I’m binge watching Season 24 of America’s Next Top Model (don’t laugh). In fact, I’ve watched every season (not every episode though) because I’m a wannabe model. Funnily, I take really bad photos, but counteract this by making goofy faces, and accepting the fact that I’m not photogenic.

But what has struck me, as I watched the girls in the house interact with one another, is how many of them carry pain inside them. At first, I thought it was ironic as heck that some of these stunning young women grew up being told they were ugly or funny-looking (this is a repeat theme throughout the seasons), but there’s more to this than just this.

There’s a young woman who was molested when she was eleven, another who’s dealing with the guilt of leaving her partner after he was diagnosed with cancer, a bisexual who desperately wants the approval of her mother, another had a tumor removed from her head (her scar is ghastly), and another suffers from hair loss (she’s bald), and the list continues.

I paused the show and decided to write this for a couple of reasons. First: I’ve been contemplating a “birthday post” because I’m going to be forty-five soon, y’all! And two: as I get older, our obsession with beauty, youth, and appearances has been on my mind lately.

One model was particularly difficult to get along with, and then she opened up, and shared a little piece of her. She reminded me of the walls we sometimes put up. The invisible barriers we think keep people away from our suffering, but what inevitably happens is we do more damage to ourselves. She also reminded me of how people who seem the most standoffish are the ones who seem the most vulnerable.

I have such a deep appreciation for Tyra Banks (listen to a great interview with her and her mom here), and her ability to bring all these girls together. I mean, I know it’s a reality TV show supposedly devoid of authenticity, especially a show about models, but it’s also a window into young women’s worlds and the struggles they share.

Suddenly, turning forty-five feels like a beautiful celebration. I remember battling with my own childhood demons: abuse, depression, death, and being different. But I’ve learned to forgive, forgive, and forgive myself. I moved on from so many things that could have held me back. I’ve learned how to be vulnerable, and okay with falling pancake-flat on my face, and getting back up again.

I want to remember:

// We’re all beautiful.

// Grow slowly. It’s not a race.

// Be vulnerable.

// We all have a hard time asking for help.

// Be kind. (I’m contemplating writing this on the whiteboard in my classrooms.)

// Drink more water, and get more exercise.

// Pride is a hellva drug.

// Life is short, and toxic people make your life feel shorter.

// Breathe, damn it – and have fun!

How do you stay beautiful?

27 replies on “Pain, struggle, and the stories within us

  1. 45!!? AWESOME!! I hit my stride in my mid forties 🙂 If I could go back to ANY age (other than 12) it would be mid 40’s. Playing tennis and softball on several different teams at the same time. Getting in a few rounds of golf every year. Traveling, making a lot of money, and tons of friends that I am still close to now more than 20 years later albeit from afar. Kids were grown and gone. Between wives 2 and 3. Had my own band “The Blind Dog Band” and I planned parties/events (minimum 500 people/max 20,000) for a living. Yea! 20+ years ago, I envy you being in a place like Thailand, having a cool work environment, good friends and the ability to make a difference in young lives at your young age with so much ahead of you. You’re such a cool girl at 44, imagine how much more so you will become. J and I keep Jabez’s prayer in mind, so I hope you get to expand your territory as well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, I had to look up Jabez’s prayer. Love it! Need it. Want it.

      555 “between wives 2 and 3”.

      It’s funny with E on his visa run, I’ve had more time to think without distractions. Just this morning contemplating Thailand, specifically, CR, again. How much life has changed, but that I need to have faith and trust. I also started thinking that being here, I feel like I’m playing the long game, if that makes sense.

      Yeah, 45. I love how our perception of age and what can and can’t be done changes as we get older.

      Thanks, Tony! You’re a pretty cool cat yourself 😀


  2. I know I am a bit early but Happy Birthday Lani! You and I May babies and Taureans 😛 You could do a birthday post each year…I do one each year but each one speaks about birthdays in general 🙂

    How do you stay beautiful? That is a good question. I think that’s different for everyone and I like the list at the end. If you’ve happy, then you’ll feel content with yourself and then you’ll feel beautiful. Then again, you have to define happiness which can be elusive lol. For a long time I lived a life chasing and looking forwards to the next thing I had or was going to do – such as that new place I’m going to or going to get my hair done or finish writing my book. When all that didn’t happen, it affected my self-esteem but the moment I told myself to let things be, try my best and have no expectations, then life felt so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we all do that, looking ahead; it’s natural. I suppose you could say there are two types of people: those who obsess with the past and those with the future.

      It’s a challenging line to balance. I want to appreciate and understand my past, but I don’t want to get stuck in it, as I feel I am doing these days with all the “why?” changes that have happened of late.

