Physical attractiveness without inner beauty is much like looking at a book without the ability to read it. I’ve learned beauty comes in all forms and it’s not something we attain; it’s something we have. So often we give up on beauty because of ridicule and mistreatment we experience, but my Path2Empathy has lead me to true inner beauty. As a singer and model, the shoes I wear now look much different than the shoes I wore as a young, insecure teenager. To look at me today you might think, wow, she has it all, but my dreams, like yours, were born out of much hardship.
There was no glamour the day I was diagnosed with two forms of Spinal Kyphosis. This condition is when the upper back has an outward curvature (or bump) that bends forward at the neck, much like elderly osteoporosis. For a middle school girl, my diagnosis meant not fitting in, feeling awkward, clumsy, insecure, and hugely self-conscious. Immediately, I was not allowed to participate in sports of any kind. To avoid being put in a very constricting back brace my day began at 6:00 A.M. with a rigorous schedule of physical therapy. I was also taken out of school 2-3 times a week for physical therapy in a hospital. My sessions were full of immense physical pain and at times tears of frustration when the curvature of my spine stayed the same.
I avoided the topic of my diagnosis, but still felt every rude comment or sneer about the way I looked. For a girl who doesn’t have the perfect body, whether it be weight, acne, or disfigurement, I can relate to how you feel. Looking in the mirror every day, and dreading what you see or looking for ways to hide it from the rest of the world. We retreat to avoid the comments and fade in social situations to protect ourselves. Adolescents is difficult for so many girls; my back made it even harder.
Even though I was in constant back pain and had migraines I turned to the one thing I could get lost in- music. My mother tells the story of before I could talk she would play a note on the piano and I would match it with perfect pitch. Grateful my spinal cord had no effect on my vocal cords, I immersed myself in singing, writing, and playing instruments. While my back proved to be a built-in burden, my music was built-in therapy. This was my way to feel beauty. But again, I found myself in the midst of more pain. Having a talent meant opening myself up for even more ridicule. Why is it when people see beauty they have to tear it down? Is is jealously? Fear? Whatever it was, it hurt. But I kept singing.
By 17, I had been able to perform at Carnegie Hall, solo all around New York City, and I traveled and performed in prestigious choirs around my home state and the United States. I received accolades in the world of music but ridicule and threats in the teenage world. I remember crying myself to sleep so many nights wondering, why? It didn't matter how nice I was, or what I did. I could not win with the majority of my peers. During this time I grew close to one friend who truly loved me, understood me, accepted me, and encouraged me. She never wavered in her faith in me and never flaked on our friendship. She saw my inner beauty. I’m proud to say we are still friends today doing life’s ups and downs together.
While those seasons were not easy I learned the value of true beauty and empathy. When I’m walking on the runway or performing in front of a crowd I’m reminded not to judge a book by it’s cover. For those of you who feel insecure, I know you. And those who feel lost, I understand you. Don’t give up. Each of you has beauty, creativity, and a gift you need to give the world. Don’t hide behind self-deprecation and self-doubt. We will never please everyone and people will still say hurtful things out of ignorance, but I’m going to keep on singing and loving beauty no matter where it comes from. A masterpiece is made with every stroke of the brush, light and dark, so when my looks and voice change, I will still surround myself with those who have always seen my inner beauty to remind me of what true beauty really is.
Katie Jae- Recording Artist, Model, Performer, Lover of People