So what should I (or you, if you’re so inclined) take away from all this? Well, first of all, don’t be silly like me and ever upload anything you’d rather not have literally everyone you’ve ever known seeing.
Additionally, please feel free to use me as a cautionary tale to scare young children away from mindlessly sharing their pictures on the internet. It’s a good lesson to learn early.
Secondly and more importantly, though, after the initial shock and embarrassment died down, I guess I do like that the story got passed around. To me, it shows that the public does like the unconventional. Or maybe it shows that the “unconventional” is actually quite conventional after all. It told me that that people are interested in someone who isn’t just a cookie cutter image of what they see on the runway. What it said to me is that there’s nothing wrong with looking like you belong on a runway, but there’s nothing wrong with looking like you don’t either.
As an adult, few people mention my scars when they see them, but as a kid, locker rooms and swim parties were pretty rough. If only I had known then that my scars would make me internet “famous,” much less in an overwhelmingly positive way, I wonder if I might have had more confidence and been less ashamed of my body. Or maybe I just wouldn’t have believed it.
Of course, the “fame” itself isn’t really the focus, but rather the acceptance and support I received across the board is what I want people to come away from this remembering, myself included. For every flaw you’re ashamed of, let me be the guinea pig, the one who put herself out there to see what the internet would do with her, and it turns out, they lifted me up. Every kind word, every bit of acceptance, that’s for you too. It’s for any person with an “imperfection” that they think the world won’t like. I can’t promise you everyone will be kind, but I think I can prove to you that the majority will be supportive, encouraging, and accepting. I’ve seen it, and so have you.
But before I could hear the world say “hey, those scars don’t bother me at all, and I think you’re pretty great,” I was so sure I’d be stared at, ridiculed, and pointed out with accompanying whispers. I dressed and behaved as if those things were already happening, and as if I needed to keep covered to keep the peace and to keep my dignity. I couldn’t hear any encouragement because I didn’t give anyone the option to encourage me. I hid for years. But eventually, after getting through a lot of heartache, I finally grew into a person who was confident in herself, scars and all.
I’ve been teased before, so it wasn’t without basis for me to be worried, and cruel treatment wasn’t without precedent. My own trepidation wasn’t for nothing; the world can be a scary and hurtful place. Please don’t think I’m trying to say it’s not, or that I’m trying to cheapen any feelings you have against opening yourself up.
For me, what it came down to was that as I grew up, it turns out I also grew inward. I grew into a woman who loves herself while also realizing I didn’t necessarily need everyone in the whole world to love me too … and apparently the world loves that! I truly believe this self-assessment, this self-acceptance, is what the world is seeing when they look at me in my mismatched bikini on New York City sands. They don’t love me despite my scars, but rather because I love myself as a result of my scars — of them and everything else that’s happened in my 27 years that has formed this woman I think of as me.
This is only my personal opinion, and I understand completely if you disagree, but I think they key to all of this is that everyone should have their own self-awakening, self-affirming, self-appreciating moment. That doesn’t mean you have to run outside in a bikini; in fact, you don’t have to run anywhere. You can sit right there where you are and simply look inward. Strive to find that good in you that makes you love who you are, and own it.
In the end, you have to love yourself first. Once you do that, you win, no matter what the world has to say. If you’re more comfortable keeping your scars covered (whether those scars are literal or figurative — on your skin, in your thoughts, or on your heart), that’s totally fine. Alternatively, if you want to show those scars off to the world, get some sun on your skin or say some things that need to be said, that’s fine too. Whichever one you choose, do it with confidence, and do it for you.
When you see my weird internet “fame,” or any other viral “look at this person who is happy with their imperfections” stories, just remember it’s your fame too. Those are also your stories, even if no one else knows you can relate.
Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us stop comparing ourselves to what we aren’t and instead start to love ourselves for what we are, if we embrace our scars, whatever they may be, those sorts of stories won’t be newsworthy anymore. Perhaps then, no one would call anyone else “brave” for being themselves or for not being perfect and loving themselves anyway, because that would describe all of us.
This is what I hope for us all: a future with no more sensationalized acceptance, because, of course, acceptance will simply be the norm. We can only can get there together.