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In the Eye of the Beholder

As much as this site is an outlet and support vehicle for those who visit, it is also an outlet for my own thoughts and beliefs on the topic of 'facial difference.' Shared on this page will be articles I've written on matters, I believe, are relevant to all of us who question our beauty. Matters which will always be subjective, as they are seen through the eye of the beholder.

Below is a story I will be submitting to various Women's Magazines in the coming months. Your feedback and comments are encouraged and welcome.

In Search of Ourselves...Our Beauty

Whoever coined the phrase, "Beauty is only skin deep,” was certainly wise. But as mothers, sisters, and friends have reminded us of these words when beauty-challenged, we’ve always known, deep down, that no matter how much we believe this to be true, society is bent on accepting and appreciating usually that which is superficial.

As we cling onto youth, and attempt to undo the textural facial landscaping of time: wrinkles, puffy hills, and sunken valleys, our society has grabbed the brass scalpel, embracing the surgical eraser of stretched skin. So I ask myself, "What is wrong with a crease or two above my brow, or indications of marionette lines bordering either side of my chin? When did looking like myself become unattractive?"

Just as the Phoenix emerged from the flames, I felt a force within years ago that begged me to rise above the heat of social unacceptance. As a woman of facial difference, common sense prevailed, and I found my wings of beauty.

Thirty years ago at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with a malignant facial tumor -- a large lump that extended from my temple to chin. After being treated with radiation and chemotherapy, the oncology team handling my case informed my parents I had only six months to a year to live. Surviving cancer was nothing short of miraculous. Transcending the emotional and social challenges of the so-called deformity left behind was an even greater marvel.

Living with multiple scars and without a symmetrical face all my adult life drew me to appreciate difference -- difference of personality, size, shape, culture -- ultimately, every level of being. My forced awareness blessed me with insight to what it is that makes an individual beautiful. I am one of an exceptional few that can glance at another who might be missing an ear, and not stare in disbelief. Sixteenth century English author and philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon expressed my beliefs best when he said, "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."

I have come to learn, however, as a society we hath not be frustrated or feel we are to blame for our misguided vision. Sadly, we are programmed at birth to embrace symmetrical features. Studies have revealed that infants will spend far more time focusing on photos of symmetrical individuals than those who have asymmetrical features. And research conducted on various animal species, down to the level of scorpion flies, demonstrate that mating choices are clearly influenced by the symmetry of their design and patterned bodies. There is no escaping the reality that symmetry is easy on the eyes.

So, learning to retrain the eye, mind and heart is the daunting task set before us if we are to appreciate our God-given beauty. Or, if we are to accept the differences of others affected by birth defect, injury or disease. There is no question we have the intelligence and are capable of setting aside our love of superficial beauty once a person's unsightly character is revealed. We can rise above the scorpion fly and be critical of who we are physically attracted to when unattractive non-physical traits reveal themselves. Knowing that a wise mind can reasonably access beauty by weighing the outward and inner aspects of an individual is a saving grace. But we are not all wise, and frequently many are blinded by what is inherent to our nature, and bad behavior prevails. Failed relationships are an unfortunate byproduct of our blind sightedness when couples suffer from the inability to see the soul within. Failing, when one or both parties realize that physical attraction and lust alone cannot sustain a long-term, loving relationship. Physical beauty quickly fades and is without value when the character of an individual is coarse and lacks kindness or consideration of another.

In 2004, Dove soap revealed their findings of how women see themselves and measure their beauty in a comprehensive study titled, “The Dove Report: Challenging Beauty.” The report set the foundation of a notable Ad Campaign embracing and celebrating women of all ages, cultures, sizes and shapes. And, even though the research revealed that 90% of women in the United States consider their looks to be average or above, studies released by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) disclosed that the request for Botox increased by 107% from 2003 to 2004. Women may claim to be satisfied, but many still remain challenged to sport their badge of honor -- their age.

What happens when we critique our own appearance? Being our own judge and jury can present a greater challenge since it is usually more difficult to embrace and accept the unique quality of our image and the truth of our character. And, when we cannot find the inner beauty that lends us confidence, some seek that which offers immediate, or somewhat speedy gratification: Botox, plastic surgery and liposuction.

One of the cultural culprits of our society which is addicted to immediate gratification, is sadly reflected in the new television genre of "fix-me" programming. Extreme Makeover and Swan are prime examples that our self-esteem and perception of physical beauty is in need of serious reexamination. With the intention for women to regain, or to experience for the first time, confident, happy lives, candidates for these shows undergo face and body altering surgery. The most practical aspects incorporated include psychological counseling in order that the women drill down to the core of their sadness, along with fitness and diet regimes to improve health and appearance.

My question remains: Why not nix the surgery and instead focus on the emotional issues that have allowed these women to neglect their personal care. Why have we made it so difficult to take charge of our lives and permit the subtle differences of a bump on the nose or lack of high cheekbones to build an emotional wall, blocking our soul from exuding confidence? Why do some of us allow these slightly different aspects of our natural features prevent us from paying attention to the way we eat, exercise, dress and present ourselves? Why?

In order that we embrace our face and bodies with respect and without artificial means, we need to do the maintenance: eat right, exercise, take the proper vitamins, and treat our body as the temple it truly is. No question this can require a fair amount of time and effort, but the pay-off is significant to our health and to the confidence it feeds our soul.

I speak from a lifetime of experience, as one who knows how a frog can become a prince and the moderately altered face of a woman can be beautiful. I was fortunate, very fortunate early in my journey of cancer recovery to never lose sight of looking my best. In my twenties, I left my home every morning with confidence. It was not until I arrived at work and encountered the public, that my glory waned and I often fell victim to the stares or occasional question of, "What happened to your face?” I allowed myself to be affected, to let my insecurities get the best of me...but only for the moment. Every day, in quiet, personal reflection I knew I was responsible for my mood, happiness and self-esteem, and with that, I would rebound and reenter the world again with a recovered spirit.

In my thirties, I grew stronger in my sense of self, in spite of the expanding map of scars that marked my face and neck from the growing number of corrective/reconstructive surgeries. I still did the drill: my unspoken personal mantra every night of self esteem building sessions -- constant reminders of how I was attractive in spite of the fact that I wore a patch over one eye, had a crooked mouth, and half paralyzed face. I willed myself into emotional wellness with the sensibility that none of these features could ever bear more importance than my attitude. I never lamented over the fact, that not only was my face different but was also absent of Nicole Kidman's nose or Angelina Jolie's lips. Instead, year-after-year, my daily emotional workouts stuck, and the routine was no longer necessary. As with any disciplined training and hard work, we eventually reap the rewards we seek and in my case, I did. Patience is a virtue and my continued determination to never allow the perception of another defeat me was virtuous. My forties, have now been the best years of my life.

How we define beauty will forever be an evolving process, but for now, the American Heritage Dictionary chooses to note beauty as, "The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality." With that said, it is without a doubt that just as pleasure is enjoyed differently by all of us, clearly beauty is a purely subjective matter. Once we are able to appreciate our original features as beautiful and nurture the gift we are given, we will no longer be searching to look like someone else, and finally difference will be divine.