Scars: The New Beauty Mark

7 Apr

Inspired by a shark-attack survivor and breast-cancer thriver, Robin Wallace digs into why scars are the new beauty marks.

Bethany Hamilton, author of Soul Surfer.

Tall and blonde, she met the requirements for standing on the red carpet, and striking a pivoted pose, her athletic frame dazzled in the slink of the designer dress. But my eye came to a gasping stop with the realization that a jagged scar replaced her left arm.

My golly! What a juxtaposition if there ever was one — delicate beauty and elegance intertwined with painful scarring and brokenness.

My previous task of assessing the best and worst dressed at the 46th Academy of Country Music Awards went straight out the window. I was transfixed on Bethany Hamilton, 21, and what she represented — beauty and life after loosing part of your body.

Bethany was just 13 when a 14-foot Tiger Shark attacked her as she was surfing with friends along Tunnels Beach, Kauai. Her left arm was severed just below the shoulder, inches away from a fatal wound.

Thanks to her friends’ field tourniquet, Bethany made it to the hospital where nearly 70 percent of her lost blood was replaced. After several surgeries and a mere month of recovery, Bethany headed to the beach, yet in pursuit of her dream: to be a professional surfer.

The day of Bethany Hamilton's first surf after the shark attack. NoahHamiltonPhoto.com

Now at 21-years-old, Bethany has fully achieved that goal and stands not only on red carpets but as a role model of inspiration and beauty.

The nine-time author’s best seller, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, is now a major motion picture, Soul Surfer, which opens in theaters this weekend.

Now, I will leave it up to you to check out Bethany’s site to learn even more about her notable accomplishments and her life story.

Bethany left me considering the concept of beauty amidst disfiguration.

I really thought such a thing was impossible. Personally, I have this trepidatious fear of loosing a limb and the numbing thought of never being attractive again after that.

After all, how sexy would back-seam stockings look if only one appeared? Or, how notable would a vintage tweed bolero be if only one sleeve filled the design’s lines?

Bethany’s example has challenged my misgivings, and so has Michelle Malavet.

Michelle has recently come into my life and helped me accept, as well as powerfully acknowledge the remaining effects of my brain injury. As a 30-something breast cancer survivor, Michelle lost part of her left breast during the course of her treatment. Yes, dealing with the impact of “when life gives you lemons” Michelle knows a thing or two about this.

Michelle Malavet, the prettiest girl with one-and-a-half boobs!

Yet, when she says that she’s the prettiest girl I’d ever meet with one-and-a-half boobs, I didn’t buy it. Like, seriously? A half boob?

But I thought of Michelle just this weekend when I huffed out of a Victoria’s Secret because the mega-store of all things boobs, didn’t have an “over-the-shoulder-pebble-holder.”

So if I have two boobs, as small as they may be, and I still struggle with accepting them as perfect the way they are, and if I still hesitate when that special someone starts to round second base, then how does she deal with one-and-a-half boobs?

Here’s what Michelle said to all my probing questions:

How did you get over the shock of “loosing” part of your breast?
The shock happened when my doctor said, “The results came back and, it’s malignant. You have cancer.” The first words out of my mouth are: “Am I going to lose my hair?” My relatedness to my sexuality has always been with my long hair.

My treatment that followed the diagnosis was a breast conserving lumpectomy — which means they took out as much and as little as they needed to. This was followed by seven weeks of radiation. The cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, so I was not given chemotherapy as a treatment. I deeply admire the courage and strength of all the people living with cancer who lose their hair.

When you’re dating and intimate with that special man, is it a difficult reminder to face and “still be in the mood”?
Usually people know within five minutes of meeting me that I am a survivor/thriver, so it’s not a surprise when I take my clothes off. It’s never been something I hide or I’m ashamed about. So long as I am free and open, so is the other person.

Michelle Malavet during treatment.

Being a young adult cancer survivor, I face the same question that most women in their 30’s face — “Is this guy the ONE?” Just before my diagnosis, I began dating my … um, roommate.

I realized very quickly that men aren’t interested so much in my boobs as they are in my honey pot.

He moved out towards the end of my treatment. Given my track record with dating at that time, it was business as usual. Nowadays, if I am in a committed relationship …

I come up with all sorts of flirty games — including “Connect the Dots.” Anyone who ever has gotten radiation tattoos can play that one.

