What Didn't Kill Me Made Me Stronger


A couple of years ago I was contacted by a young lady in high school who heard that I was helping people share their scar stories. Cara told me she had a gnarly scar that ran the length of her spine due to a scoliosis surgery. She was getting into modeling and didn’t want the scar to hold her back in any way. She asked if we could do a photo shoot together that shared her scar.

We agreed to meet up a couple of times, but school schedule, her competition swimming, and the complexity of my life interrupted us, although we have stayed in contact. Now she is a college student and a fantastic model with a story to share. Also during this time my sharing of scar stories has grown into this project we call Raw Beauty.

Spring break gave us both the opportunity to mesh our schedules this year and Cara came over to be interviewed and photographed. While it may have taken a couple of years to get her story out, perhaps we both needed this time to mature and grow into who we are today.

While the scar is healed and Cara has successfully moved beyond the curvature of her spine, the emotions of her journey aren’t far away. As she showed me the back brace she wore for several years her eyes moistened. Then as she shared how she and her mom wept as they tried to buy Cara new clothes to fit over the brace the tears broke through again. They weren’t tears of pity, just remembrance. Cara says that her motto in life is “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and in her case it has done that literally. She has two permanent rods in her back with a whole mess of screws. Not only is she stronger, but she is taller, straighter, and has grown more as a beautiful person through this challenge.

There is certainly a measure of vulnerability when you share a hard story, especially when it includes raw photos like ours. Cara pushed that envelope even further by inviting a friend to video the interview and photo shoot for a documentary of her story for a college project. Instead of being held back by her scar she is using her unique story to make a difference in the lives of others.

I shared the photos with her just a couple hours after we took them. I encouraged her to let me know about her experience of viewing them. Her response was amazing. She loved the photos and asked permission to share them. She didn’t wait for me to write her story as the freedom she has is just bursting out. To me, this is what the Raw Beauty project is all about – freedom from shame, courage to embrace, and the power to share.

Here is what Cara wrote to her friends and family today when she shared one of her portraits:

I was in junior high school when I was first diagnosed with scoliosis. I had to wear a back brace for three years.

I remember the very first back brace I ever had. My mom and I had to go shopping for new clothes because the old ones didn’t fit around my white, plastic shell. I remember walking around the aisles of the store bawling my eyes out because nothing fit and it felt as though my whole world was shattering into pieces around my feet. That part of my life was really really hard for me. Being only 14 and having to go through that was almost unbearable. Back then I asked myself over and over again why me? Why did I have to go through this?

After the doctors said that the back brace wasn’t working and my spine continued to curve and twist I had to have surgery at 16 years of age. I now have two rods and 26 screws in my back that will forever be apart of my body.

At first, I was very insecure. I hated the way my back looked. I hated the way the scar slid down my skin. I sulked around in a dark and gloomy cloud for a few years before I finally woke up and realized that I was letting my insecurities get the best of me. It took me a long time to finally feel comfortable in my skin again. Chad Estes was kind enough to listen to my story and helped me express my gratitude for not only my family, but my absolutely amazing friends that lifted me up when I was at rock bottom – you know who you are! I was fortunate enough to be blessed with an amazing team to help me get through that journey.

I have to say that chapter of my life has a very happy ending. I’m 19 years old now and I am 100% comfortable in my body. I show my scar proudly and embrace it. As the old saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger.”

If there’s anything I would like you to take away from my story it’s to not let your insecurities define who you are as a person and don’t let them swallow you up. Rise up and embrace them with pride because we are all unique and beautiful in our own way.