I love photographs, but I don't usually love photographs of me. This one is different. My husband took this at Kiawah Island, our favorite vacation spot. Kiawah was where we honeymooned 24 years ago, and it's where we've taken our boys for many years now.
But the real reason I love this photo is because it's very selective. It only shows the part of me that I like. And as I sat at Kiawah this past week, I realized just how much I have defined myself by the part of me that doesn't show in this photo.
You see, I have a birthmark. A really big birthmark. The biggest I've ever seen. It covers most of the right side of my body. It's actually a symptom of very rare disorder called Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome.
And over the years I have lied about my birthmark. Many times, people have asked me, "Does it hurt?" Invariably, I say, "No; it doesn't hurt."
That's not true. It does hurt. It doesn't hurt much physically; it's a little uncomfortable sometimes. But emotionally it does hurt. It hurts to look funny; it hurts to have people stare at you; it hurts to have people exclaim, "Oh my gosh! What happened to you?"
But the fact is that I've let it define me. In spite of having a husband who loves me and who thinks I'm beautiful, I've thought of myself as someone who could look okay but could never be beautiful.
Even now I can hear Nester's voice: "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." I agree with her. I heartily concur with her. And yet I haven't been able to think of myself in those terms. Maybe, I've thought, just maybe I can look okay as long as you don't look at my birthmark. If you take that part out, like in my favorite photo, I can look okay. But the overall picture? No way it could be beautiful.
And so I've let my imperfection define the way I think about myself. And as I sat on the porch of our cottage this past week, it occurred to me that it just doesn't make sense for me to define myself according to an imperfection, no matter how glaring.
So I took a photo of my legs. It's not a good photo, because I snapped it of myself. You know how photos taken at close range can look a bit distorted. But it does give you a sense of what my birthmark is like. The birthmark extends all the way up my leg and covers most of my right torso, as well. Like I said, it's the biggest birthmark I've ever seen.
But it is what it is. I would change it if I could. I've had it treated with lasers multiple times, with limited results. (By the way, the laser technology is wonderful and often very effective. It's just that it wasn't available until I was about 35 years old, by which time there was only so much effectiveness that could be expected. For a child or youth, though, it's a process that would be extremely effective.)
In short, this is a part of me that I cannot change. The only thing I can change is my attitude about it. And I am deciding to accept the fact that the person in my favorite photo is the same person as the one in the second photo. I can be imperfect and still be okay. I don't have to hide my imperfections in order to be acceptable; I just need to accept myself.