~ The New Normal
As you may have read or heard previously, when I was young, all I wanted was to fit in. I wanted to take a giant eraser to my skin - the redness, the scale, the soreness, and just make it white. Or black. Or brown, which I may be without Ichthyosis. Any colour but red. Any colour.
When I was five I told my best friend I that I wanted to be a doctor. To help other people like me. He told me that I would have to chop all my skin off before I become a doctor. And then he chewed my Barbie's hairbrush. Fast forward 10 years later and a girl I considered a school friend told me if I wanted to enter Dolly's Model of the Year contest, I would have to bleach my skin. (Ironic that both of these suggestions of drastically changing my appearance would bring me more pain than if I just endured my natural appearance.) When I was 20, someone with Ichthyosis told me I only got an academic scholarship and a graduate job because people felt sorry for me. It seemed, to others, my skin was either gong to hold back or falsify my success.
I wondered whether I would have to "chop my skin off" for any occupation? I wondered if I could really be myself to succeed in any occupation, or academic or social pursuit.
People change their appearance as a means of striving for success all the time. Magazines and advertising tell us success is flawless skin. Success is a flat tummy. It's fitting into skimpy bathers two weeks after giving birth. Success is fake hair and nails and lips and foreheads that do not move. It's a dandruff-free scalp and meal replacement shakes. Success is teeth whiter than heaven, done in a lunchbreak. It's a hairless body and a fake tan. Success is looking like a different version of ourselves. How can this be happiness?
It's funny how things work out. At 30 years old, I feel successful. My success has been because of my natural appearance. Success has come in the form of writing, speaking and TV work. And more friends than I thought I'd ever have. I can't believe I have built a media career on stories about my appearance. I can't believe I have been photographed by a high profile fashion photographer.
I can believe I have defied those who thought my appearance would hold me back from success. I do still feel I have to work harder to win people over so they feel more comfortable with my redness, but I feel I have been able to impress more people with my experience and outgoing nature than ever before. The most unique part of me certainly has lead me to a great life.
About a month ago I had dinner with a very lovely boy I had met the previous week. He asked me if he could add me on Facebook when we were at the dinner table. I used his phone to find my name, and he requested me as a friend. My personal Facebook page has quite strict security settings. Before I accepted his friend request, he scrolled down through my limited profile. Only my limited profile was not so limited. And he saw the Instagram filtered version of this photo (the one on Facebook is not airbrused, just sepia).
Taken before I went surfing with Layne. I am pretty proud of this photo. It's not often I wear such few clothes for the camera - or ever - I am usually wearing many layers. And I quite like my body - I have a great hourglass figure and I am petite. I'm really short which I also like. Those $8 bathers are so flattering too.
"Hello!," he said, with a gorgeous broad smile on his face. Then he zoomed in. Gosh, we'd known each other a week, and I rather like him, but he had seen so much of me already. In my bathers. Boobs and legs. Boobs and legs. Oh god!
I was mortified. But loving the compliment at the same time. I don't need a man to validate my appearance. But when he did, it felt good. Especially when he really doesn't know me very well and likes what he saw, and when many other people are so quick to judge my apprarance negatively. And he still wants to hang out with me now. That makes me so happy.
I have friends that look Different who are not afraid to show their difference. They are proud of their bodies. They embrace their true beauty. They have beautiful personailities too. They love their bodies. They don't change themselves to conform to beauty ideals. They also use their difference for good (check out Cheryl's blog for some beautiful words about The Different, stereotypes and using difference for good.)
Ichthyosis was featured on Embarrassing Bodies last night. While raising awareness is good, it saddens me that this condition is labeled 'embarrassing'. Sensationalist exploitation. I did not watch it. I'd prefer it if no one watched it. This type of media only perpetuates the idea that different bodies and appearances are something to be ashamed about. And this body of mine, and others' with Ichthyosis, is something to be proud of, not embarrassed about. It overcomes adversity every day - physically and emotionally.
I strongly believe that success is loving our true beauty and being proud of our difference. It's realising that our uniqueness will amount to greatness, if we let it.
This post is for the I Heart My Body linkup. What do you love about your body?