Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Hair Shirt

I didn't have a single pimple until I was senior in High School. All those years of Jr. High and High School I counted my lucky stars and inwardly gloated at all the other adolescents whose faces broke out like patches of raspberries. I guess I got punished for my teenage cockiness because I started to get bad acne when I was a sophomore in college. Over the last several years my face has gone through various stages of better, almost better, semi-horrible, and time to wear a paper bag over your head horrible. I've tried everything, short of Acutane, multiple times. Currently I'm approaching the bag over my head stage and I have "leprosy" all over my face.

I've really been struggling with this lately and sometimes it wears on my soul. I know that I shouldn't let it bother me as much as it does, but I can't help but notice other women's beautiful, clear, even colored skin. It makes me want to scream when I hear them complaining about having one or two zits. I wish sometimes they could understand how lucky they are...that they don't have days when they can't kiss their children because their face is too painful or won't use public restrooms because it means they'd have to look at themselves in the large, brightly lit mirror. I would trade them in a heart beat.

Yesterday, just out of curiosity, I picked up the "Oprah Magazine" in the checkout line and I counted 20 ads-- yes 20 (including the back cover ad)-- for products designed give you beautiful, younger skin. In addition there were three of four articles in the magazine dealing with how to have better, younger skin and how to apply your make up so it would make you look better. How does someone like me, who would just be happy if her skin wasn't painful, compete with an ideal like that? Ugg.

I think what is hardest about my "leprosy" is that I am embarrassed to have it at this stage of my life. Acne is something for Jr. High kids and teenagers, not adult women who have two children and a husband. I know that I am more self conscious about it than I should be. Some people don't even notice and I know my husband doesn't care. Once, when we were dating, I asked him if my acne bothered him or if he was embarrassed by it. He looked at me with a confused look and asked, "What acne?". I could tell he wasn't pretending. He honestly had never noticed, even though it was really bad at the time, and didn't know what I was making a big deal about. He told me that even if I really did get leprosy (the real type) one day and my face was covered in boils and my nose fell off, he would still think I was beautiful. I knew then that I could love him forever.

As I've struggled with this on going trial in my life I've tried to figure out why God might have given it to me. Sometimes I read the book of Job, the part where he gets boils, just to remind myself that God sometimes gives us trials to make us stronger and to bring our hearts closer to his. A few days ago, on a particularly bad face day, I was reminded of the tradition that some mid-evil Christians had of wearing cilices, or hair shirts, under their clothing. These shirts were often made of scratchy goats hair and were worn directly against a person's skin. They were very uncomfortable and sometimes even rubbed sores into wearer's skin. They were worn as symbols of penance, humility, and bodily mortification. They were worn by priests, monks, common people, and kings (under their royal garments) as constant reminders of their dependence upon the Lord.


Mary Magdalene wrapped in a cilice, or hair shirt. (Image source)

I can't help but feel that my acne is my own form of a "hair shirt", something that constantly rubs at me and reminds me to be humble and to depend on the Lord. On my better days I am sometimes able to look at my acne as a blessing because it has really humbled me and given my sympathy for other people. I have to admit that I was quite the vain teenager and was really judgmental about other people's looks. Now I am quite the opposite. I try my hardest to look past a person's physical appearance and see their heart. When I see someone with a hard physical challenge-- whether it be acne, scars, extra weight, facial hair, paralysis, a birth defect, or whatever-- instead of judging I feel my heart pour out love to them. I know what it feels like to cringe when you look in the mirror....to meet someone new and feel like the only thing that they notice about you is your flaws.... to feel like you don't fit in... and to have those days when you wish that it was realistic for you to wear a paper bag over your head and not crash your car.

Eventually, slowly and surely, my "hair shirt" has changed my soul. I know now, more than I have at any other point in my life, that my worth is not dependent upon my outer appearance. I know, even when other people don't, that God looks on the heart. I know that what my face looks like doesn't determine the quality of my soul.

Why is that so hard to remember some days?

10 comments:

  1. It can be difficult to remember our divine worth when we're bombarded by the social message that our worth is based on looks (especially for women) and nothing beneath that surface matters.

    Personally, I'm breaking out more in middle age (I'm now 41) than I ever did as a teen. (sigh)

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  2. In our home lately we have had the discussion about not judging on the outward appearance but the heart. The discussion has surround more the gossip pains instead of the physical appearance. Only God knows the heart as He taught Samuel with David. We are sometimes plagued with Satan's messages of what we are not. It is a similar to Job's plague but it affects our heart and can hinder how we teach as mothers, wives, children, sisters, and neighbors. God loves us even with our trials so we will love Him better. God loves us in any form.

