Monday, February 1, 2016

An Imperfect Struggle

[Part II of "The Artistry of Being Honest"]

Beauty is not defined by the perception of others but is defined by what we see in ourselves. But often, it is we, ourselves, who are most critical and most blind to our own unique beauty. We fall short of our own expectation of such things– seeing only what makes us different as ghastly markings of our insignificance and unchangeable and uncontrollable imperfections.

A Change of Beauty
For as long as I can remember I’ve been perceptive to the definition of beauty and how I have failed to meet my perceived self-standard. My earliest memories are filled with an innate awareness of how I was different than those around me. My childhood memories are woven within the reflection I saw of myself in my brother and the devastating disease of CF. Outwardly, I noticed how my brother’s hands and fingers were different than our family’s. I saw how his chest was broad and barreled - his ribcage seemingly too large for his tiny frame. I noticed that his cough set everyone on edge. I noticed how it tore through the world’s natural chaos like a knife tearing through paper.

I began to notice with every passing year that too, my own hands looked more and more different. That too, my ribcage seemed too large for the frame of my body. That too, my legs and arms seemed so bony and thin. I noticed how my own cough would bring upon unwanted attention and alarm, highlighting the very part of myself I was trying to conceal. With every passing moment I noticed these uncontrollable changes becoming more glaringly distinct - each a hideous reminder of what made me different.

I recall moments I’d look at my reflection as a child and wish nothing more than to look and be like everyone else - moments in which I felt truly alone and different. I wish I could say as the years passed those feelings diminished but they only grew, consuming me from within. I fiercely tried to cling to what I could control as the ugly truth of CF became more and more visible. I’d wear clothes to hide the shape of my body. I’d hold my breath and inwardly fight the relentless scratch in the back of my throat and rumble within my lungs that wanted to unleash a fit of coughing. Yet, the more I tried to conceal and control of CF, the more I saw its imperfections staring back at me. Those uncontrollable realities of CF imprinted into my being and mocking me through my own eyes, constantly reminding me of how I was different - making me see myself as anything but beautiful. Those unyielding reminders still plague me and forever will.

The precious time I spend giving thought to the size of my ribcage, my gecko fingers, my puffy steroid cheeks, and piercing cough, strips me of the freedom to immerse myself into every beautiful breath that comes from within. It steals a moment of my life that instead could reflect the true meaning of beauty and replaces it with destructive and depleting anxieties. Some days do those surmounting anxieties and realities seem unbearable? Yes. But I then force myself to breathe, clinging to the beauty that lies within every breath I take. I remember the simplistic unique beauty of life itself. I force myself to smile. And you know what? The world always smiles back, melting away my restless insecurities of despair. Those genuine smiles reassure me, reminding me that I am not alone. Also, about a year ago a Canadian photographer did a photo book project called Salty Girls: the Women of Cystic Fibrosis and before that did a project called Just Breathe: Adults with Cystic Fibrosis. Both books and projects depicting the honest beauty and raw stories of adults with CF. For the first time in my life, there before my eyes spread across countless pages, I saw myself and my unique differences reflected in those beautiful people. Some of the sweetest friendships I share today have come from fellow people with CF. They are truly beautiful in every sense of the word, reminding me that I am not alone or painfully different, but beautiful.

Unique Beauty
We each see our uniqueness as glaring reminders of what makes us different and at times an outcast. It’s easy to tear ourselves down, pick apart our bodies, lives, actions, or situations. We inwardly focus only on our imperfections and how we fall miserably short of our own expectations of perfected beauty. We think our differences are what define us, and that they are the only things others can see. But they are not. We just have to allow ourselves to believe such truth. What if when we each looked in the mirror, we decided to see those differences as what makes us truly beautiful instead of only seeing them as ghastly imperfections? We’d finally free ourselves from our own suffocating expectations and lies of self-determined beauty. We’d be able to freely allow our differences and imperfections to be the very things that connect us to one another, not separate us.

I know it’s not that simple and I know it’s something in which I am always going struggle. But I force myself to smile and remind myself, “this is my life and this is my truth.” We are each stitched together by a stunningly unique beauty, both externally and inwardly. That unique beauty is what makes each of us wonderfully different and truly who we are. Love to you all.

You are beautifully different. This is your life and this is your truth.

Check out Ian Pettigrew’s latest photo project, “Salty Girls – the Women of Cystic Fibrosis” here.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting you should talk about "beauty". The day after you were born, I brought Aunt Violet to the Rock Rapids hospital for us to meet you. As your dear mom held you so lovingly in her arms, I remember thinking, "what a beautiful baby - and those eyes". You are a remarkable young women and your beauty lies in your eyes. The beauty I see through your eyes is a blessing with every post you share. You are amazing Ashley - thank you for sharing life through your eyes!