Acceptance: Skin-Deep and Empty Words

Today is a significant one in world history. No matter which side of the fence we stand on, we have no choice but to accept. Around the world, governments are also preparing to show acceptance. And yet, there seems to be a global sense of uncertainty, and fear.

I fear for the minorities. I fear for acceptance. For tolerance. And I am reminded of something I wrote a few years ago for 1000 voices speak for compassion, which I think is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.


I don’t like moths. I don’t like how they enter my house uninvited, fluttering blindly about, and cluster in a seething panic around any available light source. The frenzied flapping of their dull, tattered wings gives me the creeps.

But I love butterflies. When they gate-crash, I feel privileged, blessed, and patiently herd them out to freedom for fear their short, beautiful lives might meet an untimely end within my four walls.

When I found a glorious creature with stunning red and black markings walking determinedly across my doormat one spring morning, I assumed he was a newly hatched butterfly ready to test his wings. I opened the door respectfully, and watched him take flight.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was actually a day-flying cinnabar moth. Who knew that moths could be so gorgeous, or that some of them flew by day and not in the shadow of night?

I was struck, then, by my own superficiality. Me, who should know better. I know how it feels to be judged on appearance, and to be found lacking. I know how it feels to be probed skin-deep, and rejected. Is the sum of our worth truly wrapped up in the symmetry of our faces  and the slender lines of our bodies?

I suspect it’s a primeval thing, some kind of survival skill buried deep within that well of instinctual behaviour we no longer understand or need. Perhaps surrounding ourselves with beauty masks something ugly inside that we try to suppress. Perhaps associating with the beautiful makes us feel good about ourselves. Maybe it ‘rubs off on us’.

Of course, we’re in denial. We say brave words, like ‘Beauty is skin-deep’, or ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, or ‘Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us.’ Admit it; they’re just empty words. We don’t live by them. And words hold enormous power. Too many young people have ended their lives after being bullied. Abused with words. They didn’t feel accepted.

Acceptance, whether it’s social or personal, requires approval and a non-judgmental state of mind. Being accepted gives us a sense of belonging. Ultimately, that’s what we all want. It’s what we’re all searching for in our own convoluted ways. But does being beautiful increase the chances of being accepted?

I was bullied at school, for many reasons; I wore thick glasses with National Health frames (definitely not beautiful), I didn’t speak with the local accent, nor was I a local girl, and I arrived in school only six weeks before the end of the school year. Bonds and social groups had already been formed. There was no peer pressure to try and ‘fit in’; I was a stranger, I looked and sounded different, and I simply wasn’t wanted. Boy, did they let me know it.

When I left school, I rebelled against this unfriendly society which had not found it possible to accept me. I defied their traditional, conservative, insular attitude.

It was the 80s: electronic music, big hair, frilly clothes and wild makeup which looked more like art. These young people were different. The disguise made us all look and feel beautiful. We were connected, united. I hid behind this flamboyant façade: it was an acceptance of sorts.

But I had to grow up. I didn’t want to work in an office or in a factory, so I joined the RAF instead. The RAF didn’t want us to be different, individual, unique; they wanted us all to be the same, their kind of same. Thrown into what seemed like chaos to us, a disparate band of females learned to pull together, accept one another, and become a team. Then the RAF split us up and sent us reeling in different directions, but it didn’t matter, because by then we were part of the machine. Acceptance was built in.

The tides of time washed me in its waters, sometimes soothing, sometimes stormy, but always eventful. I drifted, adding the roles of wife and mother to life’s CV. That’s when I ran aground, the meaning of acceptance suddenly rocketing to a whole new level.

Carys came into our lives. She was born with a rare syndrome, but we counted ourselves lucky, for she was never expected to live at all. Two days later, a tangle of blood vessels began to bloom on her forehead. It was the beginnings of a birthmark, a haemangioma, and it grew with a speed and virulence which astounded me.

Day by day it expanded, turning a deep, shiny red, a sinister parasite claiming its place on my daughter’s face. The surface began to wrinkle and pucker, forming little hills and valleys, a menacing roseate island in the soft smooth sea of her forehead.

