In the last two weeks, I have had some serious beauty therapy. I had my hair cut and coloured at an organic and chemical-free salon in Soho (Sara took me from dark red-brown back to my natural blonde). Josie (my regular therapist at a lovely Wimbledon spa) scrubbed my pores with a facial, darkened my lashes and brows, buffed and painted my toenails and fingernails, waxed my bikini line, and soothed the stressed sore skin on my hands with oil and cream. I will start a new internship on Tuesday and I wanted to be physically presentable. All of this needed doing; the approaching new chapter of my life gave me the momentum with which to clean up from head to toe. The funny thing is that I still don’t feel pretty.
My hair is bombshell blonde. My fingernails are pale pink and my toenails are darker pink. My naturally blonde lashes are black. My brows match my hair and frame my face. Everyone has complimented my new look – particularly my hair – and I did this with the intention of feeling better about myself so I could go into my new job with confidence. But I’m not confident. I can acknowledge that I look better (and I certainly feel cleaner and more professional) but looking better still doesn’t equal prettiness.
I understand that the idea that ‘I have a disability so I will never really be beautiful no matter what I do’ is quite whiny, selfish, and self-indulgent, but I have internalized the idea that my impairment will always make me an ugly person. From the time I was very little, people told me I was ugly. When you are told that enough times, you believe it. If you get twenty compliments in one day and one insult, you remember the insult. You focus on the insult. You internalize the insult. At least I do. I did when I was little. I do now. I’m an ISFJ: extremely sensitive, overly self-critical and self-blaming. I realize now that I also use the idea of overcoming my disability as my path to a more beautiful self. I believe that when I finally stop limping, finally heal all of the visible signs of my impairment, and heal the spasticity inside my body, then I will be beautiful or have the potential to become beautiful, the way a person on a diet believes she will be beautiful, happy, whole, worthy, and confident when she loses thirty pounds. But that isn’t how it works.
If I carry myself in a way that projects confidence and happiness, I will be more beautiful regardless of the evidence of my spastic diplegia. If I truly believe that I am beautiful exactly as I am – regardless of the colour of my hair, the brand of my mascara, the price of my underwear, or the lingering presence of my disability – I will become more beautiful as I live my life in this way: unencumbered and fundamentally self-assured. My sense of myself can’t hinge on everything I do to try to make myself more beautiful. My confidence has to come from within.