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Finding Beauty in Your Scars

“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Beauty is a concept I struggle with—what it means, why it matters. I struggle because huge chunks of my life have not been beautiful. They have been ugly, marred by trauma, with pain, and anger.

We think of beauty and often visualize glossy magazine pages and wafer thin models. We see beauty as superficial—eye color, hair texture, and numbers on a scale. We see beauty as something to be measured and weighed.

I don’t see beauty that way. I see beauty as the grace point between what hurts and what heals, between the shadow of tragedy and the light of joy. I find beauty in my scars.  

We all have scars, inside and out. We have freckles from sun exposure, emotional trigger points, broken bones, and broken hearts.

However our scars manifest, we need not feel ashamed but beautiful.

It is beautiful to have lived, really lived, and to have the marks to prove it. It’s not a competition—as in “My scar is better than your scar”—but it’s a testament of our inner strength.

It takes nothing to wear a snazzy outfit well, but to wear our scars like diamonds? Now that is beautiful.

Fifteen years ago, I would have laughed at this assertion.

“Are you crazy?” I’d say, while applying lipstick before bed. I was that insecure, lips stained, hair fried by a straightening iron, pores clogged by residue foundation, all in an attempt to be different from how I naturally was, to be beautiful for someone else.

I covered my face to hide because it hurt to look at myself in the mirror. I was afraid my unbeautiful truth would show somehow through my skin—that people would know I had been abused, that I as a result was starving myself, harming myself in an effort to cope. I was afraid people would see that I was clinging to life by a shredding thread.

Now? I see scars and I see stories. I see a being who has lived, who has depth, who is a survivor. Living is beautiful. Being a part of this world is beautiful, smile-worthy, despite the tears.

Beauty isn’t a hidden folder full of Kate Moss images for a kid dying to forget and fit in, a lifted face, a fat injected smile, or six-pack abs. It is the smile we are born with, the smile that sources from the divine inside, the smile that can endure, even if we’ve been through a lot.

Emotional pain is slow to heal, as I have been slow to heal. My healing started with a word I received as a birthday gift. It was a photograph my friend took of a forest, the word “forgive” painted in pink on a stone. I didn’t understand why that word meant something until I really started to think about it.

I blamed myself for so long for things that weren’t my fault. Life stopped being beautiful to me, I stopped feeling beautiful inside, and my smile stopped shining beauty out into the world.

I think in order for us to make life beautiful we need to feel our smiles as we feel our frowns. 

For so long, I only honored only my pain and my sorrow. I lost my smile, less because of the trauma and more because I spent so much time lamenting my scars.

When I decided they were beautiful, I became beautiful. When I took power away from the negative emotions, my unchangeable traumatic past, I was better able to find joy in the present.

How did I do this?

First, I made a soul collage, a board for the life of my dreams. I pasted onto the poster magazine images that depicted things I see as myself and want for myself. It became a beautiful visual guide for what matters to me beyond the superficial.

This board reminds me to honor who I am in essence, who I was before anything bad happened to me, before I believed anything was wrong with me. This board provides me with a path of beauty through the scars.

Secondly, I found the book The Why Café, by John P. Strelecky. He encourages readers to pinpoint their PFE (purpose for existence). While reading, I realized beauty is my PFE. My purpose is to make whatever I can beautiful. Not beautiful in the superficial sense but in the smile of the heart and soul sense. Thus far, it’s working.

Sometimes all it takes for your life to change is a shift in perspective, one solitary action, one solitary word, and everything is different—an action like a smile, a word like forgive.

Take a moment now to smile. Do you feel it in your muscles?  In your skin?  In your toes?  Where do you feel happiness?

When bad things happen, we don’t instinctively feel happy and beautiful, but we don’t need to despair because life gets ugly sometimes. Joy and beauty are everywhere, in everything, in every one of us—no matter how we look, and no matter how we may hurt temporarily.

Grace is beauty in motion and we can create it by choosing to smile—to recognize that we’re strong, despite our insecurities, and the world is an amazing place, despite its tragedies.

We may hurt, but we will heal—and there’s beauty in our scars.

Photo by Delphine Divos

Avatar of Alexandra Heather Foss

About Alexandra Heather Foss

Alexandra Heather Foss is a freelance writer whose writing has been featured on Tiny Buddha and in The New York Times. What time is not spent creating word art is spent with divine nature—of herself, other, cosmos, and this special planet we call home.

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  • Anonymous

    Very beautifully written :)
     

  • Lynn

    Absolutely beautiful ….. thank you very much for this. 