People love to look at babies, have you noticed? A brief dip into Facebook or Pinterest throws up endless rounds of cute or amusing baby pictures with associated entertaining quotes. When my two sons were babies, I received many smiles and compliments from strangers, who looked into the stroller upon my boys’ perfect faces.

That didn’t happen with Carys. Oh, they gawped eagerly enough. Sometimes, they raised their eyes to mine in shock. Mostly, they just craned their necks and stared at my little girl as if she was something they had just scraped off the bottom of their shoe.

I can’t describe the pain that ripped through me. She was so innocent, had done nothing to anyone, just fought fiercely against all the odds to cling to the dirty, ragged scrap of life tossed her way.

When she was only four months old, she endured a long surgery to remove this ugly complex lump in the hope of saving her sight. With the haemangioma gone, I thought we would simply disappear into the masses, nothing worth seeing here. But I was wrong.

The wound developed a thick black crust. The edges were loose, and constantly seeped, but the doctors were happy, it was progressing exactly as they wanted. Now when people stared at Carys, their gaze quickly shifted to us, her parents, and I could see what they were thinking; were we simply neglectful parents, or abusive ones?

Carys, and other children like her, fall into a minority group which society as a whole has not yet found itself able to fully accept. True acceptance would, by definition, require the majority to allow the full integration and participation of the minority in all aspects of society. Even in these enlightened times, that doesn’t happen.

For example, Carys must go to a ‘special school’, which is tucked well away from the community where she lives. There is no other option. I resent that. Although the school is excellent, I would like her to attend our local school, which ideally should have an attached special care unit for disabled children.

How wonderful if Carys could be visited by her brothers during her day at school; how wonderful if the children from the mainstream school could integrate with the disabled children, help them, play with them at break, grow up never being afraid of them or developing ignorance and prejudice against them.

It’s as if society doesn’t want to be affronted by the sight, or blight, of disabled people. We hide them away and pretend they don’t exist. Perhaps their physical deformity reminds us of our own inner ugliness, something we’d rather ignore.

When participation in society is confined to only certain areas, then the majority is only practicing tolerance, not true acceptance. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same.

A decade later, Carys’s haemangioma is just a shadow of its former self; the scar has faded, but she still looks obviously ‘different’. The dangers of her syndrome are hidden within, where they can’t be seen and gawked at. People still stare, but not as much. I am less inclined to accept rudeness, but am also better able to let it go; I have grown, learned to tolerate and yes, accept these episodes of weakness from strangers.

Being Carys’s parent has broken my heart many times over, and filled and refilled it with more love and hope than I ever thought possible. She has taught me so much about what’s really important.

I want many things out of life for my sons. I work hard to set their feet on the path to achieving them. For Carys, the list is much shorter and simpler; happiness, love and a life as free from pain as possible.

And most of all, acceptance. Not just for Carys, and other children like her, but for all living beings.

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78 thoughts on “Acceptance: Skin-Deep and Empty Words

  1. Was this a reblog? I read this and it felt familiar yet, I couldn’t see a comment from me anywhere… What a lovely timely post though. So heartfelt and deep – I wish I could say I was free of judgmental thought, but I don’t suppose any of us are – not really. We can only do our best and actively try to be kind and thoughtful and bias free x

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  2. And you told me I hadn’t missed much during my recent problems with not being able to access your blog, Ali? I don’t recall reading this post before as I always remember those posts where the writing is raw. It didn’t make me cry reading your post: it made me smile knowing how much of a loving mother you are. I’ve been the subject of non-acceptance for much of my life, although things are better now, but there are still occasions when I read or experience prejudice. My book was recently turned down by somebody because it contained a LGBT story. It was a very sad moment when it happened, but I won’t allow it to stop me writing LGBT fiction. Just one example for you of what I’ve experienced.
    You’re doing a wonderful job in the love you show your family and friends. Shine on and let your shine comfort those who face non-acceptance.

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    1. Ah Hugh, I’m so sorry to hear that! How petty minded some people can be. You carry on writing your stories exactly as you want. I think there is great power in the written word, and your LGBT stories all contribute to raising awareness and changing attitudes. Have you ever thought about writing about this issue on your blog?

