Loving myself, inside and out, has been a process. I wasn't ever overly concerned about my dark skin or greying hair. I also never really waivered about the strength of my inner qualities like intellect or kindness. It's the shell that covers me and the illness raging within that's damaged it that made being comfortable with what I look like problematic.
For years, I didn't know what was happening to me internally, I only saw the negative results: thinning hair, male patterned baldness, and extreme weight gain. The changes, at least initially, only seemed to hurt my vanity. But, unfortunately, chronic inflammation caused by the autoimmune disease IgG4 related systemic disease would go on to damage my organs, tissues and my joints. And, this would result in innumerable procedures and surgeries; that's when my attitude about the body I'd been given changed.
Anytime I looked in the mirror, I saw Frankenstein's monster staring back at me. My neck has a linear scar from four surgical lymph node biopsies and removals. There's another small hole behind my right ear from where a fifth swollen lymph biopsy was performed too. These procedures left the skin underneath my chin so loose it bulges out like a bullfrog when I eat or drink. My smile, which used to perfectly frame my smile, also droops thanks to two transient ischemic strokes.
My stomach is riddled with eight, one-inch scars from one side to the other. They're the remnants of two surgeries, six years apart, to repair my stomach, esophagus, hiatal hernia, and remove small cysts. No matter what fade cream or scar gel I've slathered on the raised, dark wounds their appearance hasn't gotten any better. My desire to turn them into something more pleasant to look at made me contemplate getting a giant tattoo of a smiley face to connect them all.
I had no plan for the stretch marks that cover my legs and buttocks like a spider web after years of gaining more than 60 pounds and losing half of it. I just vowed not to stick my formerly athletic legs that are now flabby into stretch pants without a long top.
At least my scars and stretch marks, along with the tiny pinhole marks left from procedures to dull and burn the nerves from my spine that were radiating pain and making it difficult for me to walk, can be covered by modest clothing. Much to my dismay, there's nothing to conceal my pronounced limp and my shiny cane.
There were times I'd stand in front of my closet for hours, hoping to find an outfit to cover my body like a burka. If that wasn't possible, oversized outfits that allowed me to avoid revealing that my skin underneath wasn't smooth would do. And, I certainly didn't even walk around my own house naked.
I didn't realize how self-deprecating my behavior was until I noticed my fiancé staring at me as I lotioned my body after getting out of the shower one day. As I grabbed my towel to cover myself, I snapped at him, "What are you looking at?"
He answered, "you."
His reply, "You're beautiful. I like looking at my gorgeous fiancée. Is that okay?"
When he was done talking, I walked into the bathroom and looked over every inch of my body. I didn't see what he saw that day. But, each day I saw more and more I liked.
I realized high cheek bones still accentuated my face when I smiled. My fuller figure gave me more curves. My back was smooth, long and lean. And, my hair was coming in fuller and stronger than it had been in years. I had perfect eyesight and beautiful full lips. And, when I did smile my eyes seemed to sparkle.
I even began to embrace my flaws. I started thinking about them as the beauty marks of a survivor. It occurred to me that I've lived long enough to watch my body heal and thrive. I've seen my flesh become strong enough to withstand whatever has been done it; and that's enough to make me proud of the unique being that I am, as well as the skin I'm in.