Tuesday, July 7, 2015

True Beauty Runs Deep


In a co-ed tertiary institution like Nanyang Polytechnic, it seems everybody wants to be beautiful. Reasons may vary. It may be simply to attract the attention of the opposite gender, to find a companion, or for one to feel more confident in class.

Some of us may become especially conscious about how we look, because we secretly hope to attract the cutest girl or guy to fall in love with us.

We aim to look like movie stars so that we  stand out from the others. Hence, we go all out to embellish ourselves through dyeing our hair, trimming our eyebrows, and wearing pretty or cool outfits and accessories. Some of us even have regimented dieting programmes or exercise routines, in order to achieve an hourglass figure or washboard abs. Though I am not concerned about fashion, I do work out vehemently to get my tough frame.

However, what if a birth defect or an acquired disease, or even an unfortunate accident leaves us with a permanent disfigurement or handicap? Does that mean we are going to be ugly for the rest of our lives?

This dilemma popped up when I realised that I may not be able to look normal or even appealing for the rest of my life. Due to a traumatic brain injury from a near-fatal judo accident that occurred five years ago, I have an asymmetric dent and a deep scar running down the right side of my head.

Furthermore, I have become physically and cognitively inadequate. I walk with a limp, causing me to look like a zombie, and the left and right sides of my body are muscularly disproportionate.

These physical deficiencies, coupled with my impaired cognition, have turned me into a socially awkward and weird person. The way I look has attracted many judgmental stares from the public. Too often, I make blunders in my interaction with people and offend them. As a result, I have started to wonder if I could ever be seen as “beautiful”.

Beauty is after all, an abstract and subjective matter. In order to discover what others truly thought of the subject, I knew I had to ask around. I did just that, and these are the responses I received from fellow NYPians.

“Beauty isn't limited to physical appeal. Everyone possesses beauty that is unique to each individual. It just depends on whether you see it or let it slip past you,” said Germaine Leow Ying Ying, a Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) student.

“Beauty to me is when a person looks and dresses presentably, and portrays confidence silently. I think being youthful, humble, hardworking, patient, strong and kind, makes a person beautiful. By youthful, I mean adventurous and bold, despite your age,” said Sharlene Tan, a Year 2 Diploma in Fund Management & Administration student.

“It is being sweet, caring, lovely, sincere, faithful to God,” said Diana Lee, a Year 2, Diploma in Nursing student.

“Beauty is a very subjective topic. I am sure everybody has heard of the idiom ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Everybody has his or her own definition. Sadly nowadays people classify beauty by what society thinks. Personally, I guess everyone is beautiful in his or her own special way,” said Grace Wong, a Year 2, Diploma in Nursing student.

“What you see may not be true. Feel it with your heart; inner beauty that lasts forever,” said Jennis Lee, a Year 2 Diploma in Physiotherapy student.

“Beauty is kindness,” said Evelyn Fong, a Year 2 Diploma in Occupational therapy student.

“True beauty is something that cannot be seen, heard, or even touched. It must be felt with the heart,” said Raphael Tan, a PFP student.

“True beauty is defined by the heart. Appearance will change no matter how handsome or  beautiful a person can be, but the beauty that comes from the heart will never fade,” said Thomas Liao, a Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work) student.

As I considered the opinions of my fellow schoolmates, it led to a shift in perception. The focus was not on the exterior, but on one’s distinctive traits. Their definition of beauty centres on values and personal characteristics that are more enduring than the way one presents himself/herself externally. It may be impossible to change how we portray ourselves outwardly, but we can still cultivate our personal traits to be beautiful.

With my focus shifted away from my imperfect exterior, I started to look at my strengths, and tried to find out what others thought of me. Here is what they had to say.

“Despite Matthew’s own limitation, he does not give up in life no matter how bad the odds are. Because of his brain injury, he may not be as mobile or think as quickly as my other peers, but he has a kind heart and sincere personality which I can’t see in some others. And he does not wear a mask around. This is the beauty that does not fade. It is not about appearance or how smart you are, the only true beauty comes from the heart,” said Thomas Liao.

“Bright, energetic, and bursting with enthusiasm, a precious soul indeed. He also cheerily helps to return others’ plates, not caring what people may think of him, because he thinks of the Aunty who works very hard to clean our canteens,” said Evelyn Fong.

Perhaps I really am also beautiful in my own way, and I have been too blinded by my shortcomings. It is always easy to notice the beauty in others. Yet, at the same time, realizing our own beauty can be such a challenge. Why? This may be because we are too critical of ourselves and we fail to notice our own strengths.

Often, others give me credit for working hard. They see my fortitude shining amidst my imperfections, and see how much I strive to lead a wholesome life. Although I may be impaired, I have never stopped trying. I may be unable to socialise well, but I never once stopped being a genuine friend to my peers.

As much as we may be conscious of how we look, it isn’t everything.

Let us live to be exceptional individuals and not superficial ones.


By Matthew Tan Ser Yung, Diploma in Social Science (Social Work) 



Matthew is 20 and pursuing his Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work) at NYP. He may have suffered a traumatic brain injury in a judo competition and may have lost his hopes of becoming a judo champion,  but he has found new passion and interest in writing. He is happy to share how he feels and thinks, and hopes to encourage his readers with his writing.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Matthew,

    Great piece. I'm heartened that you and the fellow students you interviewed displayed depth and maturity. Indeed beauty is all around us and it is for you to discover. Keep up this wonderful positive attitude to life and spread the beauty and kindness all round!

    With best regards,
    Ms Jeanne Liew, Principal/NYP

    ReplyDelete