  • Kelli

    You’ve put into words so much of what I’ve been struggling with lately….thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001642911068 Jen Nguyen

    Boy did this hit home. I’ve been feeling so devastated. I’ve endured child abuse by my family, and sexual abuse by a former partner, and things were just never the same ever again. Not only do I have trouble trusting others, even the good people, but I have trouble loving myself because of all I went through. I try to improve and love myself, but I’m brought down so damn easily by just the littlest things…

  • Vanessa M.

    This is gorgeous and also reminds me of the quote “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1053583307 Sheri Hart

    Just what I needed today… this and lunch with my bestie.  :)

  • Vianey

    Thank you for this beautiful piece.  This strikes a chord with everyone. Thank you for the reminder that instead of allowing life experiences to bring us down or stunt our growth, we should instead try to make this what propels us into beautiful, strong, compassionate individuals. 

  • Heatherlrooney

    what a beautifully written peace! as a trauma survivor I can relate to everything that you said… and I too find beauty in my scars… in fact I am working on a painting right now that depicts this simple yet profound concept. thank you…

  • http://www.rebuildyourlifecoach.com Harriet Cabelly

    What a Beautiful post- so very open, vulnerable and truly touching.  Thank you  for sharing so authentically You.
    Brought to mind a post I wrote – http://rebuildyourlifecoach.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/imperfection/  on the beauty of imperfections. 
    So glad you have found positiveness and beauty beyond…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Campbell/1355460875 Scott Campbell

    As always, very insightful. Your writing is great!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Campbell/1355460875 Scott Campbell

    As always, you are very insightful. Your writing is not just good it’s wonderful!!

  • A.

    What a wonderful article! Thank you for putting this out… it really spoke to me and it couldn’t be more comforting :) namaste!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you very much!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you for commenting and for your beautiful words.  

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    That means so much, Kelli.  I am truly touched.  Thank you as well.

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Don’t feel devastated, Jen.  We are not alone.  Things are not the same after abuse, you are right, and trust is a lifelong struggle, but there is always love for us.  From ourselves, from others.  I get down as well, so down I don’t know if I can come back up, and that happens sometimes when I feel I am strongest, but life is a series of ups and downs, something I have been trying as of late to keep in mind.  I think peace comes, and love, from believing in our hearts there is a place in our soul that can never be tainted, and the power that lives there is strong enough to carry us when we are weakest.  You are beautiful.  You did not deserve that abuse.  And you are loved.  Never forget you are loved.  Thank you so much for your comment.  

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    I like that quote, Vanessa.  And your kind words mean a lot to me.  Thank you!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Sheri, I am so glad.  Lunch with besties are the best.  (=

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Vianey, you are very welcome.  Thank you for reading and commenting with such beautiful words.  I will be keeping your words in my heart for always.  

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you, Heatherlrooney!!  I would love to see that painting when you are finished.  

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you, Harriet!  I am glad you were strong for Nava, encouraging her to embrace the beauty of her “imperfections.”  I am working hard at being open this year and comments like these make it worth it. 

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you, Scott!!!  That means so much to me.  As do you!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    You are wonderful!  Thank you!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you, A!  This comment is as comforting to me.  Namaste!

  • Earv823

    Your post was very profound.

  • http://Mazzastick.com Justin

    I believe our battle scars are a sign that we have lived life. Perhaps only a handful have gone through life without experiencing some type of painful experience.

  • Keyra

    Love, love, love! And was just what I needed to read!

  • Tiawbia

    Reading this made my heart smile. Thank you.

  • Heather (The Write Me)

    Thanks, Tiawbia!  It makes my heart smile to know your heart is smiling!  (=

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Keyra, I am so glad!  Love, love, love to you!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    I think you are right, Justin, and what a beautiful life we are living, however scarred.  Thank you for your comment!

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you, Earv823!!!  

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you to EVERYONE who reads and appreciates this piece.  I had no idea when I wrote it the impact it would have and I am so grateful to each and every one of you for proving how beautiful we are, scars and all.  

  • Rdallen2

    Wow this was beautiful

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Thank you so much, Rdallen2.  That means a lot.

  • Dgross

    How do I get over the hurt that was caused? The emotional trauma? The power I gave up? The control that was over me? I want to smile again but I don’t think I ever will.

  • http://www.thewriteme.blogspot.com Heather (The Write Me)

    Dgross, I am so sorry you are hurting.  The trauma?  Only time heals, I think.  And a willingness to see ourselves not as victims but as survivors.  You will smile again.  It may take a while.  It has for me.  But it happens… slowly.  It shouldn’t have to be this way, for any of us, but it does get better.

