Today I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Sugar. Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond host a fabulous list of topics and guests.
This podcast was titled, “The Ugly Truth” and the guest was Ariel Henley. The topic was women who feel ugly. Not women who don’t like their eye color or hips but women with facial differences which legitimately cause them grief because it makes them “different.” Two women wrote in about their experience with facial differences.
I want to be a champion of women and help them believe in their beauty. This podcast made me consider how I am doing that. Physical beauty is real. Inner beauty is real. As I listened to the letter writers on Dear Sugar, without seeing them, while knowing their physical differences cause them pain, I found myself wanting to know them.
I heard their vulnerabilities, resiliency and courage. I heard the pain in being “other.” And although that was true for me, I cannot dismiss that they are not considered “beautiful.” I will not look over that. Smooth it with pretty words about their inner beauty.
I wish I could look each one in the eye and say, “I hear you. Your face causes you pain and betrays you. I cannot change that with words or actions. I am with you here.”
I’m reminded of watching the movie, Wonder, with my husband and four kids. My youngest, who is 8, really struggled with Augie’s face in the beginning of the movie. It wasn’t out of cruelty, but fear. Augie’s face scared my little man. We whispered back and forth through the movie about how Augie was a person and his face was different, but his insides were familiar. He had so many of the same thoughts and feelings we do. By the end of the movie, my son wasn’t fully at ease, but he liked the movie. He had questions. He felt compassion for Augie.
I’m also reminded of myself around age 10. My first cousin was burned over 70% of his body. I spent many days at the burn center. I can remember seeing him for the first time and my whole body felt electrified. I reacted intensely to his pain. My reaction wasn’t revulsion but fear as I imagined what he had to endure. I could almost feel his pain or at least it seemed like it. I’m sure I couldn’t truly fathom what he went through. To this day, when I see someone with severe physical differences, I feel pain in my body. I wonder how that shows on my face. I want offer acceptance, but I wonder if my face shows empathy or fear?
I want resolution for those in pain over their differences of any kind.
And my desire doesn’t give people what they need.
And individuals willing to stand in the tension with them. If I want to champion women, this is how I will do it.
Empathy isn’t looking at someone and saying “Wow, that must be hard.” It is instead taking their hand, standing close, and looking straight into their eyes wanting to know what it is like to be them.
Ariel, who has a memoir coming out soon, offered this advice to the woman writing in. “Take a picture of yourself. Look at it every day. Until you begin to feel compassion. Familiarity. Focus on something you can appreciate. Keep doing it. Until it no longer becomes “other” to you, but becomes something you love.”
She took my breath away.
This has so many applications. She is asking that the letter writer become friends with her face. Even though it has hurt and betrayed her. Some of us must do that with family members or friends. Or maybe with emotions. With jobs or joblessness. With God or a higher power. With where we live. With dreams that never became real. The possibilities are endless.
Beauty is not in facial features. And it is. A face has never taken my breath away, but Ariel Henley did with her suggestion.
Become friends with that which you hate about yourself.
I call that beauty.