With so many inspirational, uplifting, and awe-inspiring posts that have been written to celebrate August McLauglin’s “Beauty of a Woman” blogfest, I am excited and humbled to be able to add my voice to the mix.
Be sure to visit her blog on Friday, February 10th to check out all of the entries. I promise, you will laugh, cry, and feel inspired by the extraordinary stories that have been told.
As an extra-added bonus, you also have a chance to win some awesome prizes, including a $99 Amazon gift card or a Kindle Touch.
Growing up, my favorite movies were the ones that fall into the “makeover” genre. You know the ones I’m talking about — the films where the painfully awkward, shy, chubby/ugly/completely unstylish brainy girl is transformed into a ravishing beauty through the efforts of some form of fairy godmother. Not only does she become gorgeous, she also manages to snag Prince Charming and live happily ever after.
These films resonated with me because I was that awkward, chubby, bespectacled smart kid. I was the one that went through life as the butt of everyone else’s jokes, who avoided the popular kids and the cute guys so I wouldn’t have to endure their taunting, and who, in occasional moments of weakness, politely asked god (okay, demanded) whether it it might be better if I could exchange my brains for beauty.
The teasing wasn’t so terrible when I was in elementary school, partly because I was too lost in my own little world of novels and schoolwork to know any better. But by the time junior high rolled around, things became hellish.
Puberty hits most people hard, but Mother Nature saw fit to give me an extra-special “present”: a hormonal disorder known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It’s estimated to affect anywhere between 10% and 20% of women, and it manifests itself during adolescence. There’s much more research around these days dealing with its origins, and ways to treat it, but back in the late 1990s, my doctors could only tell me that there was something up with my ovaries, and that my body was producing abnormal levels of androgen and testosterone — not the sort of thing that a 12 year old girl wants to hear.
What mattered to me more than anything were the secondary effects of PCOS: the acne that just kept coming, the extra weight I gained, the way my voice deepened, and even worse, the dark hair that sprouted on my legs, my arms, and my face.
I was “lucky” in the fact that the kids at school didn’t tease me about my weight (although my extended family did call me the “fat kid,” asked when I was going to diet, then balked if I didn’t eat seconds at parties — “What’s wrong, are you on a diet? Eat more!”), but they did notice the hair… and they were cruel.
Starting in 5th grade, they threw every name in the book at me. I became the girl with the “hairy fungus legs,” the one with the “man moustache.” It was so much worse than anything that I had ever been called before, worse than if they had just called me plain ugly. It was like being told that I was only part girl, that I was some creepy, bizarre freak. I lived in fear that I would suddenly start sprouting a full beard like the “werewolf children” that had been profiled on the Discovery Channel, that I would have to live my life as some sort of crazy bearded lady in a circus.
My parents didn’t quite understand my plight, though in their defense, I never told them the magnitude of the bullying until years later. Mom wouldn’t let me shave my legs, which meant that I had to walk around in my skirt (pants weren’t part of the school uniform for girls) without any way to cover up. When it came to my face, my mom told me not to worry about it — I was beautiful “just the way I was.”
I eventually won the right to the razor and the depilatory creams, seized hold of tweezers and acne medication, but the damage to my psyche was complete. It’s probably little wonder that I was a festering mess of rage and anguish during those years. I lashed out at my family, sparked countless fights with my mom, and pushed away my little sister, all the while spiraling down a rabbit hole of depression.
The mirror told me how ugly I was, and the little demons in my head whispered of my worthlessness. They told me tales of how I would be unloved and friendless, how my intelligence would never be enough to make up for the physical beauty that I lacked.
And yet, it’s sometimes in the midst of destruction and trauma that we find our strength. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, turmoil can transform us, bring us closer to beauty than smooth roads and easy paths.
Because I had no fairy godmother who would wave her magic wand and transform me from my trollish state into an exquisitely-formed princess, I turned inward. There, beyond the taunting of those tenacious demons, I found something else, something I hadn’t quite expected: a flickering flame that refused to be doused, a voice that refused to be silent, an inner strength that demanded I fight back.
I couldn’t speak out against my tormentors; I was too afraid of the backlash that might result. Instead, it was my journal that became my refuge. I filled its pages with my frustration and sadness, with the anger that I kept locked inside. Poetry came welling out my pen, raw and unpolished, and ever so slowly, I found a way to leech away the poison that had been corroding my soul.
Writing gave me a power unlike any other, the chance to tell my own story. I discovered that there was beauty inside of me, an amazing wealth of talents, passions, interests, and strengths. It became my form of prayer, my way of connecting with a god that I loved more than anything else, a god that I believed had shaped me, formed me, called me by name and made me his.
It was this therapy that gave me the will to live. Through poetry and prose, I could paint myself with as many shades of beautiful as I desired. I became a goddess, a force of nature, wielding words like weapons, or maybe a magic wand, the kind that could bring universes into being and create worlds that existed only in my imagination.
The beauty I uncovered was one that couldn’t be purchased, and as much as I love fashion and cosmetics these days, those material goods could never have the same transformative power. This was a beauty forged in the pit of despair, tempered by prayer and faith, and it gave me the freedom to accept every inch of myself, inside and out.
It’s been more than a decade since that turbulent period in my youth, and the lessons that I’ve learned still hold true. Granted, my demons still exist, and they continue to whisper and hiss in my ear. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully silence them, but I have the power that I need to speak against them.
I want to leave you all with a poem that I return to whenever I find myself faltering. It’s “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, and it expresses everything that I want other women to know: that even when people try to push us down and destroy our spirits, we can and will rise, stronger, brighter, and more beautiful than ever.
[Full text found here]