“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Beauty is a concept I struggle with—what it means, why it matters. I struggle because huge chunks of my life have not been beautiful. They have been ugly, marred by trauma, with pain, and anger.
We think of beauty and often visualize glossy magazine pages and wafer thin models. We see beauty as superficial—eye color, hair texture, and numbers on a scale. We see beauty as something to be measured and weighed.
I don’t see beauty that way. I see beauty as the grace point between what hurts and what heals, between the shadow of tragedy and the light of joy. I find beauty in my scars.
We all have scars, inside and out. We have freckles from sun exposure, emotional trigger points, broken bones, and broken hearts.
However our scars manifest, we need not feel ashamed but beautiful.
It is beautiful to have lived, really lived, and to have the marks to prove it. It’s not a competition—as in “My scar is better than your scar”—but it’s a testament of our inner strength.
It takes nothing to wear a snazzy outfit well, but to wear our scars like diamonds? Now that is beautiful.
Fifteen years ago, I would have laughed at this assertion.
“Are you crazy?” I’d say, while applying lipstick before bed. I was that insecure, lips stained, hair fried by a straightening iron, pores clogged by residue foundation, all in an attempt to be different from how I naturally was, to be beautiful for someone else.
I covered my face to hide because it hurt to look at myself in the mirror. I was afraid my unbeautiful truth would show somehow through my skin—that people would know I had been abused, that I as a result was starving myself, harming myself in an effort to cope. I was afraid people would see that I was clinging to life by a shredding thread.
Now? I see scars and I see stories. I see a being who has lived, who has depth, who is a survivor. Living is beautiful. Being a part of this world is beautiful, smile-worthy, despite the tears.
Beauty isn’t a hidden folder full of Kate Moss images for a kid dying to forget and fit in, a lifted face, a fat injected smile, or six-pack abs. It is the smile we are born with, the smile that sources from the divine inside, the smile that can endure, even if we’ve been through a lot.
Emotional pain is slow to heal, as I have been slow to heal. My healing started with a word I received as a birthday gift. It was a photograph my friend took of a forest, the word “forgive” painted in pink on a stone. I didn’t understand why that word meant something until I really started to think about it.
I blamed myself for so long for things that weren’t my fault. Life stopped being beautiful to me, I stopped feeling beautiful inside, and my smile stopped shining beauty out into the world.
I think in order for us to make life beautiful we need to feel our smiles as we feel our frowns.
For so long, I only honored only my pain and my sorrow. I lost my smile, less because of the trauma and more because I spent so much time lamenting my scars.
When I decided they were beautiful, I became beautiful. When I took power away from the negative emotions, my unchangeable traumatic past, I was better able to find joy in the present.
How did I do this?
First, I made a soul collage, a board for the life of my dreams. I pasted onto the poster magazine images that depicted things I see as myself and want for myself. It became a beautiful visual guide for what matters to me beyond the superficial.
This board reminds me to honor who I am in essence, who I was before anything bad happened to me, before I believed anything was wrong with me. This board provides me with a path of beauty through the scars.
Secondly, I found the book The Why Café, by John P. Strelecky. He encourages readers to pinpoint their PFE (purpose for existence). While reading, I realized beauty is my PFE. My purpose is to make whatever I can beautiful. Not beautiful in the superficial sense but in the smile of the heart and soul sense. Thus far, it’s working.
Sometimes all it takes for your life to change is a shift in perspective, one solitary action, one solitary word, and everything is different—an action like a smile, a word like forgive.
Take a moment now to smile. Do you feel it in your muscles? In your skin? In your toes? Where do you feel happiness?
When bad things happen, we don’t instinctively feel happy and beautiful, but we don’t need to despair because life gets ugly sometimes. Joy and beauty are everywhere, in everything, in every one of us—no matter how we look, and no matter how we may hurt temporarily.
Grace is beauty in motion and we can create it by choosing to smile—to recognize that we’re strong, despite our insecurities, and the world is an amazing place, despite its tragedies.
We may hurt, but we will heal—and there’s beauty in our scars.
Photo by Delphine Divos
Alexandra Heather Foss is a freelance writer whose writing has been featured on Tiny Buddha and in The New York Times. What time is not spent creating word art is spent with divine nature—of herself, other, cosmos, and this special planet we call home. Visit her on Facebook and on Pinterest here.
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