Saturday, February 22, 2014

I Look Just Fine (I am Beautiful)

This is with the special makeup on.  We didn't use the extra
thick stuff I had used in the past, but it is stronger than the
average brands you can buy at Target.  The lady also did
some "lip work", trying to balance out lack of symmetry.
(At my request, since I was curious to see how it would
look.)  What do you think?  In person it looks a little different.
Not sure how it looks in photos to others, since I can always
easily see the birthmark regardless of any type of makeup.

Earlier this week I was having a discussion with my ASL interpreting teacher.   My teacher is great.  I've really enjoyed his class and have learned a lot about my future career choice.

For the first time in in the two months of knowing each other, we held a one-on-one in-depth discussion, taking place several minutes before class was suppose to start.  We chatted as we asked each other questions, shared stories, and got to know one another a little better.

As we were chatting, I quickly said something in reference to my birthmark (it fit into our discussion).  Looking at me with a confused expression, he asked me, "What birthmark?"  Internally, I was thinking, "What??  This guy is one of the most observant people I've ever met. How does he not see it??"  Instead of saying what I was thinking, I responded, "You know…The one on my face."  With a wrinkled forehead of continued genuine confusion, he told me, "Oh.  I don't even see it."

I was caught off guard by his statement, yet refreshed that some people don't instantly see what I see daily through people's stares and comments.  I am use to people I've known for a long time, or who see me on a regular basis, saying that they can no longer see my birthmark…as though their eyes are immune to my difference.  I've only known my teacher for a couple of months, yet from the beginning, he hadn't taken notice to it even once.  Instantly after meeting me, he saw me as me…as a person…going deeper than my physical appearance, and not just as who I may appear to be.

Little did I know, later in the week I would meet someone with very opposite visual attention and opinions.

For Christmas I was surprised with backstage passes to for an upcoming Lady Antebellum concert.  I already knew I was going, but had nooooo idea that my parents and aunt Felicia went the extra mile to get the special passes.  With the backstage passes, Felicia and I get to attend pre-concert, we get to meet the band, and we have front row seats…Pretty cool, right??   I am SO ready for March 16th!!

This week I received a phone call about scheduling my next laser treatment.  Not really thinking about the concert, I scheduled my treatment for March 10th…Just 6 days before the concert.

I realized the dilemma of my and schedule conflict yesterday morning.  Sure, the concert and treatment are nearly a week a part, but my face will still be much darker – and possibly a little swollen.  Although I’m technically allowed to wear makeup just 3 days after the treatment, it’s uncomfortable and is a little painful for me.  It usually takes me a few extra days to feel comfortable putting any source foundation on.

Thinking about the concert I realized I have three options:
1.     Reschedule the laser treatment and go on a later day, after the concert.
2.     Have the treatment, wear my normal makeup to the concert, and go with my face still looking darker than the usual.
3.     Buy special makeup that helps cover birthmarks, and hope that tones the coloring down.

I’m really looking forward to this concert.  In reality, who cares what other concert attenders think if my face looks a little off than its usual??  Who cares what the Grammy award-winning band thinks??  Yet, while I know it doesn’t matter, I still want to look my best when I meet one of my favorite musical groups.

I think I’ve mentioned (very briefly) in one of my blogs about special makeup that has been created for people like me, with birthmarks, or even others with dark scars and burn marks.  I tried it when I was about 9, but disliked it.  It was so thick that it made my skin feel like it couldn’t breathe.  I tried it again when I was a little older, but still didn’t like it.  At the time when I tried it, I wasn’t even wearing “normal” makeup.  (I didn’t start to wear average makeup until I was done with high school at the age of 17.)  Going from no make-up and my natural look to special, thick makeup wasn’t really my cup of tea.

Since it has been 10 years or so since last trying the special makeup, and we had to go to a department store today anyway, I was curious.  I asked mom if we could look at the special makeup while we were there.

Arriving to the make-up counter a lady, Jackie**, offered to assist me.  I asked, “Do you guys have the makeup that helps people with birthmarks?”  She told me that they did and that she would be more than happy to assist me.  She went and found some as she started to sample some on my face.

The whole experience was a little more overwhelming than I expected. 

Before beginning the sampling process, I explained to the lady that I scheduled to have a treatment on my birthmark right before a big concert held by one of my favorite bands…where I get to meet the famous artists.  I explained that I’m quite content with my usual makeup.  However, my birthmark will look much darker after the treatment and I was just looking for something to assist in “toning the darkness down”.

I don’t think the lady quite understood what I was saying.

Jackie repeatedly saying certain phrases that really bothered me.  One being, “To hide the birthmark…”

To hide the birthmark?  I kept reminding her time and time again, “My goal isn’t to hide my birthmark.   I’m content with how it usually looks.  I’m just trying to make the treatment less noticeable by toning down the darker coloring.  This makeup isn’t something I’m going to use on a day-to-day basis – at all.”  She still didn’t seem to get it, as she continued to talk about hiding my birthmark.

Side view.
She used other phrases that really got under my skin.  She would say things like,  “Doesn’t that look better now??”  or, “Now that looks good.”   On occasion she would say, "See?  With her hair down, you can't even see it anymore." 