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  3. What a poignant post. As someone commented earlier, it is the adults that are the architects of children’s bias’s prejudices and insecurities. Change has to start there at the root. Wishing you all the best

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I think you are right… children certainly emulate their parents. I understand how difficult it can be for someone who is not used to being around disability, for example, but what we have to get over is that they are only looking for the same daily pleasantries and acknowledgement that passes between everyone else… a smile, eye contact, just a little consideration makes such a difference to daily life. 😊

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  4. Ali, I am deeply moved by your post. I remember reading it the first time, and I am still struggling to find words again. I’ve spent a lifetime dealing with prejudice of one kind or another because of my blindness. Words can be as sharp as physical objects and just as damaging. I still struggle with bullying I’ve experienced as an adult, and all the more so from the deeper wounds of rejection and invisibility I faced growing up in a school system where integration was given lip service occasionally and grudgingly while dis-integration in all its ways of being was the norm. A friend of mine who is transgendered and I marched in the march against Trump in Oakland this weekend. I could not help feeling like we each stood for two shades of ourselves… the ones we are from the inside out and the ones we are from outside in. We were there not only to fight against hatred in general, but to protest the unnaming of transgender as an issue on the White House website and the threat that Trump’s secretary of education poses to the Americans with Disabilities Act. What you said about acceptance being different from tolerance is beautiful and I couldn’t agree more. At best, those of us who are embodied differently face relatively local day to day challenges. To think instead that the rights and laws we have fought so hard for to secure our dignity and place here could be systematically threatened is terrifying. I am still not sure how it is done, but I want to help bring about that vision we have of an integrated school system/community/society. One where children of all abilities and embodiments can share the same spaces, where real acceptance is fostered over tolerance and teachers and community members can learn compassion, how it is not the same as pity and how it is stronger than hatred or the need for control, how it dissolves shame. I want to find a way to be a part of bringing a new emphasis to our deep need for connection, our interdependence, what it means to share responsibility and how that can lead to integrity, integration, a whole undivided by difference or appearance or any of the origins of othering. Honestly I feel all the more hopeful realizing we share the same vision. I am not sure how it will be done, but I know it can be done. And as someone in the comments earlier said, perhaps our challenges can lead to the small steps we take as individuals toward making it happen. I’ve said this before, but Carys is such a bright light in this world. Most of us forget how brightly we shine before we are old enough to remember our forgetting. I don’t think Carys has forgotten. I find it so painful how quickly people are to judge simply on the basis of how a person looks. I think differences are part of what makes each of us beautiful. I also know that if we could see one another the way those on the other side see us, we would simply stand in awe at how radiant we are. Sending hugs to you and Carys, both of you.

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  5. A powerful post. Made me remember when my daughter was born with a severe cleft lip and palette and people stared in horror at her beautiful face. It hurt too. Still hurts now when people comment on her nose. Your daughter has a wonderful strong mother and I know she’ll have lots of love 💖

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  6. Don’t remember reading this the first time – and I’m sure I would have remembered it. Probably bears repeating on a monthly basis. We all need reminding (me too, because I know I have my own prejudices).
    They say that our greatest challenges are our greatest gifts, and you’ve demonstrated that very clearly here, Ali.

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  7. Ali, your beautiful, heartfelt post made me cry. I couldn’t agree with you more, I can’t bare intolerance, hatred, and ignorance. We are all born into this world and should not be judged if we fall into a minority, whether that be through race, sex, sexual preference, religion, or disability. I too suffered at the hands of bullies when I moved to Scotland from abroad, (in the last years of my primary education.). I spoke differently from other children, looked different, (being of mixed race,) and suffered a lot of teasing. By the time I went to secondary school, I had toughened up a bit and fought (quite literally,) to stand up for who I was. I should write a post about it!

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    1. I’m sorry for making you cry. I don’t want that. I guess I touched on a nerve which is still raw even after all these years. Bullying is a horrible experience to ensure . and sadly, not everyone can find the strength to fight back. You should definitely write a post about it. You may find it quite cathartic, and I’m sure it will help a lot of people, especially young people. 😙😙😙

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I would like to do that Ali, especially if it will help young people. And don’t worry about making me cry, it was the beautiful way that you expressed yourself about Carys that made me cry. But, I do feel passionately anti-bullying so I should really write about that.

