Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Defines You?

Too long ago, 16 year old me was showing off my awesome hunter-green satin and velvet prom dress with rhinestone spaghetti straps to my Grandma.  I thought I looked DAMN GOOD.  When I asked what she thought of my dress, she said something complimentary, followed by a line I have grown to love over time:

“We are all young and pretty once.”

Think about that for a moment.  No matter what your age is, you will never be younger than you are now.  You may favorably weather the storm of time, but time will not leave you physically unchanged (even if you have procedures to slow it’s effects).

Grandma wasn’t trying to bring me down; she was trying to prevent me from having an over-inflated ego based on my appearance.  The values that she and others instilled taught me that me nobody’s worth is defined by their physical appearance.  Beauty fades (and can be overshadowed by narcissism).  Health deteriorates.  The beauty industry is not to be trusted.  Do your best to improve upon or maintain what you have, but don’t let your appearance define who you are.  Certainly don’t judge others by their appearance alone.  Our character is what defines us, not our looks.

Have you heard of Lizzie Velasquez?  She was born with an unknown syndrome that only one other person EVER has been known to have.  She can’t gain weight, has noticeable physical abnormalities, and can only see out of one eye.  Her parents raised her as though she didn’t have the syndrome.  She didn’t realize that she was different from other kids until she went to kindergarten, where the other kids didn’t want to play with her.  Of course that was terrible for Lizzie.  Rather than pity her situation, her parents told her that the only difference between her and the other kids was that she was smaller.  Her syndrome did not define her.

“Go to school, pick your head up, smile, continue to be yourself, and people will see that you’re just like them.”

Lizzie did that, but she had a really hard time growing up.  She thought her physical appearance was largely who she was, and she hated her appearance.  Every day she prayed to wake up without the syndrome and to look normal.  Everyday she woke up disappointed.

Lizzie is fortunate to have an amazing family.  They were supportive, but taught her that her life is her responsibility, and that she had to define herself in a non-physical way.

On YouTube, a video was posted with pictures of her, where the poster called her the “Ugliest Woman in the World.”  Commentators said exceptionally cruel things, including a suggestion that she kill herself.

Can you imagine telling a person to KILL THEMSELVES over their appearance?  Can you imagine if someone said that to you?

Of course, the video hurt her. But rather than crawl in a hole, she turned it into an opportunity.  She completed college, became a motivational speaker and is a published author.  She recently gave a speech at the Ted conference in Austin, which motivated me to write this post.

We can all learn from Lizzie.  Rather than focus on our weaknesses or failures, let’s look at what we have and be grateful for that.  Let’s use our strengths to define us and to steer our lives.  We can lead healthy lifestyles while being compassionate and caring.  Wouldn’t you want to be treated that way?  Let’s teach our children the same through our actions rather than our words.  What could be more beautiful than that?

What are some of the negatives in your life that you have thrived in spite of?  What are the things holding you back now?  Do you let those negatives define who you are?

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead
–William Shakespeare, Sonnet 104

Here’s a quick workout to attempt to slow the effect of time on our muscles.  One round took me about 11 minutes.  I did 2 rounds.

Written for The Daily HIIT, original article can be found here.
(Source: “How Do You Define Yourself?” Lizzie Velasquez at the Ted Conference, Austin TX)

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