      And I want to plan for the future without romanticizing and solely living for it, although, naturally, we live for the future!

      Yes, Taureans rock! When we lived in SR, I had quiet birthdays, but now that I’m back in CR, I’m ready to be social and celebrate with friends. Thanks, Mabel! xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You know me, wellness is key, or self doubt defeats me. Funny, I too, dreamed, secretly, of wanting to be a model when I grew up. I knew it was ridiculous & I was too short, but deep down it’s what I really desired. Now I realize part of that mindset has led me to my goals of staying healthy and fit the more I age. Now I just want to “look good for my age.” Your list of inspirational phrases at the end is perfect. Positive thinking is so important and being honest about who we are & the struggles we deal with. This is what connects us! Thanks for sharing, Lani!! 💞🌻🌷~Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I, too, was the aspiring model – heh, heh, – at barely 5’4 😛 but your comment made me think that it must be a natural thing for little girls to want to be pretty.

      And as I get older, I can see how important being in good health is tied to your “wealth” in life. It’s humbling to outlive childhood friends, be blessed with good health and learn from an older community.

      Thanks, Anne!


  4. I’ve always said that I’m not photogenic. My husband and daughter pointed out to me one day that this was not true and pulled out some photos to prove it to me. They were mostly candid shots taken when I was not aware that someone was pointing a camera at me. I looked good in those pictures. Daughter tells me that as soon as I’m aware that there’s a camera pointed at me, I freeze like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. In those photos, I generally look half dead, half drunk, half asleep, stoned or a combination of all four, lol! Evidently, as soon as I’m aware that a camera is aimed at me, my anxiety ramps up and all of my insecurities come screaming out of the bat cave where they’ve been hiding…. and it shows on my face and in my posture. The solution? Don’t let me know that you’re going to take a picture of me? Lol! I don’t know.

    I’ve thought a lot on something that my Grandmama told me years ago. She said “Honey, pretty is only skin deep but ugly is to the bone.” I’ve met a lot of people that were blessed with beautiful faces and physiques but didn’t find them to be attractive after initial acquaintance. Why? They were not nice people….they were ugly on the inside which made their outer beauty a moot point. I’ve known hundreds of people who weren’t blessed with the perfect face and body but have found them to be so very beautiful. They’re nice people…..kind, considerate, curious, funny, loving, welcoming, inclusive….and their inner beauty shines through their outer shell and illuminates everything around them. That’s true beauty. So maybe that’s the answer to staying beautiful? Worry less about the picture the camera takes and more about the picture people carry of you in their mind’s eye and in their hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG. What you said was written so perfectly, I LOVE IT. I just might have to copy and share this in a future post!

      You know, I was thinking how fascinating it is that people’s looks change based on their personalities. Folks who look “average” can suddenly become fresh and exciting because they are kind and/or funny. Or attractive people who are nasty or gossipy become uglier.

      Your last line – YES! Because that’s what we remember, isn’t it? How people make us feel. xxoo


  5. Lani!!!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to stop, breathe, take a sip of water and share your thoughts. What an angel you are!!!

    I am going to be 54 in May, and I have to agree with all that you wrote about getting older; every point is spot-on, young lady!!!

    Happy early birthday, my pretty, young, superhero you!!!♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now, I like that! Being called young! *hair flip*! I’m usually older than my students’ parents! 😛

      Thank you! And happy early birthday to you, too! HUGS.


  6. Drink more water? I can see your Chinese side there, haha 😛

    The “Be kind” reminded me of something someone shared on facebook the other day. It was a video recorded in a school in Spain. The kids must have been 12-13. The interviewer asked them to write on the blackboard all the insults they normally hear and say among them. The kids were laughing while they did this and you can imagine what they wrote. It ranged from whale to racist slurs. After this, the kids were asked how they felt when people insulted them. The shortest boy said that he didn’t mind when people called him stupid or idiot, but it hurt a lot when people called him smurf or dwarf. Then the kids were asked to write 3 positive words about someone else in the class, and later if they dared saying them to that person face to face. The conclusion was that they insult each other on a daily basis, but they rarely say good things to each other, and after thinking about it, it made them feel very sad and they promised to be nicer to each other.

    When I started working in my first “real job” in an office in Spain, I noticed I like saying nice things to people about their appearance (this is the easiest thing to do, I would rather praise them for their well-done work but I was just a lowly secretary kind of thing and I didn’t know what most of them did). “You look so pretty today”, when some woman was wearing a dress, “You got a new haircut”, things like that. It is very easy to hurt someone with your words, but also very easy to make them smile if you are nice. Now, working from home, the most I can say is “You lost some weight” to my dog xD

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Drink more water, but not ice water, right? 😀

      Yeah, thank you for your classroom example. It’s making me think about a situation I need to deal with… Hmmm.