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  8. Ali, your post was so heartfelt and touching, it gave me goosebumps. Thank you for being another voice to speak out for those who are sometimes afraid to use their voice, or cannot. You are an outstanding human being of compassion and understanding and I hope many take heed from your reminders. I too was a child bullied for thick glasses, with nobody to take my hand and make me feel any better, thus making it a mission of priority to help myself as I got older, instead of falling prey to remaining a voiceless person lost in the shadows. And so now I write in my books, hoping to empower others through my own experiences. Rock on my strong, empowering friend. ❤

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  9. Ali, your lovely and loving post illustrates so perfectly how judgemental people can be. In a world obsessed with physical perfection it can be hard for anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘model’ to make their way in life. Society talks about the rights of individuals and says we must fiercely protect them and yet is willing to compartmentalise so many.
    I lived for many years in Africa where elderly people are revered for their position within the family, their experience and wisdom but in our modern and more educated societies we seem to think the solution is to hide the advancing years as if it is something to be ashamed of. I read that the late Carrie Fisher was criticised for not having surgery to ‘correct’ the signs of her truthful age.
    We clearly still have a lot to learn.
    It saddens me to think that your daughter is being denied schooling within an integrated system where all children could learn to value each other equally. Surely without those early lessons we are creating more problems for the future. But I do wish you all the best. Carys has a loving and caring family around her and that counts for so much.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Wendy! ☺ Carys does go to a fabulous school, but I wish it could be within the community where she lives. To me, that would be an ideal situation. Most children are not expected to travel more than 3 miles to their nearest school. And I think you’re right, it would certainly help with alleviating the stigma attached to disability if all sections of the community were educated together, not necessarily in the same classroom, but the same school.

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  10. Reblogged this on Judith Barrow and commented:
    An eloquent and wonderful post of love. Needed at this time in our world of judgement and intolerance. Please read and spread the word of this heartfelt post.Perhaps goodness can drown out the language of ignorant cruelty.

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  11. I decided to do a media blackout today to rob Rump of my attention, since he seems to be rammed down my throat daily on the radio. I’m horrified and sick at heart and embarrassed over the election results. I worry for all the lovely little boys and girls, and adults who are disabled. I worry for people of color. I worry that our forests and national parks will be destroyed. Literally, I have been sick at my stomach all day. Thank you for your lovely post, Ali.

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    1. I know exactly how you feel, Robin. ☹ Fair play to you for attending one of the marches, though. I think Trump’s presidency is going to be characterized by such protests.

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  12. I’m glad you updated us on your feelings about Carys, Ali. My wife and I had a child who only lived seconds with a deformity called Sirenomelia. My wife has never got over losing a child and that was 25 years ago. I admire for your acceptance of the situation.

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    1. Oh Colin, that is so sad, I’m so sorry to hear it. I have never heard of this condition and had to look it up. It’s very rare. I really feel for you and your wife. When I was carrying Carys I used to hope every day just for a few minutes of life so I could hold her in my arms and tell her how much we loved her. I am well aware that we are the lucky ones, even though sometimes life seems so hard, we are blessed because Carys is still with us. Lots of love to you and your wife. xxx

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  13. Such a gorgeous post, Ali, and such a beautiful message. Your frustration, sorrow, fear and, most importantly, love, come across so well. Today is a day of change, perhaps one where the pendulum swings towards dark, so it’s up to us to be the light. This post shines brightly xx

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    1. Hi Sarah! The moth/ butterfly thing works well as an example doesn’t it? I took a picture of the cinnabar moth, its the most beautiful striking creature, and it feeds off only 1 plant… cant remember the name of it now, but I believe its quite poisonous. Probably why it has such striking read and black wings… a danger warning! Tolerance is a starting point, I guess, but no more than that. Hope all is well with you. 😙

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      1. I’ve seen a cinnabar moth (only in photos, though) and they are gorgeous. There are some other pretty ones that flutter about during the day. It works beautifully.

        I love that you’ve made this distinction: tolerance vs acceptance. I’ve seen it before but not nearly enough. I’m a word nerd so to “tolerate” something… It’s just not the same as accepting it. The connotation, at the very least, is that you are “putting up with something” and it’s usually something/someone you don’t like.

