Reflections on beauty

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”  ~ Kahlil Gibran

Reading Catherine’s guest blog post yesterday inspired me to write a little more on the nature of beauty. It was clear to me and to those of you who read and commented on Catherine’s post that she knows the true meaning of the word.

Last year I wrote about the case of  Riam Dien, a young law student, who won her case against Abercrombie & Fitch in an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal. The student was born with no left forearm. She was working at the Saville Row branch of the store when one of her managers told her to get off the shop floor. She was told that by wearing a cardigan to cover her disability she was violating Abercrombie’s strict ‘Look’ policy. Although Dien’s case has nothing to do with breast cancer per se, it has everything to do with our image obsessed world, which would rather we kept our scars and so-called  ”imperfections” hidden.

Following the successful outcome of her case, she said: “Abercrombie & Fitch needs to realise that people come in different shapes, colours, sizes and disabilities….‘They have a disturbing sub-culture. I hope they realise that beauty lies in diversity rather than perfection.”

I salute Dien for her bravery in taking this store to court and opening up a discussion in the media of how we define beauty.In wanting us to hide our scars or “imperfections”, society looses out an opportunity to see what real beauty is. Of course we know that we are much more than our bodies, but in this perfect-body image obsessed world, our scars and so-called  “imperfections” are often hidden and the world misses an opportunity to see what real beauty is.

Catherine wrote of how her mastectomy altered her body image and how she learned to live with this. The notion of equating a woman’s sexiness with her breasts is a given in our society. Breasts are everywhere – in bikinis on the beach, in commercials, in movies, on television, on billboards and buses, magazines. If you were an alien assessing our society for what we care about, breasts would be way up there. So, when you have breast cancer, you lose a piece of you that society celebrates and elevates (no pun intended). Which can make you wind up feeling less than whole. That is why Catherine’s honest and moving account of her own scars was so inspirational.

Catherine’s post was a call to compassion for my own body. While I sometimes struggle with an altered body image too, I am learning to forgive my imperfections and learning to love being in this flawed but still amazing body (as all our bodies are flawed and still amazing). Just as we can see beauty in nature ravaged by winds and rains, we can surely learn to see that same beauty in the myriad scars of our own bodies, which bear testimony to all we have been through.

The writer Dana Jennings describes scars as “primal tattoos, marks of distinction that showed you had been tried and had survived the test.” Each of own scars tells its own story – just like Catherine, we have all been tested and survived the test, stronger, wiser, and more compassionate than before.

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross