I have no central vision, a blown pupil and misshapen corneas that resulted from a freak accident. So what I see when I try to look at myself is a very fuzzy, non-defined image. Not seeing myself led me to redefine how I evaluated my looks and self-image. And in that process I learned how to feel beautiful. And these lessons apply to all of us.
At first, with post-accident blood in my eyes, I could see nothing of myself but a shape and shadows. I could put on makeup and do my hair, but I had no concept of what it looked like. The same applied to my body and clothes. I also could not see the scale, so I never got on it. What I never expected was that I would feel more beautiful than I ever had -- at that point of almost total blindness. There was a freedom in not focusing on what I looked like or what I weighed. To feel really beautiful for a while was great, because that is not how I normally feel about myself.
Some past history. I grew up obese in the '70s when there were not many obese kids. I was ridiculed mercilessly. And even though I lost weight at 13, in my 20s and even 30s I saw myself as the fat girl. And I did not rely on my looks to get me anything, anywhere or anyone.
Maybe that is part of the reason that not being able to see myself was freeing. Maybe I never really saw myself. I saw a distorted image of how I thought I looked. And that image came from how I defined myself and was not based on reality. And I am one of many of us who look in the mirror and see an image that is a distorted view of self.
There are other reasons why I felt beautiful after the accident. First, I had to rely on others to tell me if my makeup was even, my hair looked OK, or if my outfit matched. Most people told me that I looked great, the same as I always had. And when I asked what I had always looked like, they said that I was attractive or beautiful. Knowing others' perception of me helped me to be more confident about my looks.
Second, I began to focus, in the absence of an external view of myself, on the internal me. On how much good stuff I had on the inside. All the work I did to be healthy, whole, authentic, and happy is who I was. And that seemed beautiful.
Third, I was freed from spending time thinking about what my face looked like and what I weighed. I felt blessed in that in my 40s and 50s I would not see myself age. The image I had of myself, if I chose it, could be frozen in time as me at 42. Moving forward I could choose to ask people about the details of my face and body, or not. And I could choose to think about those things, or not.
But as my brain adjusted, I began to see a little better. And in that place of better came a fuzzy, distorted picture of myself. At the same time, because I knew that I was doing my makeup well and my clothes matched, I stopped asking others what I looked like. And that led to a reliance on the internal dialogue of the fat girl. Coupled with the brutal honesty of my then 6-year-old child, who said I had really dark circles under my eyes and three large lines on my forehead. I knew those deep lines were there, but in not seeing my face, I had forgotten about them.
And then I began to be able to see my weight on my digital scale. Jumping off quickly and literally pressing my nose up to the reading before it went off the display. And knowing your weight means you start thinking about your weight. I lost weight after the accident, and I was a really small size. So I assumed, not being able to see my body, that I looked great. But I got lots of, "You would look better with about 5 or 10 more pounds on you" comments, and I realized I looked emaciated. Even knowing that, it bothered me when I gained weight -- I just did not like the feel of my clothes getting tighter.
So three years post-accident I found myself worrying about my looks, my weight and fretting over my distorted view. I found myself getting Botox for the deep lines on my forehead I could not even see. I found myself getting on the scale and busting my ass exercising to not gain weight. I realized I am no different from any other middle aged woman trying to age gracefully. Suddenly the not seeing myself clearly did not matter. The reality was that I was single and the face of my business. So I needed to be my most attractive self.
And looking good matters in our world, at least to the sighted. They do not have my advantage of not seeing appearance or age. Then they would be able to judge the whole person: the energy, the voice, the spirit. I wish they did. It would be cheaper for me and a whole lot less effort.
But then I decided to view myself as I view others, to get back what I lost when I was mostly blind. I began focusing on my beautiful inside and trusting the external feedback. And I stopped weighing myself. And I stopped trying to see the sizes on the clothes I was buying. And I stopped thinking about what I looked like. And again I am choosing to hold onto that 42-year-old face, the last one I saw clearly.
What could others learn from my experience? First, quit looking at yourself with scrutiny, focusing on every flaw and bump and lump. In fact, don't spend a lot of time and energy looking in the mirror. Imperfections are what make us unique and beautiful. And we judge ourselves much more harshly than we are judged by others. When someone tells you that you look good, believe them.
Second, focus on your whole self, especially what is on the inside. It is that inner glow that comes from happiness, harmony and confidence that makes us look great.
Third, get off the scale and stop worrying about the size you wear. The key is to live and be healthy in your body, not to be a specific size. Lastly, realize the key is to have a great relationship with your body. I had to face all the negative thoughts and things I disliked about mine to be able to love my body when I could no longer see it. Identify those negative thoughts and things you dislike and then challenge them.