What??  It  “now” looks better??  “Now” I look good?…who cares if you can see it??

 Lady: I looked just fine before I met you.    

You might say I’m being extra sensitive in how I took what she was saying.  You might say I was taking what she was saying in the wrong way.  Had you been there, had you heard the full context of our whole 45 minutes conversation, and how she kept emphasizing certain phrases, you would understand why I started feeling overwhelmed.  My mom was also becoming agitated.  (Also to note, she kept talking and directing most of the conversation to my mother.  Even when she was talking about me, or asking for an opinion, she would talk to my mom instead of me – the customer.  It was as though all she saw was my birthmark, and that I as a person was completely invisible.)

I kept trying to counteract things she’d say by emphasizing the purpose of just wanting to tone down the after-treatment coloring.  I would tell her again and again that I’m confident with how I look, and by replying with things like, “I’m not trying to hide it – that’s not my desire at all.  I’m content with how I normally look.”

Yet, she kept using phrases that indicating that my birthmark was something to hide.  Something to be ashamed of…that it was something that made me less beautiful than other girls without one on their cheeks.

Jackie may be a skilled makeup artist, but she was not skilled at listening to me, her customer.  Socially speaking, she was not very artistically skilled when she addressed me or my mother.

I looked just fine before meet her.  I didn’t – and still don’t - want to hide my birthmark.

At one point I started to feel a little emotional.  I felt tears threatening to build a well within my eyes.  With her overuse of phrases I tried to steer her away from, I was bothered.  I felt a little hurt.

Obviously it hurt when her words started to feel like she was indicating I didn’t look “fine” (or in other words, beautiful) when I walked in and without the sampled makeup.  Her words temporarily hurt me personally.  But what hurt me even more??  Realizing that she saw people with unique features like mine as less beautiful, as though they – or we - have something to hide.  Her definition of beauty seemed to be negatively skewed.

How much in life has Jackie missed out on because of her view and definition of beauty?  How many people has she missed the chance on getting to know because she became distracted by and focused on their physical appearance, instead of focusing on their internal beauty?  In regards to beauty, how does Jackie even see herself??

My mom did point out that the lady probably meets many women who have the goal of hiding different physical traits about themselves.  She's probably use to meeting unhappy and insecure women.  In her job, Jackie is probably accustomed to helping people who lack a certain kind of confidence and is accustom to working with people who aren't content.  I am probably in the minority of those that she has met with the attitude of, "I'm happy as I am!"

"You are extraordinary.  There is no one in this world
quite like you.  You are as unique as your
fingerprints, as unique as each beautiful
snowflake that falls from a fresh winter's sky."
As a photographer, I see beauty in everyone that I meet.  I see beauty in those who often don’t see beauty within themselves.  I see the beauty in their physical appearance, but I also see that their beauty goes much deeper than that.  I see the beauty in their personalities, lives, jobs, and uniquely individual stories.  I see beauty in the way they interact with their families, in the way they smile and laugh.  I see beauty in their hearts…in their existence as God has created them to be.

I’m not yet sure what I’ll decide on about the makeup and the scheduling of my laser treatment.  (And really, I don't even know how many more treatments I'll decide to undergo.)  I’ll probably call my doctor’s office on Monday and see what is available after the concert, attending it 100% as myself.

Either way…Although the lady’s consistent comments momentarily stung a bit, I knew and still know that I am perfectly fine as I am.  I'm not going to change how I see and define myself because of one person's remarks that were made within just minutes of meeting me…Comments made by someone who wouldn't even take the time to get to know me, or even talk to me directly.

I am beautiful – with or without my birthmark….with or without that makeup.  (Makeup can be fun, but a little foundation on my cheeks can't be, and isn't, the foundation of my true beauty.)  My beauty runs so much deeper than what she chose to see…and that’s her loss.  I don't need her to validate my beauty - internally or externally. I am so much more than my birthmark.  I am more than the mark on my skin.  I am beautiful.  

For those of you wondering about your value…wondering if you’re beautiful…please know, you are extraordinary.  There is no one in this world quite like you.  You are as unique as your fingerprints, as unique as each beautiful snowflake that falls from a fresh winter's sky.  You are you – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Please don't let others, the photoshopped magazine ads, or more importantly -  yourself and your internal dialogue -  knock you down or take away your confidence and self-esteem. 

You are beautiful.  It's time to embrace yourself as you are…to embrace your beauty.

The (Beautiful) Travelin’ Chick,

**Name has been changed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cast Decoration Ideas

On December 13th, 2013, I had the joys of undergoing ankle surgery.  Basically, my doctor went in to clean out all the scar tissue that has built up since my last surgery (in November of 2011).  In addition, he also tightened up my ankle ligament and added stabilizers to improve its stability.

Funny thing is, when I woke up from the surgery, I guess I wasn't ready to talk…but I was FREEZING.  Instead of verbally telling the nurses that I was cold, I caught myself repetitively fingerspelling "cold".   I'm not sure that they ever took notice to my communication through sign language, but I was eventually able to speak again and received two extra blankets from the nurse.

