My Facial Scar Taught Me The True Meaning Of Beauty

I always struggled with body image, with being pretty enough. Then I found out I had a precancerous tumour growing in my face.
Courtesy of Anneliese Lawton

I stumbled through my youth, teens and twenties out of touch with the girl in the mirror.

I found so much fault in the way that she looked. And the way that she looked back at me? It was cold. That girl was vulnerable, out of touch, and she truly believed, right down to her very core, that she was anything but beautiful.

Like many young women, I was programmed to self-loath; to believe I wasn’t enough. Standing in front of that mirror, I would find fault from my face to my thighs. And I believed, because the media shoved it down my throat, that beauty was specific, and something I would never have.

Since being a young girl, I’ve stood in front of many mirrors with many different versions of myself looking back. And truth be told, the version I am now would have killed me back then.

“Since being a young girl, I’ve stood in front of many mirrors with many different versions of myself looking back. And truth be told, the version I am now would have killed me back then.”

Today, I stand in front of the mirror at my heaviest weight since having my babies. My hair has gone from long and luscious to short and blonde. My eyes, once bright, are dark and tired. There is a lot else that has changed – my stomach is no longer flat, my breasts are no longer perky.

The most defining of these changes, however, is the new eight-inch scar that runs from the back of my ear and across my neck.

I was sitting in the doctor’s office, and looking at an x-ray that shows I have a tumour around my facial nerves. The tumour is precancerous, and has to be removed with a surgery that my doctor anticipated would likely cause some form of paralysis to my face.

Sat in that office, my beauty isn’t what I thought of – it was the idea of losing my ability to smile at my babies, or kiss my husband as we fell asleep. How I would look in the mirror, or to the public, or how I would fail to meet our regressive beauty standards were all so far from my front of mind. All that mattered in that moment was life.

I thought about my boys learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle, or walking across a stage in cap and gown. Or my husband sitting on the porch that was supposed to be ours, eyes with wrinkles where once were dark circles and grey running through his hair. All the Christmases I wouldn’t be there for. The broken hearts. The weddings. The growing old. I wanted it all. At age 28, a scar like this would mean survival. With two babies under two, a husband I adored, and a spunky puppy dog I loved just the same, a scar was the best possible outcome.

Courtesy of Anneliese Lawton

Despite all of that, the surgery itself terrified me. Laying on the operating table, the anaesthesiologist began to administer medication and I counted back from ten. Hours later, I awoke under bright lights. Sleepy and confused I heard my surgeon ask me to smile. I smiled and fell back to sleep. Little did I know at the time, my smile was a full, gleaming smiling. Walking away with only a partially shaved head, a giant scar and, most importantly, my life.

Recovering from this surgery was long and painful. I returned home with a drain in my neck, which my husband got great joy from milking’ – yuck. The drain itself was uncomfortable but it became the apple of my young boys’ eyes and we did all we could to keep them from ripping it from my flesh. Then there was the pain from the incision and the recovery from anaesthesia.

After release from hospital, I aggressively vomited in the car causing my stitches to rip and bleed as my husband drove me home feeling helpless. Eventually, I found myself back in hospital with a painful infection. After two weeks and a round of antibiotics, I was finally able to have my drain and bandages removed, and proudly expose my scar.

I see my scar as a pivotal point in my life. You see, as you age and grow and live and experience, you learn what is truly beautiful in life. You learn that beauty lies beyond the mirror.

“Beauty isn’t thigh gaps, or flat tummies, or symmetrical faces. It’s none of that crap the media shoves down your throat”

My friends, beauty isn’t thigh gaps, or flat tummies, or symmetrical faces. It’s none of that crap the media shoves down your throat. Beauty is stopping to smell the flowers. It’s waking up to a new day with the sun beaming brightly on your face. Beauty is being alive and being in love. Beauty comes from the inside and is shared with those around us. It’s being grateful for a new day and feeling your feet on the floor. Beauty is your story. It’s your people. It’s things like my eight-inch scar – and, thankfully, my smiling face. It’s signs that you’re alive and it’s giving someone else a sign of hope.

The way you look – your scars, the bags under your eyes? It’s all just your story in physical form.

Nearly a year later, I’m still working at loving myself and loving the girl in the mirror. I haven’t come to a place where I can say I’m 100% confident in ‘me’. But what I have learned is that beauty is what you make it and, for me, I’m really trying to make it about living, breathing, and experiencing my best life.

So, the next time you look at yourself in the mirror, I want you to really look at yourself. And in that moment, let all that you are, all that you’ve lived, and all that you’ve survived shine through your scars. Bring to life the light that you have shining inside of you – because we all have that light. We’ve all been through something that has made us stronger. In allowing that light to shine, in being proud of all we are, we are experiencing the true essence of our beauty.

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s perfect lips or perfect brows – because there’s nothing more beautiful than what’s authentic. And I wouldn’t have learned all of that without my scar.

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