn’t ever get myself to take that step due to fear of what others would think. I was often told by women that ‘beauty is pain’ anyway, so I figured it was normal to never find true comfort in my appearance. The truth was – I never was comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t like my own face. And I didn’t want to think about what I actually looked like because my looks were seemingly ‘all I had to offer.’
Let’s fast forward to post-graduation and my first taste of young adulthood. How does one’s self-worth play a part as a young woman attending college who had just been diagnosed with a debilitating disease? I was diagnosed with Lyme disease soon after I began college, and naturally, the obsession I had with looking perfect came to an end. I lost 15 pounds my first semester of college (keep in mind I already only weighed 125 lbs and I’m 5’9″ in height), and could often feel and see my spine, wrist and ankle bones protruding from under my skin. When I came home from college I found unnatural amounts of hair coming out in my brush and I remember standing in front of the mirror in tears as I’d pull the hair out of my brush to throw it away. I remember my face, neck, arms, and back being broken out in lesions and rashes that would itch and hurt to the point where I had a constant, relentless urge to pick at my skin whenever I felt nervous or panicky.
The makeup, hairspray, and the need for ‘perfect’ appearance quickly vanished. Suddenly my drive to stay alive became more important than my desire to look like society’s ideal woman. I felt horrible about myself day in and day out. I was useless. I had to stay in a bed and participate in laborious treatments that frequently made me feel worse. What could someone with Lyme disease ever have to offer in a world that pushes work, education, money, traveling, exercise, and looking amazing while doing it?
Eventually, as I learned to find comfort in my own face and my own skin, I learned the answer to that question. I had come to a place of acceptance in my life. Acceptance of who I am no matter where I happen to be or what I happen to look like in my life. A place where I learned that the worth of a woman has nothing to do with how she looks. The worth of a woman doesn’t equate to how smart or stupid society tells her that she is. The worth of a woman isn’t about what men or other women think of her. The worth of a woman isn’t drawn based off of her abilities or her disabilities. The worth of a woman isn’t determined by how perfect she can get herself and her life to look.
I didn’t realize when I was younger that my worth comes from my heart, not from my body. If my body determines my worth, then when my body breaks down from physical illness I don’t have any worth! I know now that this perception of ‘worth’ just isn’t true. I suppose it’s true that ‘beauty is pain,’ not because of eyebrow plucking and long hours of makeup application, but because my illness does not make me ‘less beautiful.’ If anything it makes me more beautiful because of the extra strength and resilience that is accompanied with all the painful aspects of Lyme. I choose to not let Lyme define me, and even though it’s incredibly difficult… it doesn’t determine who I am or my worth. Every single one of us is blessed with innate worth and ability when we are born, and that worth doesn’t merely vanish when life gets hard, or when we feel inadequate in various aspects of our life.
In God’s eyes, every single one of us has an undeniable amount of worth. When I can see that my worth comes from God, then I can also see that my worth is enduring and eternal. The glorious message from that is that every single one of us has the power to take our worth in our own hands and create something beautiful with it. I never was stupid. I never was ugly. I never was useless. I simply perceived myself to be that way, which held me back and made it so I was living way beneath my privileges.
I’ve always been beautiful, smart, and capable. I’ve always had something to offer to the world. It is so with every woman if they choose to discover and realize their internal worth. God loves His children. God loves His daughters. That doesn’t change because of things others say, or expectations of society. My hope is that all women can come to an understanding of who they are and the innate beauty that is instilled in their own hearts and souls, wherever they may be in their lives.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Claire Dalton, author of the blog, Chronically Beautiful. It was inspired by the Hello Lovely Project. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.
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