Does your perspective and attachment to the female anatomy shift after you deal with cancer, treatments, mortality and surgery?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Being diagnosed with cancer was a catalyst for transformation in every area of my life. It made me question, “What is my purpose, really?” My dad was diagnosed with Stage IV renal cancer one week after me, and I promised him that I would live my life to the fullest.

Working as a designer in a cubicle and dating my roommate wasn’t fulfilling me.  I knew that these circumstances were not what I was surviving cancer for. After taking some self development and training programs, I got really clear about wanting to write a book that inspires and enables people living with cancer, and I want to create a family.

I took some visual/writing classes at the Creative Center in NYC, and started to express myself through words. I love words that rhyme like “tick” and “sick”.

My book, Cancerland and The Other Side of Sick has been released. It is a book that is intended to be read in 15 minutes, and be a companion of what’s possible in the face of a diagnosis.

I am planning a national book and workshop tour, including Hawaii. The workshop is Fulfilling Your Life Purpose: while living with cancer. As for the “creating a family”, I have a date scheduled with an amazing man on April 16. I’ll let you know how it goes …

On the day of your surgery, how did you mentally prepare yourself for the physical change you’d wake up to?
I was sooo relieved to have the cancer removed from my body, that I wasn’t really concerned with how my body would be altered. The night before my surgery, I took a picture of my torso in the mirror. And said, “Goodbye, cancer.”

When I literally woke up after my surgery, the nurses gave me cottage cheese with tropical fruit. I love eating that for breakfast to this day. It reminds me that I’m cancer-free.

I also photographed my torso post-surgery. I never knew the human body could be so many colors! Through a visual diaries class at the Creative Center, I documented my treatment and created a multi-media art piece that was displayed at the West Chelsea Arts Center.

Part of Michelle Malavet's multi-media exhibit displayed at the West Chelsea Arts Center.

Has your personal style or fashion choices changed since your recovery and adjustment to your new body?
Women in radiation treatment for breast cancer are advised to wear bras without an under wire. It’s a practice I’ve kept. Victoria’s Secret and Amoena carry wire-free bras that are very comfortable and sexy.

My left cup has more space in it. The form of the bra usually holds it shape.

Otherwise, I use the extra (bra) space for storing important documents, money, or lip gloss!

When I go surfing I am more comfortable with my padded Body Glove 3/4 wetsuit. The more padding I have between me and the board, the more comfortable I am, especially now with the surgical scar tissue.

Michelle Malavet, post-lumpectomy.

I wore my first ever sleeveless dress last year, when I was the best “mam” for a wedding. I was concerned that my scar would be seen if I raised up my arms while dancing. As it turned out, I was more concerned about walking in 4″ heels.

If anything, I wear more color — as an expression of the vitality of life. I also find myself showing more cleavage — as I’m the prettiest girl with one-and-a-half boobs.

How can other women not feel like it’s a tragedy and their sexiness gone forever in the process of loosing a breast, or both breasts, or any other part of their anatomy?
It’s a journey. Life transforms. People transform. In the face of cancer, your perception of who you are and what your body is, also transforms.

The greatest freedom is letting go of what you think life ‘should be,’ and accepting that this is what’s so in life right now. And, it will never always be a certain way. Life transforms. People transform. And anything is possible.

For more information on Michelle Malavet, or to purchase her book, visit: www.othersideofsick.org, And, check out her guest blog, HERE.

What’s the Take-Away?

I’ve always wondered what kind of guy would fall in love and then marry a girl that’s not a whole girl?

Well, it turns out — from what I’ve learned this week from these amazing and inspiring women, as well as a bit of introspective thought — any man who can appreciate the fortitude and courage of a human soul.

Any man who falls in love with a survivor and thriver is a man who sees beauty at it’s finest — forged by tenacity, transformed by life. Now, I absolutely know why scars are beauty marks.

Do you have scars? Is it worn proudly? Hidden at all costs? Could you care less, either way? Discuss on Thrifty Vintage Chic Facebook fan page

All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are shot in the context of real life. All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are free from post-production “airbrushing” or touch-ups. All images and written copy on Thrifty Vintage Chic are copyright protected and may not be used without first gaining written permission.
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3 Responses to “Scars: The New Beauty Mark”

  1. Dawn April 7, 2011 at 2:49 PM #

    Robin, my feelings on this you already know. Thank you for doing a post on two strong and beautiful women.

