Unpretty – Lupus and Image

I’m not pretty.

There, I said it. And before I get inundated with comments about low self-esteem and not loving myself enough, hear me out. When I say ‘I’m not pretty.’ what I really mean is that I don’t fit the current cultural ideal of beauty. I’m kinda cross-eyed, have chipmunk cheeks from years of prednisone, you can see my scalp through my thinning hair, I have one heck of a barrel belly and I’m covered in striae from my neck to my knees. I even have a hump – a “buffalo hump”  as one doctor wrote on my intake form. Let’s be honest; Miss America, I am not. But the fact is, I really don’t care anymore. That’s not important.

Weird-Al-Fat

Medications can bulk up your face and make you feel gross.

When I was younger, my appearance really bothered me. After my hair started falling out from cytoxan treatments, I nearly cried when my mom suggested taking me wig shopping. For me, that was just the latest kick in the face after a lifetime of being unpretty; for being teased by other kids in childhood, having my own mother criticize my appearance and eating habits and put me on diets (Slimfast at 12? Oy Vey.).  And watching my skin break apart from medication-induced bloating? I didn’t go out for months. At the height of my treatment, I basically looked like Weird Al Yankovitz in “Fat”. Not happy times.

However, at some point, I started realizing a few things that helped me feel better.  Now I’m more focused on the things in life that I feel define the real me: my passion for writing, for being as healthy as I can and my determination to enjoy life (and the occasional cookie). Things like attitude, humor, and passion don’t change with your prednisone dose and, unlike your face, don’t wither with age. Weight or body type don’t define your dreams, either.

“Beauty” is fluid. Over time and across the globe, what people consider “beautiful” differs. And I mean really differs. And it still does today. In ancient Japan, women would shave their eyebrows and blacken their teeth to look beautiful. In the 50’s girls were encouraged to be curvier, not thinner. Today, in other parts of the world facial tattoos and scars as just a few of the things considered sexy. Check out this Cosmopolitan article that highlights a few of the diverse ideas of beauty. What’s on the magazine covers is only the latest fad, not an eternal commandment.

Looks don’t equal appearance. I’m thanking Dr. Nerdlove for this one. As he writes, “Your looks are genetically encoded into you; you can’t change the shape of your face, your height or your build without painful and expensive surgery… and even then that doesn’t always work….But you can change how people see you by how you present yourself.” While I can’t avoid that squinty-crossed-eyed look I get in photographs, I can always wear a kick-ass pair of glasses, or rock shades if it’s really that big a deal (it’s not). And while my mid-section has stubbornly remained the same no matter what weight I’ve lost or gained, I can work to make it less of a health risk and dress so that I don’t look like I’m pregnant – unless, of course, I want freebies from the maternity stores or to give my mom a minor heart attack. I can dress and project the image of who I am; a strong, smart and all-around ass-kicking woman instead of projecting an image of a self-pitying victim of disease.

People change. Physically, that is. Over the years my hair has changed from medium brown with a few gold highlights (or so my mom says) to a near pitch-black, to an almost-dirty blond. It’s gone from thick and curly to fine, smooth and straight as a pin. My body type has shifted from an hourglass to a pear to an apple. And I’ve had my legs so swollen with fluid that I couldn’t walk and stiff hips and times where I needed to walk with a cane. With lupus, change is inevitable. Change can be scary and unwanted, but it’s not the enemy – people (and by “people” I mean you) are so resilient and adaptable. No matter how you look now, change will come and you’ll look different. Hell, beat nature to the punch and change yourself – dye your hair, cut it off, get a tattoo. The less you fear change, the easier it will be to accept yourself no matter how you look.

Honestly? There are more important things to worry about. While I like to look nice, I’ll happily trade off looking pale and a pasty for cancer-free skin and avoiding sun-sickness. You can do plenty in world without looking like a model, but you can do nothing if you’re hospitalized or dead; health is the foundation of everything.

There’s plenty you can do to avoid that unpretty feeling. Start with a foundation of health. Take the best care of yourself that you can. Things like simply drinking more water can help hydrate your skin and flush out unflattering waste. Pick out a role model who has a similar body type to yours to get ideas on how to dress to flatter yourself. I personally suggest one of the Old Hollywood actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck or Mae West. Finally – get over it. As a person, you are so much more than just how you look and all the other wonderful qualities that you have are what should be celebrated. And if you feel like you don’t have any other wonderful qualities, then get out in the world and start developing some: start a blog about something you’re passionate about, travel, take up a hobby. Listen to your doctor – Dr. Nerdlove in this case, when he says “Who You Are Is A Work In Progress”.

How do you cope when lupus messes with your looks? What advice would you give to others?

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One thought on “Unpretty – Lupus and Image

  1. I actually take biotin daily, to strengthen and preserve the hair I have remaining. Lupus has left me with a pretty sizable bald patch in the top of my head. So I style around it, covering it with either the hair around the crown of my head, scarves or headbands. I absolutely refuse to look the way I feel!

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