Since then I've had a splint, a cast, a walking cast, a boot, and am now switching from the boot to my shoe (with the help of a brace for 3 months).  I've used a knee caddy, a pair of crutches, and am now in physical therapy.  Yesterday, for the first time, I even drove across town.  My mom had to drive us back home…but hey, I can't complain!  Progress is progress!!

Let's face it.  Ankle surgery isn't fun.  At all.  You're "knocked off" your feet, unable to drive or walk.  You temporarily loose your independence as you learn to rely on others to help you from the basics of eating food, to getting in and out of the shower, to driving you to school or to meet a friend.

Since ankle surgery is naturally pretty lame (did you catch that pun??), I decided to try and have at least a little bit of fun during the recovery process.  Pulling into my sister's (Amanda Howard) creativity, and my own, we had fun decorating my two casts.  (We also tried to google ideas and look some up on Pinterest, but surprisingly there are not many out there in the digital world!)

Again, I started with an ugly, average splint....But then my 3-year-old cousin, Rayna, saw the ugly splint and with wide excited eyes she exclaimed, "It's BEAUTIFUL!!"  She loved the splint, so I wanted to impress her with the casts.  We didn't really decorate the splint - but two teenagers from church had fun adding a ton of hashtags and signatures to it for me.

Rayna's signature.

#anklesurgery #ouch! #stupidcurb
#painful #notfun #icannotwalk

When it was time to get my casts, I asked Rayna, "Hey kiddo - what color cast should I get??  Pink, purple, or blue?"  I really wanted to get blue, so don't ask me why I asked a 3-year-old child her opinion…especially when I know what her favorite colors are.  Her request??  Pink!  Here's what we came up with for decorations that still allowed space for others to sign:

My brother-in-law, Will, also offered a helping hand!

This cast, surprisingly, actually took about 4 hours to create
between the designing and adding of the jewels.  Repair work
had to be done throughout the two weeks I had it on as
some of the jewels would pop off from wear-and-tear, or from
the putting on or taking off the cast protecter for showers.

Ever kid likes shiny and sparkly things, right??

Butterflies and their trails.

What can I say?  I got bored in the DMV.

This is signature is from my oral surgeon who signed
my cast while I was under anesthesia.  A fun surprise!

When I went back for a follow-up appointment with my podiatrist and to get a new cast, all the nurses came out to look at my cast in excitement.  I didn't expect such a reaction from the workers at the hospital (or even the reaction of an occasional stranger at a store), but I am glad others enjoyed it just as much as I did!!

Next, Rayna requested for me to have a purple walking cast.  To quote her in her decision making process, "Pink and purple are my favorite colors!"

I promise you I had at least three people ask me about the
zipper on my cast.  One person even asked me, "Does it really
unzip??  Do you get to take your cast off at night?  Lucky you!"

In memory of the tic-tac-toe board on my last cast.
This is also a chalkboard.

For my passion of ASL!  This is the sign for, "I love you."

A random guy at my college asked me if he could sign my cast.
Knowing I had plenty of space on the back, I told him "Sure?  Why not?"
Little did I know, he was planning to take up the WHOLE back of my
cast - the only space I had for everyone to sign.  After I realized what he
did, I text messaged my sister and said, "COVER IT!!"  And she did.
Isn't she great??

During the first week of school many people asked me, "What happened?"
This was the simplest way I could think of to explain to a mass
audience with the same question as to why I was wearing a cast.
(As you can tell, after a week or so, my decorations started having problems.)

My sister crocheted this sock 11 years ago when I broke
my leg.  I was amazed that it still fit my foot, and that I was
able to find it!!  It was super helpful in keeping my toes warm.

The chalkboard was a hit!!

I think my favorite addition to the cast was Rayna's sweet
bandaid.  Currently she is a, "doctor for toys", and was a little 

shy at the idea of treating an actual human.  :-)
(Again, the cast decorations were having problems after a while!  At this point
the butterfly left-overs pretty looked like a bug that hit a windshield on a car…)
Towards the end of my time with this cast, we (as in just my sister…ha!)
 did do some touch-ups to fix the broken and worn-out parts.

When it was time to get the purple cast off, the hospital staff was impressed once again.  The nurse who was removing, however, it looked at it with a disgusted look and asked with a scrunched nose, "What is all of this??"  I guess he was having a bad day…but it's alright that he didn't like it…the decorations were meant mostly for Rayna's enjoyment, and my own.

Oh, and here are some photos of my sweet ride that I decked out with animals, a basket, and at one point a horn (the horn fell off, sadly):

Rayna and I decided that the elephant is named "Mr. Blueberry"
and the giraffe is "Mr. Grape".

Rayna loves taking a ride on the scooter!  And she
loves it even more when Mr. Bear joins in on the fun!

Have you ever had fun decorating a cast??  Share your ideas!!

The Travelin' (and temporarily immobile) chick,

PS: Although I am thankful to be in matching shoes again and that I am starting to walk again, I have to admit that I am starting to miss my chalkboard on the cast!!