An online stranger 'beautified' my photo without my permission. I was very disturbed, then sad.
- I've had breast cancer twice, and during one of my treatments, I had 12 rounds of chemo.
- A stranger saw my photo, taken during cancer treatment, and decided to "beautify" me.
It was a Wednesday morning, and I was checking my messages before tackling my next writing assignment. I noticed I had several messages in my spam folder. Most of them were kind and supportive, sharing what my latest article meant to them. As a writer, I get lots of messages every week. But one message was outlandish.
An internet stranger shared that she had "added makeup to one" of my photos. I found this quite odd. I immediately recognized the attached picture as one from my social media that had been used as a recent article's featured photo. But it wasn't really me in the picture. Instead, it was doctored photo that the stranger claimed would show me going "from plain to very pretty."
The photo she sent was the "new me": penciled-in-looking eyebrows, blemish-free skin, blushed cheeks, and defined lips and eyes. My eyelashes were prominent, framing my new — and very green — eyes.
I was going through cancer treatment when the photo was taken
The original photo was taken of me in the middle of breast-cancer treatment. I'd finished 12 rounds of chemotherapy, and I was in the middle of 33 rounds of chest radiation and a year of immunotherapy. I was, as I often am, without makeup. My pixie hair is in its natural, post-chemo state.
The stranger said that like me, she had "brows and lashes" that were "pretty thin." She added, "So makeup makes a big difference." In my original photo, my brows and lashes were growing back in from falling out during three months of weekly chemotherapy treatments.
I'm uncertain why this stranger felt the need to take a photo of me, one taken during the most vulnerable season of my life, and make me "new and improved." I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt — for just a second. Maybe she didn't know I was a cancer patient? However, I'm not sure it matters. Cancer or not, I don't need makeup to be "pretty," nor is being pretty a life goal of mine.
Being alive is what's beautiful to me
What's beautiful is the scars across my chest and my natural face and skin. Do you know what else is beautiful? Being alive. At 40 years old and as a two-time breast-cancer survivor who is totally flat-chested, I am just grateful to be here. Beauty is fleeting. And as the saying goes, it's in the eye of the beholder. I am my own beholder.
My tween daughter asked me whether this stranger's message made me angry, and the answer is no. It made me sad. Why would someone take a photo of someone else and spend time editing it, and then have the audacity to send it to me with such a bold claim?
This message says far more about the sender than it does about me. Stealing someone's photo to manipulate it to their liking and to match their standard of beauty is so deeply bizarre.
At the same time, I also have empathy for this person. This is what she's probably been taught about beauty. If anything, it's symbolic of society's obsession with women looking a particular way to be accepted, loved, and admired.
I do not regret posting honest videos and unfiltered pictures during my cancer journey. I've raised awareness about my disease, encouraging others to do their self-breast exams, get their mammograms, and raise concerns to their doctor. I also don't wish this stranger any harm. I hope she reads this and considers her mental and breast health. Every woman deserves healing from the damage that toxic beauty standards have created.
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