Real Beauty

I can’t precisely say when, but several days ago Stephen and I noticed that Lily has a small birthmark now at the top of her nose. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s a birthmark, even if it didn’t appear precisely at birth.

Who knows, it might very well fade with time. I actually think it’s quite cute; however, a few people have asked us if we’re going to treat it.Lilybird's beauty mark showed up a few weeks after birth.

“Just laser it off,” more than one person has said, genuinely trying to be helpful. I don’t want to ignore something that my daughter might later wish I’d paid attention to, but I also find it disturbing
that at only six weeks of age my daughter is already being offered up for cosmetic surgery. Something seems amiss.

This morning over breakfast I read a chapter in Rachel Naomi Remen’s profoundly inspiring book, My Grandfather’s Blessings. The book is a collection of insights she has gained through her work with cancer patients, and the title is a reference to her grandfather, a Hasidic rabbi and a scholar of the Kabbalah who introduced her to the beautiful mystery of life and taught her as a young child that in everything and everyone there is a blessing if we just open ourselves to receive it.

The story I read was about a young, beautiful, and successful business woman who had a mastectomy to remove a cancer-filled right breast. The woman had gone through everything alone—even her parents didn’t know she’d had cancer. She visited Dr. Remen off and on for several years, needing a safe place to be herself, to talk. This woman had cut off all romantic relationships after her surgery, determined not to let someone see her disfigured and maimed. She’d decided that after five years, if the cancer had not recurred, to have reconstructive surgery, and then she would be whole again. Before the five years were up though, she’d met someone, an artist whom she’d originally only agreed to get coffee with because she thought they were totally mismatched. Soon though they’d developed a close attachment. When he wanted to move into a romantic relationship though, she’d decided to cut things off—surely he, an artist who pursued beauty, would never be able to look at her ugly body.

Several months later when she finally returned to see Dr. Remen, she was a new woman. Her outward poise was now matched with an inner sense of assurance. When Dr. Remen asked about her breast reconstruction, she was surprised to hear that the woman had cancelled it. The woman unbuttoned her blouse and slid it off her shoulders. In Dr. Remen’s words, “She was indescribably erotic. Men encountered women like this only in their dreams.” Her mastectomy scar had been covered with a mass of tiny, life-like flowers that trailed over her shoulder andcascaded down her back. Her now husband had designed the tattoo, and they had traveled to Amsterdam to have it done. As she told Dr. Remen, “My husband has convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that anything of real beauty is one of a kind.”

The challenge is how to raise a child, my child, to actually inhabit that space, a space where we allow people to grow into their own bodies and their own beauty, to know that true beauty only comes with an inner sense of deep assurance and wholeness. And, probably more difficult, is my challenge to not feel others looking at my child or at me with some sort of commentary. It bothers me that I notice people noticing. I realize that says a lot about me and my people-pleaser need to have the approval of others. I'm not proud of this. Who knew that kids so quickly help us pinpoint with utter clarity our own insecurities?

Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind if I think it's in her best interest, but for now at least, her birthmark is officially a beauty mark and a part of what makes her unique.