“Scars remind me just how far that I’ve come.”
~Shakira, from the song Gypsy
In the early hours of the morning today, in Spain, I turned on the television to watch last night’s recording of the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. It was during this newscast that an interview with actress and advocate, Ashley Judd, was aired. I listened as Ms Judd spoke of the recent media criticism about her “puffy face,” and rumors of plastic surgery. You have, likely, seen this interview or read the essay that Ms Judd wrote for The Daily Beast, where she sounded off on the controversy.
In the NBC interview, Ms Judd says she had been fighting a sinus infection and had been on steroid treatment. She made a television appearance with some swelling in the face and ~ presto ~ she’s the focus of intense scrutiny and what she terms as a “double bind.”
“I was being slammed by these extraordinary rumors. I started to catch the double bind where you know, my face looked puffy. So they say, she’s had work, you know. And then you look at the same image in a different interpretation by a separate set of people and they say, oh, come on. She doesn’t even have any wrinkles at all. She’s clearly had work. I look bad, I had work. I look too good, I had work. There was an incredibly nasty vitriolic and gloating tone about it. I think it’s the objectification of girls and women and this hypersexualization of the society that creates the criticism. We’re anesthetized by it, we’re taught not to feel how badly it hurts. Get back to the gym, buy another butt clenching dvd and this will undo the hurt, when actually, it’s contributing to the pain. I want people to share their puffy face moment and talk about being excoriated, being humiliated, being objectified, and ridiculed, and men as well. My husband and I watch a lot of motor sport in our house, and the products that are marketed to men and the products boys are given to be masculine and sexy are so ridiculous. Equally so. I think what happened to me is very common. It might look a little different in other people’s lives because they may not be public figures, but we all go through it.”
I listened to Ms Judd’s words and what struck me the most was the following statement:
“I want people to share their puffy face moment and talk about being excoriated, being humiliated, being objectified, and ridiculed, and men as well.”
I sat down and took note of how, over the years, I have been criticized/humiliated as a child, teenager, and woman about aspects of my physical appearance or circumstance. How these moments defined, for quite some time, how I felt about myself. How I bought in, like millions of other people, to this worldly perception of my worth, or lack there of. How I have, at times, disliked the person I saw in the mirror and how I have set myself free from the madness.
As I sipped my morning tea, I first thought of words written in my foster records from the United Kingdom. 33 pages that included this comment:
"She is a strange looking child, long and thin with dark colouring and skin, and takes after her father.”
I must admit that, sometimes, in the darkness, my mind wanders down the path of past, taking me back to the first 33 pages of my life. I have often thought it strange, not to mention unprofessional, that a social worker would write the kind of comments that mine did, throwing out her judgments about me. She emphasized that I was ‘dark’ like my Spanish father and the ‘extra-marital’ daughter of my mother. My social worker tagged me as ‘difficult to place.’ As a little girl growing up in America, and internationally adopted, I was sometimes called a ‘bastard’ child by adults who should have known better, and by my peers who were merely echoing comments passed along by their parents.
My early life was consumed with themes of color, race, and illegitimacy. I was dark, a baby whose biological parents walked away from her, and a baby that was given the distinguished title of “difficult to place,” by a social worker.
Wow! I cannot count how often I looked into the mirror (as a child and adolescent) and said to myself, “My parents didn’t want me and I feel like a piece of trash that was thrown out and left behind.” (Let me stress, even adoption and loving adoptive parents cannot wash away a trauma like abandonment and loss of cultural identity. A person must make the decision to heal these wounds and understand that this healing will take time.)
Somewhere between first and second grades, I came down with a terrible case of chickenpox. This left me with a scar on my left cheek. An additional marking, if you will, that I was teased about, by my peers. This marking, I believed, was my fault because I had done something wrong for my first parents to leave me. The scar was, in my mind, a reminder to me and everyone who saw me ~ that I was inherently bad. Oh, in the teenage years, I tried covering it up with makeup and I moved on to dermabrasion, you name it. This scar bothered me greatly. What I did not realize, and simply because I was too young, was that the scar on the cheek was a subconscious reminder of the scars that had been left on my spirit, from early in my life. Even if this scar from chickenpox was erased completely, I still would not have felt good about me.
The scar removal that was essential for my well-being was an internal healing.
As I moved through life, education, and career, I found myself in television news. This arena can be a hyper-critical one where viewers (and the powers that be) analyze and criticize. If one is not careful, you can be pulled into the downward spiral. What you wear, how your cut your hair, even the simple act of donning glasses when you normally wear contacts can become a daily topic of discussion. This commentary mutes the intelligence that women bring to the news industry.
After several years in a business I had dreamed of since 7th grade, I walked away. Looking back, I know this action ultimately saved me. I could no longer be scrutinized in this way. I could no longer sit on an anchor desk and read a story about a person in custody for murder who was “adopted,” as if this gave cause for the alleged criminal action. I said nothing, but inside, it was eating away at me. I became ill, had several bouts of fainting, light-headedness, trembling hands. I was being treated for a thyroid disorder, this I knew. However, there was something more. I could feel it. I was hurting. I was exhausted from a sleepless schedule. I was numb from keeping quiet for too long.
We’re anesthetized by it, we’re taught not to feel how badly it hurts.
As if the heart is a catcher’s mitt, holding in the pain and never throwing it back. The hurt waits deep within and, when it is not released, our bodies begin to react.
The message that inner-healing was a life-saving decision came some time after leaving the news industry. I rode an emotional roller coaster of what had been diagnosed as Lupus, disproven, and then ultimately found to be severe allergies to gluten and dairy.
In addition to my dietary changes, I began to see that my emotions also impacted my health. I began to meditate and to make a conscious effort to be grateful for everything in my life. I have been doing this work of holistic healing and it is a beautiful thing! I desire to treat my body like a temple, and my emotions like the jewels housed inside the temple. I give myself the gift of health, turning away from foods that do not heal me and from thoughts that do not serve me.
Gratitude, Thankfulness, Appreciation: These emotions set me free. Three attitudes that I began to focus on, each morning, before the mirror, while preparing myself for the day.
Appreciating all that I was and all I had been given. Appreciating, even the scar on my cheek, as it has been with me for nearly all of my life. It is not an ugly mark ~ it is a beautiful part of who I am. It does remind me how far I’ve come and, if it magically vanished today, I would miss it.
Gratitude for the experiences in my life, no matter how challenging, because they have helped to mold the woman I am today. And, I like this woman. I live a life of integrity, love, purpose, openness, thankfulness.
I am thankful to my God because I know He never abandoned me. The physical can be left alone, however, the spirit never is.
I am beautiful, not because of any physical attribute, but because I possess a beautiful inner spirit. One that urges me to live authentically, celebrating the uniqueness of who I am and the lessons my life journey has taught me. You see, physical beauty will fade over time, and no one is immune to this. Inner beauty, however, is eternal.
As Ashley Judd so poignantly wrote:
“The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator.”
As a society, we have developed a culture where tearing each other apart is easier than lifting each other up. We have allowed the way we see ourselves and the way we see each other to be molded by the media. It is time to wake up and heal the wounds that we’ve caused.
You see, we are responsible for fixing what ails us.
Ms Judd’s recent experience with the media highlights the need for a kinder society. One that acknowledges beauty of spirit and refrains from objectification of body. A society that will hear the hurts of its people (women, children, men) and will value the messengers: scars, flaws, and all.