Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Venus Envy

Ah, vanity thy name is woman (and man). When we are coping with chronic illness we worry about how we look. Yes, it's true. When I was being treated with aggressive chemotherapy for Stage 4B cancer and ended up looking like a bald-headed ogre, I vowed that I wasn't going to die looking like that. Maybe that was one of the reasons I survived - stubborn as I was.

I also had Cushings Syndrome from the vast amount of steroids used to save my life. Pumped up to twice my natural size (ouch, that hurt) with a humped back, I was aghast when I looked in the mirror.

Even today, dealing with Lupus, fibromyalgia and the never-ending affects of chemotherapy, I want to look my best but my clothes must not hurt. They can't be binding or scratchy. No wool sweaters for me because just like the liver or heart our skin is an organ and it gets inflamed just like other parts of my body. Sometimes my bed sheets hurt!

And then there's the worsening eyesight due to medications or my illnesses and never-ending adjustments to my eyeglass prescription. The lenses are quite thick now and will soon get even thicker. Add worry lines due to how I must care for myself each day and, damn, I sure ain't Venus de Milo, the historical statue that represents beauty in many cultures.

According to the statue's story, however, scholars are not sure if beauty was the sculptor's intent and the fact that she was discovered in 100 BC minus her arms shows frailty and flaw - just like us!

I don't like hiding myself away on days I feel awful; when the dark circles under my eyes or my unkempt hair keep me away from others. There was a time when I wore the messy, sick me proudly because, regardless of how I looked, I was alive. But now I am less sure since the years have passed and I am simply aging.

There are virtually no pictures of me when I was at my worst - when, in my most swollen state, my sister said I looked like the Elephant Man and my brother deemed me a Hawaian Princess. (Most of my swelling was from the chest up so my head and shoulders were large.) I still hate pictures of myself because I see the saggy skin on my neck where the tracheotomy was performed, I see the scars and imperfections and I think most of my chronically ill friends do, too.

But our beauty is not dependent on our outward appearances. Thanks to the internet, I regularly communicate with others with crippling and disfiguring auto-immune disorders or disease. And they are quite extraordinarily beautiful, these mostly faceless friends of mine. Their determination and grit during hard times is gorgeous. And if life is like a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump famously said, we never know what we're going to get from one day to the next.

Venus de Milo, The Louvre, Paris, France

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