  • Jengraw

    As a burn victim this made me cry

  • Alexandra Heather Foss

    I am sorry you are a burn victim, Jengraw.  But I hope you realize how beautiful you are regardless.  Thank you for being brave enough to comment. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1485633975 Glendys Morales

    I am currently going through a breakup and may I just say that this website has help me so much. I look forward to read your daily newsletters. Thank you again!

    Glendys

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Glendys,

    You’re most welcome! I didn’t actually write this post, but I run the site. I’m not sure if you noticed, but I publish posts from different people every day. I’m so glad you enjoy them!

    Lori

  • SolhMama

    This is a beautiful post. I am weeks away from open heart surgery at 30 years old and I had a liver transplant when I was 7 so I’ve been wallowing in this why me victim mentality for weeks. I’ve been angry and frustrated that I’ve developed yet another undeserved “life long ailment” but what I should be thinking is thank goodness I still have a life that’s long :) When I was a teenager a plastic surgeon offered to remove my large transplant scar but I wasn’t interested… Although I wanted to wear bikinis and belly shirts just like every other teenaged girl, removing that symbol from my body wouldn’t erase the “scars” of the surgery it would only remove the visual one, the daily reminder that I am a survivor. :) Thank you for the much needed reminder. :))

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexandraheatherfoss Alexandra Heather Foss

    SolhMama, I apologize I didn’t respond sooner but I just saw this post. You are very brave and I sincerely hope your surgery went well. You are a survivor and that is a beautiful thing. I wish you the very best. -Heather

  • http://www.facebook.com/margaret.deross Margaret Deross

    :)

  • Matt

    The woman I love just had an accident and got cut on the face. She is overseas, so I can’t be there and I won’t ask for pictures. She will be devastated and feel ugly I would bet, 50 stitches. What words of love and comfort can I give her, knowing that she may not be ready for them or accept them right now. I wrote her an email expressing how much I love her…maybe that is enough. She is a nurse and very spirited; I want to reach somewhere inside her where she feels bad about herself and lift her up.

  • Ladi Da

    Very beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  • Caiti

    Hi, i’m Caiti. I have a scar on my face. From my lip all the way up by my eyes. I’m 16 and I’ve had it since I was about 4… When I was in middle school is when people starting actually saying things about it. I’d actually hear people calling me “scar face.” And I don’t think the accident of my actually face being cut open hurt as bad as those words did. I was completely heartbroken. I used to be so self consious about it. Afraid some one else would notice… But now I take pride in my scar. My scar completes who I am. And even now people will ask me about it, and I gladly tell them my story. It’s not what other people think about me, it’s how I feel about myself. My scar is beautiful to me. And i’m so thankful for it too, it’s the best life experience i’ll ever have. And it’s always there to remind me every morning, that i am beautiful, and everything i’ve gone through may hurt, but it’ll always heal, and i’ve never been more stronger. I hope she realizes how much more beautiful that scar makes her, and how it will only make her stronger. She deserves to know that.

  • Kiddo

    This is so inspiring, i am a former self-harmer and this meant a lot, i’m still recovering and one of the first steps to recovery is acceptance so thank you for helping me with that

  • Lana

    beautifully written, a masterpiece really! =)

  • Krissy

    Beautiful post. I also have a scar on my face. I’ve had 11 surgeries and my scar still shows on my chin. It’s been a long ordeal, but I have learned to be okay with it. Follow my journey from everything about scars, treatments, dating, relationships, weight, spirituality, death, miracles, failure, strength, events, design, parties, life of luxury, finding the beauty in simplicity, and so much more on http://www.prettywithascar.com

  • sniperhavoc

    This really hits home. I had open heart surgery over a year ago. To make a long story short, I was a personal trainer before the surgery. Now, no longer, so coming to terms with losing that man was painful. Every time I would shave and see the scar in the mirror, it would bring me to tears. Only 5 months into Buddhism, it has really brought me a sense of peace, acceptance and serenity. Finding beauty in new things and just the fact of living, despite your new limitations and lifestyle changes.

  • k-ha Liuo-lio

    I have two scars on my ankle and others scars that I am really ashamed of, some of the scars I got it are from terrible incidents that I do not wish to talk about. In a superficial world, where our physical appearances is constantly judged and scrutinize, i feel it is very hard to accept my scars. Not only my scars are considered unattractive by the superficial society we live in, every time when a person asks or even when I look at it, it brings back horrible memories from the past. I hope one day, I can accept myself and love my scars, able to see past my imperfections and most importantly make peace with my past.

  • MarayaCagathy

    Really nice. Thanks for the post.