I was six and three quarters when my mom crouched beside me and told me I was going to lose my hair. “It doesn’t happen to everyone,” she explained simply, “but it is what’s most probable.” I frowned. My hair was like my mom’s—brown and straight—and my most treasured feature. My mom held my hand, in case I might cry, but I didn’t. I was confident that Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia would do no such thing to me. I believed in the good graces of giving over the cruelty of taking, and Leukemia had already taken so much. I had conviction fairytale endings existed, and mine would be one of them. “I understand,” I had said.
I lost all of my hair. It fell out in strands, then in clumps. My most important bits and pieces no longer belonged to me; they covered the floor and clogged the drain. I cried then. My mourning was boundless – big blue tears pouring out of me, and swallowing my tiny face. I felt like I was breaking. My mom held me like I held the hair that should have been on my head – “you’re beautiful,” she told me.
Beauty is a concept I have grappled with my entire life. When I was young, even before curves and makeup, I believed there was a formula for being beautiful, and I was missing pieces of it. When I lost my hair, my parents saw me grappling with beauty and lifted me up the best they could. The Bruno Mars song “Just the Way You Are” became our song; Mom and Dad would play it for me and dance around the kitchen. It was sweet, but I wasn’t convinced—the man at the grocery store called me son, the girls at soccer looked at my headscarves strangely, and in every mirror the absence of my hair awaited me. Beauty was something I believed I no longer possessed. But months later, I wasn’t hiding anymore. Walking slumped and small grew exhausting, and my parents looked at me with so much love that I didn’t want to let them down anymore. I began wearing colorful scarves, shades brilliant and proud. I still noticed the bits I didn’t like: that the other girls’ noses were slightly straighter, their cheeks fuller, and their handfuls and handfuls of hair rested atop their heads. But I began to see other things too. The way my mom’s face lit up when she saw me. The way my coach called me the hardest worker on the field. That my kindness led my friends to tell me things they don’t tell other people. I began to realize that just because I lost my hair, didn’t mean I lost my beauty. I was still the same person. All of the bits and pieces that strung me together, the person I was regardless of what I looked like, had value.
Recognizing the ways I am beautiful beyond what’s external has made me stronger. I am not fearless, but I am loving myself more everyday. It reflects in the way I forgive myself for making mistakes, and am unafraid to ask for the same compassion and commitment I deliver. I remind myself that trajectories aren’t always up—they sine curve. My joy of the process, the giving and the taking, contributes to my determination to be kind, my strong work ethic, and the way I treat the people I am close to with unconditional love.
My understanding of myself will lead me to be accepting of new people. The future is coming. It will bring new people, with unfamiliar faces, and insides I do not recognize. I will greet them open minded and honest, putting value in the person they are. I will celebrate their beauty, acknowledging the way she makes me laugh. The way his eyes round when he says I love you. The way she so effortlessly fills up the room. I am proud of the ways I can recognize beauty in people. I am proud of the way I continue to choose myself, not apologizing but loving of the way I am.