Short story about discovering what true beauty really means ...
The scent of nail varnish, L'Oreal shampoo and hair dye settle in my nostrils. The mirror clad walls reflect soft down-lights on ivory coloured tiles, and I hear Mariah Carey’s, “I don’t wanna cry” playing in the background. I’m draped in an unflattering nylon cape, awaiting my new bob-cut with bangs. Behind me, a woman sweeps wet curls into a corner.
I raise my head from reading Vogue and brave a glance in the mirror. Catching my reflection, I quickly lower my eyes and snap my head side-ways, to avoid what I see - grey eyes, dull completion and pock marks.
The woman sweeping the salon floor diverts my attention. She looks about fifty years old. She wears tight blue jeans, a white T-shirt and red jacket with flat golden buttons. Her hair is dyed white blonde, and she has matching red lipstick and nail polish. I’m not sure if she notices me looking at her, but she stops sweeping and walks over to stand behind my chair.
Smiling at my reflection in the mirror, she tilts her head, lifts her finger to her chin and says ...
“You know, you’d be pretty without those scars?”
She points to where my cheek and chin meet. That dreaded place on my face, the old breeding ground of my teenage bacteria.I don’t know what to say. Was that meant to be a compliment?
At nineteen years old, my pimples lay dormant, but the acne scars remain like craters left by an extinct volcano.
“You know you can get something done about them? I know someone. Here, let me get you a card.” She rushes over to the front counter, leaving me to dare another look at my reflection.
Is it really possible for me to get rid of these scars? I would do almost anything to get rid of them - anything to have skin like Claudia Schiffer on the cover of the mag I’d just been reading. The thought of not having those ugly scars outweighed the embarrassment I felt by her highlighting them.
The thought of not having those ugly scars outweighed the embarrassment I felt by her highlighting them.
As soon as I get back to the office, I dial the number on the card and book a consultation for that evening. I sign-up for 12, very expensive treatments that I was warned would make my skin tingle and burn as it peeled away. I was also ensured the treatment would make my scars disappear.
After each treatment my skin stings red raw, I can't wear make-up or go out under the sun. My face looks like a red-faced, sun burnt monkey’s. But, the therapist tells me that my peeling layers will soon give me the scar-free face I desire.
Twenty-four years later …
I sit in a Saigon eye-wear shop ordering a set of new reading glasses for a child I was helping. A well-meaning seller woman, about fifty years old, with tattooed eyebrows and thick pink lipstick approaches me.
"You, you! You wanna be beautiful?"
The woman stands right in front of me, poking her wrinkled finger in my face. She points to the wrinkles around my eyes, then moves down my face to my now aged acne scars …
"Very ugly, ugly, I make you beautiful." She holds up a magic face cream with a yellow lid that promises to smooth away my ugly wrinkles and scars.
“You try. Yes. Make you beautiful. You husband, he be very lucky man.”
The years between my 19 year-old-self and 43 year-old-self have taught me much about what's important in life and what beauty really looks like.
I have learned a smile is more powerful than a scar. I learned that just by being born we are all flippin’ miracles. Just by taking another breath makes us beautiful.
It’s not the scars we need to get rid of, it’s the perception that we are any less beautiful because of them.
I have learned a smile is more powerful than a scar...
I smile into her eyes and I ask her in Vietnamese, "Tell me Sister, what do you think? What is more important, beauty on the inside or beauty on the outside?"
She pauses a moment, surprised I spoke in her language.
"Of course, beauty on the inside!"
I reply, "Thank you Sister, then I am already beautiful."
I wanted to share this story to highlight how much influence we hold over each other - how much our words matter. When we meet another woman, do we notice her flaws first, or do we seek to find the inner beauty she holds within?
The other lesson in this story is how we view ourselves. When we look in the mirror, we can be so harsh in judging our own bodies and appearance. But we cannot judge ourselves for something, without judging another (even if we are unaware, we are doing it).
I'd love to hear about your experiences on this topic. Please share by leaving a note in the comments. ~ Karletta Marie