Mirrors

On seeing beauty in others

He was the most beautiful, effortlessly cool upperclassman my 14-year-old self had ever laid eyes upon.

I was at summer orientation for marching band, and Aaron was my squad leader. As an icebreaker, we were asked to share our favorite toilet paper brand. I confidently said Charmin and added the little cha-cha dance. While the group around me laughed, I only had eyes for Aaron, who was smirking. I was in love.

I liked him instantly because of his cat-like eyes, the jagged birthmark underneath one of them, and most noticeably, the hypertrophic scar winding up his forearm. I admired how he bared it out for everyone to see without a care in the world.

Because I had a hypertrophic scar, too, but on my knee.

Growing up staring at the airbrushed women in my mom’s Cosmopolitan magazines, I’d always felt self-conscious (aka hideous) about my imperfect knee. But here was someone who didn’t hide his imperfections, was made unique and interesting because of them, and was still wildly attractive.

So whenever I showed up for practice in my shorts, I too, bared my scar proudly (or at least, indifferently), thanks to Aaron’s example.

SIKE. No, see, I spent the whole summer with a bandage over my scar. And whenever people would ask me what happened, I’d say I scraped it. And yeah, sooo weird, it would not heal for three months. (I doubt anyone really believed that.)

I just wasn’t ready to accept my body as it was back then. When there are constant messages from the outside world telling you what beautiful is, and you don’t fit that checklist, you think your flaws are something to be ashamed of and to fix.

I struggled with my appearance well into my late twenties. Today, that critical voice is quieter, popping up only a few times a year (knowing airbrushing and Photoshop and filters are a thing certainly helps). But I don’t hide my hypertrophic scar anymore. In fact, I like it quite a bit. I got it from playing tag with my older sister, and tag is pretty fun.

It was only recently, years after high school ended, that I realized one other thing. The irony had been completely lost on teenage me, that the thing I found so beautiful and striking about Aaron, was the same thing I tried to hide about myself.