I have, as most everyone, been affected to society's strict rules regarding beauty.
I am still affected by them in so many ways.
I flip through magazines with envy when I visit my oncologist and radiologist.
I obsess over what I wear when I get to go out to celebrate a cancer milestone. I still cry when I see pictures of my pre-cancer days - with long hair and all.
But the day I shaved my hair my feelings towards myself and my own beauty began challenging those of the world.
I felt most beautiful on that day.
But how could I? Feel beautiful I mean.
I had lost my long hair, I had fresh scars, I was well below what would be considered a healthy weight and I had barely the strength to correct any of these said "faux pas."
Simply put, I looked like the cancer patient that I was.
Here is how that special day went. I was losing hair fast since chemotherapy had started a few weeks prior. I subsequently often found myself in awkward situations where I had to apologize for losing my hair all over the place. I had had it!
So I decided this was going to be the day. I was going to shave off my hair.
My mother met me at the salon where my hairdresser, a cancer survivor herself, prepared for the appointment.
In the moment, I could barely watch. I cried. And I took so many deep breaths to keep myself calm.
The funny thing is, I wasn’t crying because I would no longer have hair on my head. But rather, I was upset that I was excited about it. I was going against what everyone else deemed beautiful. I was going against what I believed made me a "woman."
A few hours later, I was going out for the first time post-hair. I had chosen not to wear wigs and on that particular outing, I was not wearing a scarf either.
I was bald. Simple as that.
My parents and I were meeting family members at a local park for a summer concert series. As I walked through the park to meet them, many people were staring - young and old alike.
I am from a smaller city which means that a number of these people already knew I had cancer. The look on their faces made it clear that for them, my new baldness made me only more of a cancer patient than I already was.
Eventually, we did reach my aunt, uncle and cousin. They had no idea that I was now bald. Surprise!
It was my aunt's reaction that gave me the strength to accept how beautiful I felt. She was so excited when she saw me. And kept repeating how beautiful I looked and how my features were accentuated by the fact that I had no hair.
From that moment on, I began looking at myself in the mirror in the utmost awe.
It is hard to explain, but in those moments, I was able to look at myself in the mirror and smile because I felt beautiful amidst the imperfections.
In a deep, loving way, I found myself in love with the person that I was. I was no longer fixated on twirling my hair for a cute guy or hiding the parts of my body that I found "off." I was liberated from the fear and shame associated with feeling beautiful.
I was happy.
I was beautiful.
Needless to say, I had bad days when I cursed cancer for taking away all the "beauty staples" I was used to. But as for the majority of days, I relished in the new found freedom associated with feeling truly beautiful.
You might think it's easy for me to write about cancer beauty post-active cancer. I have hair again. My bones aren't showing from weight loss. I feel healthy and I look so to the outside world.
I look like I did pre-cancer (for the most part).
However, I would actually say that I find it harder to write this now than I would have during cancer. All the raw beauty I could so easily see is now hidden by, well, life.
The everyday post-cancer life makes it harder to remember the one important thing: because of cancer, I know how to feel beautiful.
I could, in fact, confess to now having a hard time with notions of beauty. On most days, I complain that my hair isn't straight enough and then on others I wish it to be curlier.
But then, I catch myself smirking in the mirror while I get ready. Although only a small moment of time, I come to remember the beautiful young lady reflected in the mirror. She, who has gone through many physical changes in the past 2+ years, is as beautiful as ever.
I am brought back to a time when I truly felt beautiful. A time I cherish.
Many smiles (especially those when you catch yourself feeling beautiful),