Essay: The Pursuit of Beauty

Amazing scents meander across a well-tended garden with an irresistible and gracious allure toward their sources. Intense colors entrance the eye as the bright flowers’ faces spill eagerly out of their beds. The soil in which they rest is dark, loose, and delightful. Water and nutrients are theirs in abundance, so gaiety also pervades their world. Over time, however, as water evaporates and no gardener replaces it, flowers’ sad heads droop in weary defeat by the acrimonious sun. Their delightful soil beds dry to unsettled dust, suffocating them, and cracks like scars appear in the arid earth. Rain comes and soaks the earth, yet the earth’s scars still remain.

Growing up, I always looked for a beauty which would bring me peace. When I was in elementary school, I looked for it in flowers and nature. Deeply impressed in my childhood memories are a thousand colors and scents. During the sweltering summers, I endlessly ran the wooded trails which surrounded the pond behind my family’s house, braving all spiders, snakes, poison ivy, and thorns in search of every kind of flower my little mind could imagine. It did not matter to me what kinds or colors they were; I came tripping home each afternoon, my clothes streaked with dirt and my blonde hair disheveled, clutching fistfuls of wilted wildflowers and weeds. I held them out, my chest puffed with pride, for my mother to gaze at before I eagerly searched in the wooden cabinet underneath the kitchen sink for a vase to display my treasures. Placing them in the very center of the worn kitchen table, I would gaze in awe of how the brilliant summer sunlight shone on them through the two huge windows on either side. The saddest days to me were the days of fall and winter when I helplessly watched the vibrant, alive world around me fade to cold lifelessness. I realized anew each year that the wild beauty of the woods and flowers did not last. I continued my search for everlasting beauty.

As I entered middle school, endless campaigns arose with the intent to convince me, an awkward, confused pubescent girl, that I myself was completely beautiful, inside and out. Lindsay Kane’s song “All Beautiful” and Bethany Dillon’s song “Beautiful’ were the emotional soundtracks of my middle school years. Both in the Baptist church where I grew up and in the Christian school I attended I was told by sweet, well-meaning lady teachers that God possesses perfect beauty, and that, if I was a Christian, I was perfectly beautiful since I was in Him. Well, I didn’t know what that meant, so I said I believed it in a feeble attempt to banish the insistent, panicky self- image worries. However, as my pastor would say with a knowledgeable smile behind his bushy brown beard, “You can’t act like who you aren’t for long.”

By my sophomore year of high school, I had trapped myself in a heart-wrenching vacuum of fully grown self-hate. Rich, pretty, skeleton-thin girls around me laughed with bright eyes, light hearts, and many friends. I came to the distorted conclusion that happiness, peace and beauty lay in thinness. I was not rich, tall, blonde, or thin. The soundtrack in my mind slowly changed from the encouraging words of Bethany Dillon’s “Beautiful” to the repetition of the words “Pig, fat, lazy, worthless” like a distant cult’s hellish chant. I could not eat without a vivid vision of myself fat and ugly, and alone because of it. Every aspect of my life morphed to revolve around a crazy desire to lose weight, no matter the cost. Soon I lost thirty-five pounds through excessive exercise, starvation, and purging. I wasted away. Although I believed it would fulfill my longing for internal peace, the pursuit of physical perfection almost stole my very life.

Someone once said that the last one to know a person is anorexic is the girl herself, and it was very true for me. I will forever remember the moment in which I realized I was no longer in control of my body and my life. I slouched limply in a seat of my sophomore Spanish II class after a lunch of cold water, staring blankly at one of the colorful posters which adorned the walls. The teacher, a very white, peppy, red-haired woman from California, was discussing some facet of a recent test as she handed it back to us. I had, until then, earned a high A on every Spanish assignment and test I had ever completed whether studied for or not, but that day there it was, scrawled in green ink at the top right corner of the page – an eighty-six. The vestiges of my sane reality tumbled like rocks down the vast crevasses in my mind, slipping into a sea of despair. Spanish – the one subject in which I had always been terrific – had slipped from my grasp. My mind reeled; I could not believe it. My heart plummeted; I temporarily went insane. My mind left me and my emotions froze. Malnutrition, even though I saw her as a friend, had stolen my strength, my ability to concentrate in class, and my cherished spot on the “A” honor roll.

I discovered over time that weight loss had become an addiction. I sat at the feet of addiction, anchored by white-hot chains whose links I had forged myself. Idolatry seared my mind, spirit, and body. However, my wounds slowly repaired themselves with aid from family, friends, and mentors. Though scars always form, they form with knowledge; they are a blessing and reminder of what is behind. Scars can empower us to move forward with life, helping others with the wisdom attained from the wound. Thus it is with a happy heart that I embrace my past without compunction. After all, scars are beautiful too.