    I hope that if you do choose to wear a paper bag (which I hope you don't) it has the same bright happy smile that is in your profile picture. It is a lovely smile that has hope and energy!

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  3. I know EXACTLY how you feel. In high school my skin was flawless. I remember girls always telling me they were jealous of my skin.

    Then I got married, got on birth control, and Acne hit big time. I have been trying everything for the past year and a half and it seems like something will work for a few days but then it just comes back.

    I eat super healthy, drink lots of water, take probiotics, and recently I started doing weekly acupuncture for my acne.

    I never knew how depressing acne could be because I'd never experienced it. But now I honestly have no confidence anymore.

    I'm sorry and I hope you find something that works for you.

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  4. So sorry! I was one of the kids with pizza face all through jr. high and hs, finally in college I did go on Accutane and that pretty much took care of it -- I still use ProActiv, wish that would have been around when I had big problems. I still break out big time during pregnancy, and I remember how awful it feels. I hope it won't stick around forever; no fun!

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  5. It's hard to remember because I think most women want to feel beautiful. And I don't mean tall, super skinny with a killer wardrobe beautiful. A woman wants to like what she sees in the mirror, maybe because we're the "crowning creation." It must be uncomfortable for your face to actually be in pain. You've learned a priceless lesson, to look on the heart rather than the outward appearance, and it sounds like you also have Christ-like love for others whose sufferings are on the outside. I'm trying to develop that quality myself. I don't know if I'm willing to pay your price to get it though. :)

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  6. I know EXACTLY how you feel. I had really, really, really bad acne problem during HS, and I let it destroy me sadly. Now I'm trying to recover and see myself as beautiful.

    I still have bad acne occassionally, but I had Accutane and that helped a LOT. But I still get some occassionally. I'm 22 years old. :)

    You need to read Susan W. Tanner, I think, a former General Young Woman presidency who talked about her acne struggles. (Yes, it's Susan W. Tanner- check out "Sanctity of the the Body"). And you need to read about Elder Neal A. Maxwell who also had bad acne that gave him scars. Yet we never noticed them, right? Because we were focusing on their inner beauty! :)

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  7. Check this out as well:

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42848/Young-Women-general-president-Being-a-daughter-of-God-is-her-foundation.html

    Scroll down and you'll see the comments she made about her serious acne condition.

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  8. Heather
    We have been encouraged to liken ourselves to the scriptures; The Savior counsels in Luke 38:41

    41 “Heather,Heather,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,
    42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.....

    Luke 12:22-27
    (Your name inserted here)

    22 Then He said to His disciples, “Heather"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.
    23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.

    25 And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

    26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?

    27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these

    Heather, you are beautiful in the very best way. A light that shines on a hill, cannot be hid.
    Take off the hair shirt,see yourself as the Lord does, as your family does, even us,your loyal blog sisters.
    We all have flaws, real or preceived that bother us, but don't allow them to become a block of stumbling,if they right eye offends thee, pluck it out or at least have an eye exam. It thy right hand offends thee, cut it off or at least get a manicure LOL.
    When I would complain about my short comings, a good friend used to tell me,"Honey we have all sinned and have fallen short of the Glory, but when the adversary throws in your face what you aren't now, the Lord will show you who you are."
    You are Beautiful.
    PS. If you haven't tried it,Proactive products work well.

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  9. Wow, really ladies, Thank you. I so appreciate your uplifting words.

    Kate Hawkins, thank you for those links I am excited to read about their experiences. Sometimes it is just nice to know that Im not alone.

    Oh, and part of me in jealous for those of you who got to use Accutane. I know it is a NASTY drug with bad side effects but sometimes I'd be so willing to do whatever it took to get this GONE for good. But they won't prescribe it to married women because of the 100% of birth defects. I guess even if they would give it to me I'd probably not take the risk anyway.

    Love you all!

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  10. I have the same problem. Great skin in HS, yucky as an adult. Don't use accutane- it ruins eyes!

    Also if you ever do get Leprosy just know there is a leprosy clinic in Seattle. It's treatable and people still have it!

    Have you tried Dermologica or DHC? They have great products! proactive worked for a while for me, but not now.

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