  2. Molly Brown December 21, 2011 at 12:59 AM #

    “Any man who falls in love with a survivor and thriver is a man who sees beauty at it’s finest — forged by tenacity, transformed by life. Now, I absolutely know why scars are beauty marks.” Very eloquently stated! This type of man is a rare one indeed.

    Bethany Hamilton is a visual role model for people with missing limbs who can still achieve their professional dreams and goals. She is also forging new dating territory. Every part of her reflects a talented, dedicated, professional athlete. Male amputees have the extra benefit of appearing rugged, forged, tough looking compared to a female amputee. With mass marketing and advertisement catering to ultra masculinity and ultra femininity, there has never been someone like Bethany Hamilton in a formal evening gown with a missing body part. She is creating a newly defined, visual narrative. Bravo to Bethany for accepting herself the way she is today. And for not pretending to be unaltered by her life experiences.

    As a cancer survivor who lost all of her hair and experienced dating rejection after Prednisone-induced weight gain, I know the reality of visual appearances. Men are hardwired to evaluate and select a woman from primarily a visual perspective. Bethany Hamilton represents a paradox to them. She is a superb athlete who could threaten their alpha needs for dominance on the water. She is taller than average, and more physically fit than a typical, 20-something female. With only one exception, a missing limb.

    I hope and pray that a quality, athletic man can overlook her missing arm and love Bethany for the beautiful, complete woman she has transformed into after the terrible shark incident.

    As a middle age woman, I feel somewhat pessimistic/skeptical that the “average American male” can look beyond the aesthetic qualities of a woman (unless he fell in love before the cancer, life changing illness, or terrible accident occurred). Only after I survived stage 4 cancer, lost 15 pounds, and started to look like my former self that most men wanted to date me again. I’m talking about the quality, educated, athletic men that I am attracted to and wanted to date in 2007. Had I remained overweight, balding, or diseased, I would have received nothing but sympathy and condolences. Even though I earned several college degrees and was a high earning, professional business woman, it all meant nothing to quality men once my looks and health failed me. I became invisible, similar to a person in a wheelchair. Except my illness was cancer that fortunately was cured a year later. I am one of the luckier ones. Cancer gave me humility & fortitude.

    Something psychological within me became jaded and skeptical towards quality, high achieving men. And I found unconditional love and acceptance in the arms of several women. Perhaps it’s more hardwired in females to be sympathetic, empathetic, and accepting of tragedies and accidents. To truly embrace and practice unconditional love.

    It also helped that I identified as bisexual since adolescence. I had been married to a man for 13 years before my cancer ordeal. And we were legally separated for 7 years before my diagnosis. I know my story may offend some people, especially heterosexual men. Yet I speak the truth. And I feel sad for men who continue to be brainwashed by mass media, commercial advertisements, and visual marketing. To expect all women to wear single digit dress sizes, with model thin bodies, perfect hair and teeth is cruel and unfair.

    Women should be allowed to age gracefully without expensive concealment(s), hair dyes, and plastic surgeries. We should be loved for our inner beauty as well. If this simple message was communicated more strongly in the media, perhaps men would stop making complete fools of themselves by dating girls young enough to be their daughters, students, or granddaughters. They would support their age appropriate wives and girlfriends through difficult life changes and live up to the marriage vows in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Today, we live in a society where women are constantly judged and evaluated as worthy or not worthy based on a mirror, weight scale, and the amounts of aesthetic, exterior beauty. That is a woman’s measuring stick, currency in 2011,

    • Raven November 16, 2013 at 12:15 PM #

      Perhaps ‘quality’ men weren’t interested in you because you’re a judgemental hypocrite.

      They might have come to this conclusion after hearing you spout phrases like ‘quality, educated, athletic men that I am attracted to’ then saying ‘To expect all women to wear single digit dress sizes, with model thin bodies, perfect hair and teeth is cruel and unfair’

      Who are you to rate the ‘quality’ of men?

      Judging a man’s suitability as a partner by his wealth, or his body fat percentage, or his level of educational attainment is somehow acceptable in your world, while judging a woman’s suitability by her cup size or waist line is not.

      Hah.

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