        Head above water for the time being. 😉 Hope all is well with you. Haven’t visited in a bit so hope you had a wonderful new year. ❤

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  14. You write beautifully, as always, Ali.
    your beautiful daughter has inspired you as well as challenged you and broken your heart with worry.
    I understand the connection with Trump – he has said so many hateful horrible things about women and how they look.
    Appearance is everything to him.
    For him and people of his ilk, beauty is only surface and much of that plastic or shiny.
    That footage of him imitating the disabled reporter is a dreadful example to those who follow him or those who will be influenced by him.
    The fact that people still support him despite all this is disheartening but people like you are fighting back with words.
    Keep on writing Ali.
    Lot of love
    Grace x

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    1. Thank you Grace for such a lovely comment. Yes, that is exactly what was going through my mind when I posted this. I knew you’d understand. Strange times we live in, isn’t it? Its like two steps forward then a giant leap back into ignorance. There is such a divide between people now. Wonder what we’ll be thinking this time next year…

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  15. A wonderfully powerful post, Ali. My daughter is 23 and has had epilepsy since she was 12, we nearly lost her once or twice. Her difference inside but attending college as soon as she mentions epilepsy she gets sent home, told to wait until they can sort something out. She wants to be in child care. Three times this has happened to her, it’s heartbreaking and down right ignorant of people to be like this. The don’t want to take the chance of an epilepsy attack happening. She feels more isolated now than ever before.

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    1. It is a shame that happens, to all minorities, or people who are ‘different’. Im always on the side of the underdog! Lol! I think there’s some kind of deep rooted fear and insecurity in some people which make them react this way. We’ve had unpleasant moments, but we’ve also met some really lovely people too, so its not all bad! 😊

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  16. What a beautiful post you have written so eloquently. I love butterflies and that story of the moth sends a strong message. I too wish schools were all together with special ed within mainstream not hidden out further away. What are we, as educators and adults teaching our children when we do this? I find children are much more accepting than adults and too often their less tolerant behaviours are also learned. I have no doubt Carys will have much love from her family…we feel it in this post.

    May I reblog this post to my blog Stigmahurtseveryone.info?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Carys used to go to a mainstream preschool where she was loved by the other children, they loved bringing her toys and singing for her. One little boy in particular would wait for her to arrive every morning and kiss her, his mother told me he never stopped talking about her. This is their natural instinct, as small children, to be caring and nurturing. I think it tells us a lot about humankind. 😊 Please feel free to reblog… I would be delighted and proud! Thanks for your lovely comment!

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  17. You are so right, Ali. Tolerance and acceptance are very different entities. This was a beautiful, heartfelt post. And what you wish for your daughter…should be what we all wish, for all of our children. Thanks for sharing. 💖

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  18. Acceptance and respect of each form of life should be part of “human’s credo”… but is not. Life is a very hard school, for each of us… and the problem aren’t the children but the “adults” and their prejudices and discrimination. If you put togheter small kids, without the influence of adults, there is no type of prejudice in them. Things change within time, Ali… I agree about your feelings that there should be a possibility to have handicapped kids frequenting the same school as “normal” ones (even if for me there are only sentient beings exactly equal to eachother… since the body’s only a kind of “housing” for our present life, but our Mind/Soul is eternal and keep coming back in a new life-form…). By the way is the same thing with children and older people: why can’t they stay together. By the way is the same thing with children and older people: why can’t they stay together for the sake of both? No, we put the old one in parking-lots awaiting death to came, in solitude, away from our eyes so that we don’t have to cope each day with the fear of Death… I wish a world full of compassion toward Life it self, since it all starts from that. Love to you and a great kiss to Cays :-)c

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    1. You’re right, that is exactly what we do to old people, and they are not a minority, but they are vulnerable, so we get away with it. Its not right. I was just talking about my experience of small kids when Carys used to go to a mainstream preschool. They were totally without prejudice or fear, and interacted with her so positively. If only we could keep that going into adulthood…

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      1. Oh Ali, “if only we could keep that going into adulthood…” that’s the biggest dreams which could save humanity! Pity we both can only write our novels and short stories… but at least we don’t stay with the fists in the pockets. Never give up hope and always look at the future with positiveness, have a nice week end :-)claudine

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