How applying makeup makes me feel empowered
Though scleroderma can affect my appearance, I can do something about it
My mom has always instilled in me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When I was a child, she’d say to me, “What may be beautiful to one isn’t always beautiful to another, but that’s OK because that’s what makes people unique.”
Growing up, I took that mantra to heart when other children didn’t like how I dressed or the pictures I drew in art class. I used her words to accept that criticism by others was because they didn’t see beauty as I did. Those same words served me well until my diagnosis of scleroderma in 2001.
In the first few years after that, my body changed drastically. But I didn’t see those changes because I lived with myself every day. When I’d run into friends I hadn’t seen in years and they didn’t recognize me, however, I started to think that perhaps the way others see me mattered more than I’d thought.
I got 99 problems, and scleroderma causes most of them
Scleroderma can cause your body to undergo many atypical changes. Right off the bat after my diagnosis, I started to develop pulmonary fibrosis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and calcinosis in my hands and feet.
Telangiectasias are dilated or broken blood vessels near the surface of the skin or mucous membranes, often appearing as fine pink or red lines. I was only 20 when I started to notice these pesky little telltale signs of scleroderma, but at the time, I had no idea what they were.
Eventually, I uncovered more places on my body with these red blotches, seemingly out of nowhere. What started on my nose grew rapidly to cover my entire upper body, including my face, scalp, and inside of my mouth. But I also had them scattered on my thighs, hips, and all the way down to the bottom of my feet.
Eventually, I became self-conscious about the way I looked. I asked my rheumatologist for advice; much to my dismay, her reply was blunt. She told me what the blotches were and that they were incurable. This matter-of-fact delivery from a doctor was something I’d grown accustomed to with scleroderma symptoms, but once again, my disease had blindsided me. I was left to pick up the pieces of my identity and try to move forward.
Seeing myself in a different light
As a young woman living with scleroderma, I decided that doing nothing about my appearance was unacceptable. It’s hard to be a woman who looks different, given the unrealistic beauty standards society places on women.
When the disease started altering my appearance, I was working at a cosmetic laser center, where most of the customers wanted to look perfect. I couldn’t stop wondering what they might think if they entered our office and saw an employee whose face looked like it’d been splattered with paint.
Besides looking good for others, I needed to look good to feel like my best self. On my insides, “good looks” weren’t achievable, as my lungs were scarred, my heartbeat was irregular, and my muscles and tendons were tight and brittle. Externally, though, I wanted to feel good about my appearance. At that point, however, I dreaded seeing myself in the rearview mirror when I was backing out of a driveway.
What doesn’t kill you leaves you feeling up for the challenge
As a preteen, I was obsessed with makeup and crafted a knack for applying it. I loved the idea of putting on glosses and shades to look different. I’d even charge my girlfriends to apply their makeup during recess.
I remained quite the artistic applicator into my 20s. Since I felt my face wasn’t naturally pretty, I’d turn to makeup and make it artificially pretty with just a few strokes of my brushes. All it took was the right application. The rest fell into place like a colorful painting.
Every time I’m applying makeup today, my scleroderma-affected appearance causes me to second-guess my worth. But as I dig deeper, I remember my mother’s words, which make me feel more empowered than resentful. I know I won’t ever look like I once did, but I’ve learned to love the person I am today and lean into my supposed flaws. Still, a little makeup helps me feel confident about my appearance — and my identity.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.