Beautiful From the Inside Out

By Francine L. Billingslea

Beautiful From the Inside Out

I slowly dressed, not wanting to go to or participate in the “Look Good, Feel Better” program dedicated to helping cancer patients feel better about changes in their appearance after chemotherapy and radiation. My oncologist kept suggesting that I try the program, as well as the breast cancer support group, until I decided to go just to get her off my back.

To be honest, I was depressed, more like downright mad, and who wouldn’t be after being suddenly stripped of every strand of hair on your body. I didn’t mind the legs, the armpits and the bikini area, but my head, eyebrows and eyelashes took me to a whole other level of grief, distress and shock. I guess it showed, not only in my attitude, but in my appearance. Always particular in my dress and style, after losing my hair, feeling sick all the time and looking totally emaciated, I didn’t feel good, and I didn’t feel like looking good. I was embarrassed, and I simply stopped caring. In addition, with my bloated face and dark-circled eyes, I looked like a cartoon character with a stick body and a bowling ball head or like Uncle Fester’s female twin. I felt hideous.

I walked into the office, signed in and took my seat next to a woman who looked much like me. After several other women arrived, we were escorted into a brightly lit, yet comfortable room where we hesitantly got acquainted with each other before our instructors arrived.

The two women, whom we soon learned were hair and make-up stylists and, personally, I think comedians as well, walked in pulling a large cart full of different sized boxes behind them. “Good afternoon my sisters,” they cheerfully yelled before introducing themselves and asking us our names. Some of us answered, some of us didn’t and whether we answered or not, basically, we all felt the same way; whatever they were going to do, do it and get it over with, we had pity parties to attend.

They placed a small but completely filled box of make-up, nail polishes, false eyelashes, eyebrow stencils and beauty aids in front of each one of us and patiently, carefully and individually showed us how to properly apply all of it. And before we knew it, we were talking, laughing, helping each other and acting like high school girls who had known each other forever.

After the make-up session ended, in-between their jokes and pep talks, our instructors placed another box in front us with scarves, turbans and hats, some for demonstrations and some to keep. They taught us how to tie, twist and wear them in different, cute styles where you couldn’t even tell we were bald. Then came the real kicker, boxes full of hair strips, bangs, pieces, wigs and half wigs. We dug in the boxes like a bunch of kids opening up gifts on Christmas morning ,looking for our colors and textures. Then we learned how to place strips and pieces of hair under our scarves and hats to look like we had bangs and ponytails, with straight or curly hair hanging down the front, sides and the back of our heads. Before it was all over, every single one of us looked absolutely beautiful, sitting there talking and laughing, all made up with eyebrows, eyelashes and beautifully wrapped scarves, hats and hair that sent our confidence and self-esteem through the roof!

We then sat there telling of our battles, showing our battle scars, confiding and exchanging addresses and phone numbers. One elderly lady didn’t hesitate to proudly show us her new, reconstructed, firm and pointed breast. I think most of us felt a twinge of jealously knowing ours were lop-sided, disfigured, hanging or missing, but glad to be alive and happy for her, we all had a hearty laugh. At first, we called each other sister but before the three hour program ended, we were acting like family, like a horde of young, beautiful, happy siblings.

I couldn’t wait to get to my fiancée’s house. When he opened the door, he had to take a second look. I stood there bigheaded and laughing before he hugged me. He was exhilarated because I was so happy. That day was a turning point in my dress, style, health and attitude. I not only looked different, but I felt different, from that day to the present. Even though I had only had my fourth treatment, with eight more to go every twenty-one days, I think that was the first real day of my healing or at least, feeling good about myself, regardless. I was actually at the beginning of my journey, and there were plenty of bad days ahead of me, but the “woe is me” attitude was gone. It was mind over matter hard at work.

I didn’t use my hair pieces after that day, and I still couldn’t put the eyelashes or eyebrows on straight, but I didn’t need to. I felt just as beautiful and good about myself without them. And I no longer felt so alone, misunderstood, unattractive and depressed. My sisters taught me to feel proud, blessed, happy and beautiful in the mist of, and in spite of my illness. And, after hearing some of the others’ stories, I certainly didn’t have a problem feeling that way.

I learned to feel beautiful from the inside out and because of that, I looked good, and I began to feel even better.

For more information about the Look Good Feel Better program and to find workshops in your area, visit www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org.

About this writer

  • Francine L. Billingslea has written an inspirational memoir titled, Through it All: And Out on the Other Side, and has over 25 publications in anthologies and magazines.

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One Response to “Beautiful From the Inside Out”

  1. Looking — and feeling — beautiful from the inside out is the best way for all of us, isn’t it?

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