Late Summer 2008
Coming of age during the 70s, my friends and I were encouraged to be all we could be, using our minds, talents, and gumption. That was part of our 'liberation' -- being set free to pursue our dreams even if that meant breaking into once male-dominated fields. Fast forward to today, and is it just me, or does 'being all we can be' seem to equate with being air-brushed flawless, supermodel thin, and younger than Hannah Montana? Throughout history, men have traditionally been recognized for their achievements and skills while women have been recognized for their outward beauty, but hey, it's 2008! What's with this beauty-at-all-costs obsession? Since childhood, we're told that it's what's on the inside that counts, so what gives? When did we become so obsessed with our looks that we'd rather take a mid-life trip to the plastic surgeon than to Tuscany? We can point our finger at Hollywood, the media, or even Barbie all we want, but Eleanor Roosevelt wasn't joking when she said, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.' In other words, nobody is mandating that we inject our foreheads with botulism toxin and fill our lips with collagen.
When I read that over 7 million American girls have an eating disorder and that surgery for breast enlargement has increased 257% since 1997, I sense that something is rotten, and it's not in Denmark. As a certified esthetician, of course esthetics are very important to me, but if my choices are motivated more by my eroding self esteem than by my desire to be vibrantly, beautifully healthful in mind, body, and spirit, the results are bound to have a pretty limited expiration date. Whenever I find myself tempted to measure my own worth by my bathroom scale or by comparing my middle-age middle with that of a 30-year-old dancer's, I think of my hero, a young woman I met last summer.
I met Courtney when I was volunteering at the Angel Faces Retreat founded by another hero of mine who endured serious burns over 50% of her face and body at age nine. Teenage girls from all over America come to this annual retreat to meet other girls with facial differences. In an age where the prevailing message is to mask or remove any disfigurement as quickly as possible, these girls live with significant scarring even after numerous surgeries and skin grafts.
Although Courtney has been burned over much of her face and body, she radiates beauty. Yes, the effects of the fire are clearly apparent, but she exudes so much kindness, self confidence, and spunk that she outshines most of her flawless-appearing peers. No way is Courtney going to shrink into a corner just because of some physical differences! And nor should we! Sometimes it's difficult to stay balanced in the midst of so much glamour hype, but the next time any little goblins in your mind whisper that you're not thin enough, young enough, or flawless enough, please think of Eleanor and Courtney. Life's way too short to miss out on anything just because you don't like how you look in your swimsuit! Let's commit to being more comfortable in our own skin and remember: our daughters and granddaughters are watching.
P.S. If you would like to know more or donate to Angel Faces, please visit their website at www.AngelFacesRetreat.org