06/05/2014 03:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From Broken to Beautiful -- How to Cultivate Beauty That Lasts


Can something that is broken be rendered even more beautiful and unique when you honor the cracks and lay gold in those splintered places?  

A friend of mine recently told me about the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The legend goes that a Japanese shogun broke one of his favorite tea bowls and ordered it to be repaired. Unable to restore it to its original condition, his artisans came up with a technique of bonding the pieces back together with lacquer sprinkled with gold dust. The result was a one of a kind piece criss-crossed with shimmering threads, transforming an ordinary bowl into an ethereal work of art.


To me there's a lovely lesson here about what beauty is and how to cultivate it.

We keep telling ourselves that we should be flawless. When our lives falls short of our imaginary utopia, we get scared and lash out at ourselves and those we love. Our society worships perfection, photoshopping out wrinkles and bulges of our starving models. Defying gravity, we kick up the Botox and pump up the lips. The society pages are full of women who have that same deer in the headlights look that results from cranking your face up with a pulley.  

I once met a statuesque beauty queen who was the living incarnation of Barbie. She gleefully described trips to a plastic surgeon's office as akin to "being at the candy shop." 
Americans spent the largest amount of money on cosmetic procedures last year since the great recession of 2008, totaling 12 billion dollars.  

Yep, that's billion with a "B."

Do you know what that amount of money can buy? Nothing less than clean water for the entire planet. Not a pretty picture, y'all.

You know what is the definition of true beauty, the kind that lasts? The kind that time and gravity can't take away?

As our dearly departed Maya Angelou says, "Nothing can dim the light that shines from within."

I know a college student who had a severe asthma attack and fell into a coma. Doctors thought she was certain to die, but after six weeks, Theresa De Vera stunned them all when she woke up one day. She was alive, but broken. She had to relearn everything -- how to dress herself, feed herself and how to talk. You can see her sweat with effort as her lips quivered to form even the simplest words. Still, she was determined to finish every sentence.

De Vera eventually returned to college and got herself from class to class in her wheelchair, right up to her graduation ceremony. She became an advocate for the disabled. Recently, she won the title of Miss Wheelchair California.  


Her definition of beauty: "Beauty is serving, knowing that you made a difference in someone else's life."

If you put De Vera next to Barbie in a "true beauty" contest together, De Vera wins. Hands down. Honestly, I don't know if I would have her strength, if the same thing happened to me. Nonetheless, I try my best with what I've got. When something breaks and doesn't go my way, first I get frustrated, but then I stop for a bit to give some love and attention to those jagged edges, knowing this is where true beauty is borne.

De Vera's mantra: "In my struggles, I found my strength."

This young woman has shown that if you stay true to myself, stretch yourself, learn from your experiences, and keep on going, eventually all the pieces will all come together, in a most unique way.

In August, she will be competing for Miss Wheelchair America. On that stage she will be glowing from within, wearing her golden tiara, a Kintsugi incarnate.