Mirror, We are Through.

I can still see her big brown eyes staring back, cold and empty.

They glisten with tears as she tries to suppress back her sobs. Her hair is stringy and drawn in all directions, her body slumps down, and her face is scattered with freckles. The heaviness in her heart is apparent, flashing. Her lack of confidence glooms over her with a bulls-eye on her back and the word “ugly” hangs around her neck.

But I can’t bear to look at her any longer. As I turn my face to block her from my view I press my back against the wall and slide to the floor.  My heart pounds hard in my chest.

The mirror has never been my best friend.

**********

That is a just a taste of the episodes I use to have before I acknowledged I had an issue with my body image and self-esteem. It was a never ending cycle. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Rock bottom down.

I know the feeling of looking into the mirror and having my thoughts consumes my mind, my body, and my soul. It an almost physical and mental battle, a battle I know many of us still struggle with.

But after years of being dominated by the negative voices that lived inside me I chose to stand up. Slowly I began to rid myself of the negative influences in my life. I replaced my demeaning comments with positive complements, I filled my room pictures of happy moments and beautiful people, and I challenged the mirror every morning.  I stopped slouching and avoiding eye contact with those around me, and instead held my head up high.

Looking back I realize I was participating in the ideals of what Beauty for Ashes is built upon before the program even existed! I was able to change my perspective on myself and transform my anxiety into confidence.

Nowadays when I step on stage to facilitate a workshop I keep in mind all my experiences and my struggle. I don’t ignore them, but rather embrace them because it is part of my story.

Beauty for Ashes is my reminder that even though I have been at rock bottom I can still make myself new, like a phoenix being reborn from the ashes .

-Brigitte, 20

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