      You know, I’m the same kind of gal. I love to compliment people on their appearances. I notice new haircuts, styles, etc. I even do this to complete strangers when traveling or at the market or something. I mean, if I can make someone’s day by being nice, why not, right?!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Happy Birthday Lani!!!

    Love this post. Love the life advice. Love the Top Model story woven into it. I need to write up your list and stick it on my wall. It’s easy to get distracted and forget what’s really important.

    Hope you have a lovely birthday!

    PS I totally binged top model all the time. It’s one of (if not the best) reality TV shows out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It’s still early for my birthday, but I’ll take it! 🙂

      You know, the crazy thing is I thought this post was cheesy, so I wasn’t going to publish it. And then I read something that inspired me – and now I’m just thrilled over how folks have responded!

      Top Model! Top Model! xo


  8. I never wanted to be a model. A ballet dancer maybe. They’re so graceful. Doesn’t every little girl want to dance like that?

    I watched an episode of Project Runway with my daughter a few weeks ago. The dress designers were all men, as I remember. They were trying so hard to do a good job, and yet the losers seemed to take their failure in stride. Those shows are brutal. We set up so many competitive situations. Life shouldn’t be about being the best, the brightest, the strongest, or the prettiest. As you said above, We’re all beautiful … and have fun.


    1. The “reality TV show phenomenon” is certainly a fascinating one. It feels new as far as an anthropological or sociological study goes.

      I read “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” by Chuck Klosterman, and in one of the chapters he looks at the reality TV show “The Real World”. He was able to dissect the “personality types” that became in some ways predicable, but the TV show inevitably also pigeon-holed folks. He also talked about the psychology of having cameras following your every move, and so on.

      What I like about ANTM is Tyra is not just looking for a good model, she’s looking for a good person. She’s very much into all body types, ages, shapes, debunking outdated myths of what it means to be a model, etc.

      I’ve watched Project Runway before, many years ago and what struck me what the pressure they went through, and talent the contestants had.

      Like I said, interesting “cultural study”, these TV shows. I hope someone is taking up what happens to people afterwards, does it change them, for the better or worse, etc. Kind of like lottery winners – does the fame make a difference?


  9. I absolutely agree with you Lani…we are beautiful, as true beauty lies within. Inner beauty reveals itself slowly and only if you have the inclination to perceive it. Eventually it is what kind of human being you are that matters but we come to know a person only after we remain in constant and consistent touch. True beauty doesn’t radiate from the face, which has been daubed with cosmetics.

    A gentle and a quiet spirit, the glow that you can feel within, the spark that brightens your smile, thoughts that guide you out of your own darkness…beauty is as simple as that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, it’s the kind of thing that seems so obvious to us adults, but that I wish I could shake into my students, and the younger generation.

      But we always seem to want to give shortcuts to those after us, and well, that sometimes robs them of the struggle, the growth, and the lesson at the end of the journey.


      Liked by 1 person

  10. Happy birthday in advance, Lani! Hope as you pass 45, you’ll feel more “you” than before. Cheers!

    About being beautiful, I think your list captures it so well. I will add being comfortable in my own skin makes me feel beautiful, on top of what you’ve already said.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Absolutely. One of the BIG things I’ve loved about getting older is feeling more comfortable and beautiful in my own skin. I understand why George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young!”


  11. Enjoy 45, Lani. I did. You’re just a guppy. 🙂
    There are certain struggles I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone.


  12. Beautiful heart, I’m in love with this post! I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty and pain and love these days (watching SKAM, so that’s why), and it makes me so sad what people do to each other and to themselves. I’ve been learning self-compassion the hard way the last few years, and trying to spread it around. When I was teaching, I wouldn’t let my kids joke that they were stupid or sucked at something. I wanted them to learn early that the way you talk about and to yourself is so important.

    But I think the best thing we can do for love to win is spread it. Fear spreads, hate spreads, but fortunately, so does love.

    Best of forties to you, best of life to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had to google SKAM; I’m afraid I’m not up on my Norwegian TV 😀

      Teaching children can be a really great mirror of not only society, but how we view ourselves. For example, you wouldn’t want your students calling each other or themselves stupid, but you might do it to yourself.

      Love will conquer! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Welllll. It’s really not for everyone. One of the things I like about it is the “behind the scenes” stuff on modeling. I suppose it depends how girly girl you are 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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