Labels No More

ANNOYING.

That was the word I wrote across my mask in big blue bold letters.

I remember the first Beauty for Ashes session I attended. We were told to grab a mask and on one side write how we believed others perceived us and on the other side, how we saw ourselves. We were then asked to compare them and although the good outweighed the bad, I couldn’t seem to let go of that brick of a word on the other side. In my mind, I was still annoying.

All my life I’ve found comfort in surrounding myself with others. I was, and still to this day, am enthralled by the lives and stories of others. I always managed to squeeze my way into a multitude of cliques, groups and crews. The moments, while precious and unforgettable, were fleeting. It wasn’t until this past summer, after graduating high school that I began to feel an absence that I realized I felt the whole time.

“Why did people forget me? Where did everyone run off to? Were any of them every truly my friend?” These were the questions that echoed throughout my mind, questions I asked myself every day.

Sharing that moment with the facilitators and the people participating in the seminar wasn’t easy, yet it was the doorway to a new perspective, a self-discovery of sorts.

With an ever growing family of people willing to listen, care and understand and an environment which welcomed expression, thought and question, every session of Beauty for Ashes gave me the strength I never knew I needed. It gave me the support I didn’t know was out there.

Through each phase of the seminar I was discovering a new part of myself. Every meeting I found more and more reasons to love myself for who I was and not for what I believed others thought of me.

Mirrors don’t lie and by the end of the seminar what I saw in the mirror was the person I was this whole time, the only difference between the beginning and the end was that now I could see it.

– Kevin, 19

An Equation for Beauty

It has taken me six days to write this personal story. I would write a few lines but then quickly erase it because I wasn’t content with what I wrote. Finally, I realized what the problem was. I was trying to write as someone that I am not. I was trying to be the broken girl who came back from rock bottom and became successful.

I am not that girl.

I am pessimistic, I complain all the time, I have no self-esteem or confidence, and I’m much too sensitive for my own good. But out of all these flaws, the most prominent one in my mind is beauty.

I would never define myself as beautiful.

Before I attended a Beauty for Ashes workshop I had many ways to describe beautiful—skinny, long hair, perfect smile—but then I realized this beauty is only superficial, there are so many other ways to define beautiful.

One of the first workshops I attended spoke about perspective. During the workshop, the facilitators showed a quote that said how we view ourselves is dependent on what others think of ourselves. In my head, everything began making sense. For years I had been ridiculed in school and even before my elementary years, my family often criticized my body image.

So maybe it’s a little too late for my nonexistent self-esteem to come back from the dumps but there was something else from that first workshop that stayed with me. Beauty for Ashes had their own definition of beauty. Beauty was not only described by physical characteristics but what went beyond what others saw, like our personality or passion.

After this workshop, I realized that I often let everyone else define who I was. My parents told me I was going to be a doctor, my grandfather said “Thank God! You’re at last smart,” and the rest of the world didn’t see me at all. That moment I decided to start defining myself because I was tired of living someone else’s life.

So I may never see myself like a Hollywood superstar but who cares? I rather be defined for the more important things like being genuine, friendly, kind, free-spirited and driven. Instead of finding my confidence in my physical appearance, I found it within myself and that kind of beauty is eternal.

— Stephanie, 19