Leslie B

The Beauty of Bell’s Palsy: A few words with Leslie Barrett, McKayla Maroney’s inspired fan

By Leslie Barrett

My experience with Bell’s palsy was life changing even before a photo of me dressed as McKayla Maroney went viral this past week. I have spent the majority of my three months with partial facial paralysis joking about my condition to make others around me more comfortable and to help myself see it as a source of entertainment rather than oppression. I want to be honest that the entire experience has not been funny and I have been challenged every step of the way; there were even a few days at the beginning when I couldn’t get out of bed and let myself mourn my inability to smile. But, I decided very early on that I had two choices: I could waste months of my life by hiding in my room and crying, or I could continue to live my life normally, embrace my funny face and be as happy as possible. I chose the latter and the following is a guest column I wrote for my school’s newspaper this week about one of the most important things I have learned.

The Beauty of Bell’s Palsy: a look inside

Eleven weeks ago I wrote a guest column called “Would you still be my friend?” about my first week and a half with Bell’s palsy, a condition in which an inflamed nerve causes temporary facial paralysis. In that initial week I learned about gratitude, embracing insecurity, and looking for beauty in imperfection. At the time of the column I did not understand that not only would I learn about beautiful imperfections, I would learn the meaning of inner beauty first hand.

We throw around the term ‘inner beauty’ so frequently it has become cliché. It saddens me that it has lost its power, because who we are is so much more important than what we look like. And nothing teaches the concept better than developing a condition that compromises your physical beauty.

Despite my confidence, I can recall moments during my first week of paralysis when I considered trying to lose weight so I would still feel desirable. After a few weeks with a drooping face, I looked in the mirror and actually saw myself. I didn’t see a girl with a collapsed face, but the person I know myself to be. I saw my ambition and my strength. I saw my positivity and awkward sense of humor. I noticed my drooping smile and unblinking eye, but I didn’t look at them. I looked at the person in front of me.

These days I constantly make appalling faces (ask me to see my crying face), but I have never been called beautiful more times in my life than in the past three months. It wasn’t until the day when I looked in the mirror and saw myself that I realized other people also see the positive, awkward comedian that I do. In that moment I developed an unparalleled level of confidence and let go of my fear of judgment. I understood how liberating it is to see your inner beauty. And I understood that we all have that choice.

In my last column I asked readers to appreciate their abilities to smile instead of criticizing how their teeth looked. Now, I want you guys to do yourselves a favor. Next time you look in the mirror look past your blemished skin and frizzy hair and see yourself. I bet whatever you see will be a whole lot more beautiful.

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