I Feel Beautiful Now


For as long as I can remember, my yearly check-ups at the doctor’s office included a quick look at my spine. I would lean forward, back exposed, as my pediatrician checked for any raised areas or unnatural curves. She always assured us that my back looked fine— even great.

My mother has scoliosis — the sideways curving of the spine. She wore a Milwaukee Brace in high school: a back brace made of metal and plastic, which wrapped around her torso and neck in order to keep the spine from curving further.

She constantly worried that I would have it. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, approximately 2-3 percent of the population has scoliosis. Females are eight percent more likely than males to develop a noteworthy curve.

It also runs in the family.

Until the summer after sixth grade, I had never given it much thought. That summer, after returning from a family vacation, I was diagnosed with adolescent scoliosis. I had two curves: one larger one in my upper back, one smaller one in my lower back and pelvis.

Orthopedic surgeons require a patient to wear a brace once their spinal curves reach 25 degrees. Mine were somewhere around 15, so for the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t need a brace. Instead, we found a physical therapist that practiced the Schroth method.

The Schroth method is a treatment therapy for scoliosis patients. It is specialized based on each individual patient’s curves, but it focuses on elongating, de-rotating, and stabilizing the spine with a series of stretches and breathing exercises.

When I started going to physical therapy, my hips were noticeably uneven, one shoulder was higher than the other, and I had raised areas in my back caused by rotation of the spine and rib cage. When I stopped treatment, a year or so later, my hips had mostly evened out, reducing my lower curve to twelve degrees.

However, the Schroth method wasn’t enough to keep me out of a brace. As I continued to grow, my upper curve reached 24 degrees, which was close enough to start bracing. My mom and I started visiting an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor wanted to put me in a back brace for 23 hours — only taking it off for contact sports and bathing.

I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I had several episodes that involved sobbing into my exchange sister’s arms on the kitchen floor. Eventually, we decided to start seeing a less harsh orthopedic surgeon, and decided that I would be in the brace for at least 12 hours a day, every day.

That spring, I missed a day of school to get fitted for my brace. The doctor scanned my body with a laser and sent the images to a 3D printer.

The week after spring break, I got my brace. The bright blue plastic wrapped around my torso, with straps in the back to adjust tightness. It suffocated me, hurt my ribs, and made it hard to bend over. Nevertheless, I attempted to sleep that night with it on. I woke in the middle of the night, panicked and aching.

Eventually, I adapted. I put it on in the late afternoon and took it off when I woke up in the morning. I occasionally had to wear it to school, under baggy t-shirts and sweatshirts. Even though I was used to it, I had never felt less beautiful. My body was misshapen. I felt like some sort of robot — unable to move, made of hard plastic.

I took that brace to summer camp, on vacation, to sleepovers. I wore it on road trips and out to dinner. It became part of my identity. I constantly told myself that the brace made me ugly; I couldn’t find a way to love it, but what was worse was that I couldn’t find a way to love myself.

I eventually joined a scoliosis support group. Curvy Girls was founded in 2006 by Leah Stoltz, a teenager at the time struggling with scoliosis bracing and eventually, surgery. Since then, their message has spread, and I was able to find a group in South Lyon that would have me.

I found the meetings inspiring; being surrounded by other strong girls with the same issues made me feel less alone. We made scoliosis-themed art, told our stories, and made gifts for surgery patients at hospitals in the area.

Those monthly meetings helped me come to terms with my brace and my situation. I grew to accept it.

My biannual check-ups with the orthopedic surgeon assured me that the brace was doing its job: keeping my spine at the same curves while I continued to grow. I always felt relieved after meeting with her — I consistently wore my brace for the sheer reason that if I didn’t, I might need surgery.

As a kid with adolescent scoliosis undergoes puberty and grows, their spine curves rapidly. Bracing prevents that. Once a curve reaches 45 degrees, doctors start to think about surgery — an invasive procedure that puts rods and screws against the spine and limits range of motion.

I was grateful to not need surgery, and therefore I pushed through the discomfort, ugliness, and pain. I wore the brace 12 hours a day until November of freshman year, when my doctor, while looking at my x-ray, announced that my growth plates were closed. Because I wouldn’t be growing anymore, I wouldn’t need the brace.

My first night without the brace was a liberating feeling. I felt like I could breathe again. I could wear what I wanted, move how I wanted, and stop worrying about how I looked.

A year and a half later, I am grateful for my experience with bracing. It kept me from needing surgery, as well as teaching me that I could push through. All of the time I spent feeling less than beautiful has taught me to appreciate my uniqueness, and without the brace I am confident in my beauty.

My time in middle school was riddled with feeling abnormal and uncomfortable with myself, but that experience is irreplaceable to me.

Thanks to my brace, I feel beautiful now.