Where did you get the scar on your hand? Mine are reminders of the year after high school when I worked three jobs: carving pigs and cows, caribou and chicken meat for sausage production in the mornings, cutting up frozen fish for frying in a food-court restaurant at night, and sealing binders with bubbling hot glue in a humid paper factory on Saturdays.
Image: Me, Tre Cool from Green Day, and his dad. One of two photos from that year. The other you can’t see me for the hot pink ski suit. Apparently in 1994 I worked three crappy jobs to pay rent, buy bus fare, go to punk shows and buy second hand ski gear.
Those scars, all our scars have a story. Some small, others defining us. And this year another 62 million physical scars and stories will join our collective American body.
Let’s talk about the big stories, the noticeable scars. On kids.
How many kids have life-changing stories and eye-catching scars because of accidents, surgeries, and abuse? If we add the number of scars to the epidemic of bullying, we know there are kids out there picked on, pushed, isolated, and shamed for the marks on their skin.
Last year 27% of the kids in this country felt the fear and embarrassment of bullying. That’s nearly 1 in every 3 kids. That number is based on reported bullying. And get this: kids are bullied for the following reasons. Looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%) Source
So let me put my fingers to work and calculate. 55 million kids in K-12 means approximately 10 million kids are bullied because of their looks every year. In the U.S. alone. I won’t divide that number into how many kids per day or hour as we don’t know the frequency of bullying but I mostly won’t do it because I hate to think that right now there is a young kid staring in the bathroom mirror, learning to hate themselves after another rough day at school. And God knows what’s on the other side of that bathroom door.
In American Scar Stories, there are two stories of bullying – Cathy felt so bullied at home and at school she sliced her arms and legs with a razor blade for years. Krystian suffered the taunts and shoves of bullies because of her scars.
Krystian appears in a few posts because her platform is similar to mine. Finding inspiration and self-acceptance and redefining beauty through the lens of physical scars. But also I am heartened by watching how much one teenager with the help of her parents can do to better the world.
Krystian spent years hating the way she looked. Until she turned fourteen. Over the past three years, she built and expanded her non-profit: Shining S.C.A.R.S., appearing regularly on radio, T.V., and in print media. She stands on Miss America competition stages and talks about scars. She visits kids laying into hospital beds, scared and scarred. She reads her book Shining Scars to them and gives each child a handmade teddy bear. In doing she lets each girl and boy know no matter their scars, they’re always invited to sit at her table.
What a story.
Rick is an award winning fashion photographer and he worked “in NYC, Milan and Paris for a variety of high profile clients including Yves St Laurent, Revlon, L’Oreal, Elle, Harpers Bazaar and GQ. He took photographs of what were considered the world’s most beautiful people. But one day, on a break from a photo shoot, a chance encounter on a Manhattan street changed everything. Rick saw a stunning girl at the bus stop – a girl with pale skin and white hair, a girl with albinism. Upon returning home Rick began a process of discovery – about albinism, about people with genetic differences and about himself. What he found was startling and upsetting. The images that he saw were sad and dehumanizing. In medical textbooks children with a difference were seen as a disease, a diagnosis first, not as people.” Source
Rick founded Positive Exposure in 1998. Positive Exposure works to show people with differences as strong, valuable members of our world, not as people to be pitied or alienated. Positive Exposure allows people with albinism and other genetic disorders to meet online, creating a safe space for families to post and discuss. Rick also travels the world photographing the people with genetic differences, allowing people to see the beauty in differences and redefine our ideas of what is considered beautiful.
At his Ted Talk: Seeing Beauty for a Change, he opens with a story about photographing a woman with albinism who walked into his studio, shoulders slumped, barely speaking, not looking him in the eye but he treated her as any supermodel. He turned on the wind machines, he turned up the music, he held a mirror to her face and told her she was magnificent. After the shoot, she left his studio, smiling and proud and you can see in his photo, she IS magnificent. And his talk just gets better from there.
So let’s salute people like Rick and Krystian by sharing their journeys. Share their links. Share their stories. But let’s also acknowledge their message by how we act around people different from ourselves. A smile and a handshake reminds us we’re all in this together. And let’s tell the children in our lives they’re o.k no matter what they look like – no matter what the bullies tell them. In fact it’s in our children’s differences, they will find their power and that is beautiful.
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