Scars can be beautiful

I think Tahlia Brookins is the picture of all-encompassing beauty.

When she was just nine months old, Tahlia unknowingly pulled down the cord of an electric teapot, spilling boiling water all over her hands, stomach, and legs. She endured second- and third-degree burns over 26% of her tiny body. Many painful skin grafts – and probably even more painful childhood taunts – later, she has emerged as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. She appeared on national TV in a bathing suit and her self-confidence was simply stunning.

Unless you went to high school with me, you wouldn’t know that I can relate in a very real way to Tahlia’s struggle. When I was a freshman, I was in a gruesome bicycle accident involving – I couldn't possibly be making this up – burning hot tar, a freshly paved street, and me in a J. Crew bikini. I had second-degree burns (maybe a few third-degree) over a significant portion of my body. I can’t remember the exact percentage but I know both of my palms were erased, my knees and shin were covered and the tar burned through by Reeboks a bit. For a week, my family called the hospital home; after than, I was in a wheelchair for a month with no use of my hands or legs. The pain was horrific but even worse – at the time, that is – was the thought that I might not ever walk again. Or dance. Or swim. Or, for that matter, have a boyfriend or wear short skirts or any of the ridiculously superficial things teenagers worry about. I remember crying to me father one day, weeping, “No boy will ever want me. I’ll never get married.” And he looked at me and said, “Leslie, why would you want to be with a man who cared about what your scars look like?”

Today, I only have one scar, on my right knee. Rarely someone will comment on it but it’s actually fairly faint. From that hellish summer, I went on to wear insanely short shorts (much to my father’s chagrin) throughout high school and college - I’ve even worn knee-baring skirts on the Today Show. It doesn’t even enter my mind now. For a while, I had no fingerprints or creases on my hands which would be cool if you were a thief, but for me, as I was able to start using my hands and regained those creases, I knew I was getting better.

So suffice it to say, I am thrilled that Tahlia wants to show girls that they can be beautiful, scars and all. As Tyra said last week, though, some designers will not book her because her stomach and legs are less-than-conventional; on the flipside, other designers will book her BECAUSE of her scars. (Speaking of which, please check out this fantastic piece by Padma Lakshmi, who has a significant scar on her arm from a childhood car accident, yet wears sleeveless tops all the time.) And click here to read "Beautiful in My Own Skin," a touching personal essay by Tahlia about her decision to model.

I’ll be rooting for her tonight! In the meantime, let’s trade war stories – tell me about your favorite scar, how you got it, and why it makes you beautiful.

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