Thank you, Stevie, for this wonderful opportunity and of course congrats to the winner.
Orange rays eloquently sink between the clouds as I dip my feet into the sand. I raise my arms above my head and let the light breeze pass through the space between them. I stroll down the same shores each evening, away from all the noise and from everyone’s judgment. I take a deep breath and move the two heavy bags I’ve been carrying to land near my feet. It’s a heavy load to carry, but not as heavy as the ones I’ve carried in my heart all these years.
I touch the water and retreat quickly from its chill but I still hover over it scanning my reflection. I was born with a birthmark on my right cheek even though my friends never pointed it out, strangers did and their questions bothered me a lot. “What’s on your face?”
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Why don’t you remove it?”
Not everyone is polite about it; I must have heard each rude comment in the world. Starting from high school days, when a girl told me I should go hide somewhere so I won’t scare people. Right to the rejection letters from each modeling agency around telling me they were searching for someone with a clear face. Even though my mother described my birthmark, “Unique” I never saw it that way.
I thought if the birthmark got removed everything would be okay, I’d be accepted and my dreams would come true. My skin stings as if it remembers the laser burn from each procedure. The despair from looking in the mirror, and finding the birthmark wasn’t getting any smaller, made me grow hopeless.
I never saw anyone like me in beauty magazines; they were all titled to accept beauty while all the models on the covers had flawless bodies and skin. I hear my name being called from a distance, “Hi Kaya!” I turn to find a few joggers who ask me to join them and I politely answer that I will in a few minutes. I have one thing to do first, so I open the bag and stare at the bold magazine letters.
My heart squeezes with regret when I think of all the pain I put myself through to be pretty, to look like a fake image. But it all had a purpose; I needed this awakening to know there are things beyond dieting and pushing my body to its limits. There is beauty in nature and this is why I often escape to a place where I could practically taste the salt, the sand always sinks into my shoes prickling and finding its way in between my toes but I don’t mind because this feeling defines all the changes I decided to add into my life.
I press my hands against the itchy marks on my wrist and memories rush back of what it felt like to slash my problems away, I was such a fool! One memory flashes across the orange skies of the day I woke up in a hospital room. The day I took it too far, I don’t remember how things had escalated, but for months, I’d been dieting to the point that if my face and body wasn’t like a model I didn’t want to exist.
That day, I discovered how much I took for granted as I heard my parents confused wailing in the hospital room. Their voices were so desperate for me to be okay, to be fine and to be alive. The second I had opened my eyes I saw a beautiful bluebird standing on a branch outside the window and I wanted to capture that moment forever. That stunning moment in the midst of adversity. That one sight, made me forget about the medicine running through my veins to revive me.
I still have one more thing to do to show my commitment to this new life so I rip the plastic bag open and piles of papers fall on the sand containing diet strategies. A burning sensation stings my eyes but I ignore it because in the past something had to make up for that hideous brown mark I never loved. I feel the edges of my seven centimeters birthmark under my right eye and a tingly feeling rushes over me. I did it all to overcompensate for something I was born with, I was eating less and my head was blurry all the time. I had this insane passion to measure myself and get on the scale a few times a day.
I had covered my walls with photos of models but whenever I placed my photos near them, mine was never close. Their faces were clear, mine wasn’t. They had thin shoulders, mine were broader. They didn’t have a double chin and under their eyes was clear. Other than the fact that my body wasn’t perfect, the birthmark was a reminder that no agency would ever accept me. How was I so shallow?
The funny thing is that most of the magazines write about embracing beauty and it is rarely acted upon. I take out a camera from my bag and stick my eye to the viewfinder. I grin at the thought that it will be the last time I’d see any of it. I feel my heart strain again at my past foolishness but I let it pass quickly as I empty the second bag, it contains horrifying photos of my skinny to the bones days. I wanted to become a model so badly so I strived for perfection but now I realize there is no such thing as being perfect.
I rest on the beach and place my hands behind me sensing the sand slip beneath my fingertips. I’ve longed for solitude recently because I’ve taken so much for granted, mostly the people who remained by my side even when I’d fiercely pushed them away.
My new passion is to become a photographer to show people the opposite side of today’s photos. I want to show raw emotion that you can’t see anywhere. Show them that attractiveness resides in everything we call flaws. I want to capture the stories in their body language and the stories their features tell me. I want to step away from stereotypes of the perfect body because there isn’t one. Beauty is in displaying the features which make a person unique, whether it’s a crooked lip, face wrinkles, or a birthmark. I want people to be proud of displaying un-edited photos on their walls.
I reach into my pocket and grab a lighter. Without any speck of doubt, I light the pile from the bottom watching the diet plans turn to black and then the fire eats its way up to my photos, burning away the images of my frail body.
I set my camera on a tripod and take a photo with my arms in the air. I turn my right cheek towards the camera making sure the birthmark shows and I pause this is what freedom feels like. This is how it feels to stop caring about what goes on the outside and to focus on the inside. I adore this feeling and as I watch the fire reach the top of the pile a sense of pride rushes over me. I was finally burning the last bridge that connects me to my past. It means no more saying harmful stuff to myself, no more diets, no more crazy detox drinks and no more laser appointments to take out something that’s meant to stay of my face.
My birthmark is more than unique it’s what makes me Kaya on the outside. My experiences, whether good or bad, are what make me a sensible person who would help anybody struggling with the same issues.
After it all burns to ashes, I grab my things and wave to the joggers. They have their cameras with them too, and my eyes slip to the view again. A serene feeling overcomes me, its incredible how I notice the small things and realize there is beauty everywhere even in the shadows. Even though I walk on the same sandy beach each evening, but the skies play around with different pastel colors, juggling between super bright and navy blue colors. However, even the darkness is beautiful and different each time I stare into it, it has taught me that the broken can be majestic.
I hope you enjoyed reading this! Please feel free to tell me in the comments below your thoughts.