Last week, I opened the self-compassion discussion with things no one wants to talk about, the inner battles of body image and eating disorders. After accepting the truth of my own disorders, I worked to dig deep down to the root of them. Where did they come from? Since when did I become so critical of my body and image?
Looking back, I recognized a point where I became ultra-aware of my appearance. After weening off an anti-depressant and birth control during my last and most stressful year of college, my skin broke out with painful cystic acne. It exploded all over my cheeks and chin like wild fire; bright red pimples that felt so itchy and irritated, I could hardly keep myself from picking and popping them for physical relief alone.
After always having mostly clear skin, I was shocked and distraught that I suddenly had such severe acne. Many hours were spent in front the mirror while either picking at my face or piling on the “most natural” make-up to cover it up. I preferred to hide out at home over going out and risk being seen, especially by anyone who had known me with clear skin.
And then one day in Yoga class, I finally made a real connection between my mind, body, and spirit. I found myself completely tuned into the sensations inside my body that flowed seamlessly with every breath. I was suddenly filled with compassion for myself and this body that carries me, accepting my outer flaws and understanding why I needed them to learn, to grow, and to fulfill my life’s purpose. From then on, my yoga practice has become the first and most important task of each day, always inviting me to reconnect and cultivate gratitude for my body just as it is right now.
Now what about the insecurities that go much deeper than the skin and are completely out of our control? What about the life-changing illnesses, injuries, and cancer, that not only consume and destroy our health, strength, and function, but also physical appearance and confidence? The dark and terrifying experiences that, again, no one wants to talk about?
I am honored to be the neighbor of an amazingly strong and bold woman, Ashley Kwiatkowski, who has been battling brain cancer since 2016. At the age of 24, Ashley had to shave off her long, blonde hair in preparation for surgery that successfully removed of 80% of a computer mouse size tumor in her brain. Today, she continues to wear electrode patches on her head to continuously supply radiation therapy to inhibit growth of the remaining portion of her tumor.
In today’s society where thick, long hair is treasured for beauty and a measure of self-worth, I’m sure all women can relate to even the painful thought of losing their hair. And to step out in public bald, much less with eye-catching cancer-fighting head gear? Now that takes enormous courage and vulnerability. But for Ashley, it’s not a choice, it’s reality.
Every day, she steps out bravely into the world, setting an astounding example to others in self-acceptance and confidence. Now that’s real beauty to me. She reminds me that it doesn’t matter how our looks may change; our sparkling eyes and smile remain the same if we allow them to. And that’s the most important and beautiful part of us all.
But many days, it’s hard to shine our inner sparkle or even step foot outside our door.
To help keep the light in her sparkle, Ashley joined First Descents, a non-profit organization that provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer. Their mission is to empower these young cancer fighters to go beyond their diagnosis, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same, relieving the stress of their challenges and refocusing on their capabilities.
No matter what affects your sense of self-worth and image, there hasn’t and never will be a day that you don’t deserve to shine bright. And on the days that do dull your sparkle, you are always deserving of whatever self-care you need to refuel your fire of self-love and confidence. Whether practicing yoga or meditation, joining a support group, calling a loved one, or taking a bath, there are endless activities available to support the amazingly unique and beautiful person you are.
Still searching for a self-care practice that works for you? Feel free to contact me and explore new ideas.
Stay tuned for more to come about Ashley's courageous battle with brain cancer. If you are, or know someone who is, currently battling cancer and would like to connect with others who deeply relate to your experience, feel free to reach out directly to Ashley or First Descents.
Does this article resonate with you and your life situation? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments!