For many people who are dealing with chronic pain/illness, perceiving ourselves as beautiful is the furthest thing from our minds. As I struggle to deal with my symptoms and limitations, the last thing I want to do is look in the mirror and see my scraggly-haired, bathrobe garbed, and pain-furrowed brow staring back at me.
When illness robs us of the parts of our body we perceive as holding our beauty - such our hair, skin, limbs, etc. - it’s even harder to see ourselves in a positive light. Yesterday I read a great article about cancer patients who lost all their hair from chemotherapy and how they have reclaimed their beauty in a unique way.
Every time cancer patient Deanne looked in the mirror and saw her bald head, she felt depressed and couldn’t help thinking about having cancer. Being bald is like a beacon to others that you have a serious disease. But then she found a business called Henna Heals, which creates elaborate henna tattoos on the bald heads of those with cancer and genetic alopecia. The tattoos, called “Henna Crowns,” are not permanent; the henna paste stain wears off after about two weeks. They gorgeously transform bald heads into stunning works of art.
One cancer patient with a henna crown said: “she had never felt this beautiful, even before she had cancer.”
Deanne chose a henna crown for herself after two long rounds of chemotherapy. She says in the article, "’I have cancer and I am not only OK with how I look, but I can take back some control and have some (temporary) fun doing it. I think people are surprised to see this because I'm not hiding my baldness or my illness,’ she adds. ... (it has) been a bold and empowering way to approach losing her hair.”
Deanne and I aren’t the only ones who have had trouble looking in the mirror. In another article I read this week, Shelly Baer struggled for years to find self-acceptance as she battled the painful, devastating, and unavoidably visible symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Says Shelly, “I never wanted to be in my body or look into a full-length mirror... Most of my life I've only had a dim awareness of my physical stature: my short arms, my misshapen hands and legs, the way I walk, knowing I was different. I've had to detach from how I look in order to cope, to move on with my life.”
It wasn’t until years later, with therapy and family support, that Shelly was able to boost her self-esteem, accept her body, and transform her disability into a platform for helping others. The next thing she did was to address the "identity-crushing experience of having a visible disability that had kept her in the shadows." She decided to pose semi-nude for 'Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty' which is a visual arts exhibit she helped create with 10 photographers and 22 women with various disabilities to change public perception about beauty and disability. Says Shelly, “It was the most empowering, liberating experience of my life. The first step in shedding my invisibility and in being a role model for others.”
Shelly talked about “The Beauty of Disability” at the TEDx Miami conference. You can watch it HERE.
I have also experienced this feeling of empowerment in finding my own beauty. I discovered the Traveling Red Dress. When I look at the pictures from my Red Dress photo shoot, I don’t see pain and illness - I see beauty I hadn’t recognized or embraced in years. I had allowed myself to slip into a narrow and focused view of my “sick self” and was ignoring how much more than that I truly am.
It’s all too easy to get stuck in being your “sick self,” not just in living that way but in making it your entire identity inside and out. Don’t let your pain/illness become your image. Find ways to uplift yourself: make your own version of a henna crown, find a red dress, bravely reveal your body - or discover your own unique way to empowerment by finding your true beauty.
‘Push Girls’ - New TV Show Features Women in Wheelchairs
Have you heard about this new show? It's called 'Push Girls' about a group of women who are paraplegics or quads, all wheelchair bound. It premieres on the Sundance Channel on Monday night, June 4 at 10pm. However, if you don’t want to wait, you can watch the entire first episode online HERE.
The whole premise of the show is that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else: we live, love, work, have relationships, and get immersed in things we are passionate about doing. I saw two of the women make an appearance on 'The Ellen Degeneres Show' this week. They talked about ‘Push Girls’ and how they want to stamp out society's ignorance over what their lives are like. I don’t know if any of the women deal with chronic pain, but they certainly are dealing with some disability issues that affect me in my life.
I don't know how the show will shape up long term, but I'm intrigued after watching the first episode. Check it out! From their page on the Sundance website you can access their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and also watch their appearance on Ellen.