Why Our Daughters (and Our Sons) Should Know Katie Piper’s Story

Of all the stories we hear about beauty, how to get it, how to keep it, how to measure it… we need more like this one.

I’m willing to bet few of you know who Katie Piper is. I didn’t. But I do know who a whole slew of far less impressive young women are, young women with aggressive publicists or tabloid-feeding lifestyles. My daughter, thankfully, doesn’t know any of them yet.

I want her to know about Katie Piper.

Katie is a 26-year-old British woman who was severely burned in March 2008 when a stranger threw sulfuric acid on her. She’d recently moved into a flat with friends, was close with her parents and sisters, enjoyed London nightlife, dabbled in 20-something career stints, was maybe gonna be a newsreader. She was pretty.

I mention that she was pretty because it’s salient. It gives an idea of how she interacted with the world before the attack, of the face she was used to presenting to others, not rightly or wrongly but simply what she saw when she looked in the mirror. The face she wore when she met new people or passed strangers on the street.

The details of the attack are horrific enough without embellishment: violent ex-boyfriend, sexual assault, lying on the street, blinded, in agony, while rescuers, who didn’t know what the acid was, determined that they could safely approach her. More than 30 surgeries to date. Massive grafts. All of the skin on her face has been replaced. To maintain healing, today she must wear a face mask 23 hours a day.

The video footage of her going about in that mask is striking: many people she encounters react visibly, giggling or pointing, apparently thinking she’s costumed herself up for attention.

I hate to admit this, but when I see it, that’s what it looks like to me, too.

What astounds me about this young woman, and why I find her story important, is not her physical survival as much as her spiritual one. Everything about her life is different from what she’d planned. She lives with her parents, who spend part of each day rubbing lotions into her scars. She faces more surgery, of course, and she will remain blind in one eye. And of course, there’s that mask. Twenty-three hours a day.

Stories about her demonstrate her courage, but what is striking is to hear her tell her own story. It would be easy, I imagine, to be consumed by self-pity — this is not what she signed up for, after all — and perhaps her private moments contain some of that. In video footage of her venturing out, you can sometimes see her run away from people, hide her face, and sob.

But that is not what she talks about when she shares her story. What she shares is a wide smile and  a ready laugh. Not philosophizing or rationalizing or forgiving, just living. Talking about life as she knows it now, a life that is colorful and interesting and full.

Listen to her tell it, sometime, when you maybe need a reminder of just how remarkable people can be, listen to her talk about wearing her new face, her created face, her constructed face —  she calls it “my beautiful face.”

So when Anna asks me some day about beauty? I hope I remember to show her Katie Piper’s face.

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Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 9:50 PM  Leave a Comment  

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