Born with a clubfoot, Chloe Howard had endured five major operations by her fifteenth birthday. She struggled to accept herself and dealt with bullying and even suffered a physical assault. Her hardships, however, taught her that differences are unique, bullying must be stopped from the inside out and worth is most valuable when it comes from within. Now, she is the voice of Stand Beautiful, a movement promoting the acceptance of self and others and is on a mission to empower people of all ages to embrace their uniqueness and boldly face their beautiful selves. A recent TEDx speaker and subject of two documentaries, Chloe spoke with Beliefnet about her story, her faith and her upcoming book “Stand Beautiful: A Story of Brokenness, Beauty and Embracing It All.”
Beliefnet: You managed to keep your faith in God even when life was far from easy or painless. What advice do you have for those who are struggling with their own faith? What about those who feel guilty for struggling with their faith in the face of difficulty?
Chloe Howard: I would remind people of the truth of Acts 26:16; “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see in me.” God has worked in your life and He will continue to do so in the future, so stand up out of the pain and confusion and brokenness and be confident in God’s plan for your life. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we cannot see.” It’s so hard to be confident in the midst of Something Big and Confusing and Scary that God is in it; everyone struggles with that. But there’s truth in the Bible that says God never leaves you and that He knows every part of you – so stand firm in the reality that God is working in your life, and know that He will continue to show up in the future.
Beliefnet: So many people say “accept yourself as you are.” What advice do you have for those who are unsure of HOW to accept themselves or uncertain as to what accepting themselves means? What does it mean to you?
Chloe Howard: Last summer I got the word “beautiful” tattooed on my deformed foot, and now, whenever I look down at my clubfoot, all I see is beauty. I’m reminded of God’s purpose, God’s plan, and God’s overwhelming love. Accepting yourself means acknowledging just that; the reality that God made you just the way He wanted you to be made. That our bodies are purposeful and hand-crafted proclamations of praise. And I get that “accept yourself” is a rather large and daunting task to try and achieve, so you just take it day by day. You have to. Seeing yourself the way God sees you is a constant battle against our unforgiving society. Wake up every morning and choose to believe the truth that you are beautiful just the way you are. God didn’t make us to be perfect; He made us perfectly.
Beliefnet: Many people want to show compassion and help those who struggle with disabilities, but are unsure of how to do so. What advice do you have for those who are well-meaning, but uncertain?
Chloe Howard: The best way to show compassion is love. In my TEDx Talk I ask, “Can someone truly love the differences in another without first loving the differences in themselves?”, and I think a question like this gets to heart of it all. We are called in our broken world to love others as Jesus first loved us. But how do we know how to love without following God’s example – a love He first directed towards us? When we are able to recognize how much God truly loves us and sees us in all our beautiful brokenness, we are better equipped to love others. And that’s where the magic begins.
Beliefnet: You experienced the cruelty children and teens are capable of. What advice do you have for children and teens today who are dealing with bullying? What about their parents? Their school administrators?
Chloe Howard: To those that are being bullied or maybe even are the bullies: Only you have the power to determine what your labels are. You are not stuck as the victim, and you are not stuck with the “bully” identity. God looks down and names us as His children, which makes our identities not in what society tries to make of us, but in Him. As His. You are more than this; believe that there is more for you. God gives you the power and the courage to be resilient, so rise up and recognize your truest label as His.
To parents: Sometimes things happen that are out of our control. Kids fight and hurt each other and hurt themselves, and sometimes it happens in unexpected and unconventional and unseen ways that we are unable to stop before it’s too late. If this is your reality, know that you have done nothing wrong. It is not your fault. Although there are things you as parents are not going to be able to protect your children from, there are ways you can prepare them and prepare yourselves: Communicate with your children. Talk to them about bullying and suicide and isolation and pain. Do not shy away from hard topics, and acknowledge how real brokenness is in our world. Recognize when your child is isolating themselves from you and from their friends. I did this following my assault at age fourteen, but my parents sought after me and found me in my hurt and in my pain. They recognized I needed help, and they saw me. Most importantly is to listen; when going through something hard, all people want is to feel heard. Acknowledge the feelings your children have, and affirm them in their pain. It is only when we recognize brokenness that we can search for the beauty behind it.
To school administrators: Do not make the same mistakes those at my school made. Fight the pressure to maintain your school’s name and reputation, and please, please, please take time to acknowledge the pain that your students endure. You are heroes to your students, and have the power to do incredible things. Do not waste your role in their lives. Set an example of what it means to be an upstander, and fight back against injustice on your campus. Every day at your school you have the capability to change the life of a single student – make that change a positive one.
Beliefnet: Your story is incredibly inspirational. How have others reacted to it when you have spoken about it?
Chloe Howard: I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from sharing my story. What I have found most encouraging is that my vulnerability encourages others to be vulnerable as well. I have been blessed with so many stories of pain and resilience and hope, and it’s incredible to realize that we all have a story to tell. It’s just all about having the courage to share it.
Beliefnet: Why did you decide to turn your story into a book? How do you hope people react to your book?
Chloe Howard: I’ve always been a big reader, so when Zondervan approached with a two-book deal, I was incredibly honored! What excited me most about publishing my story is the hope that no one would have to feel as alone in what they were going through as I did after my assault. Although I was surrounded by an incredible group of family and friends, I felt extremely isolated in what I was going through. To have had a book published by a girl around my age – with a story similar to mine – would have changed everything for me. I want that for young people everywhere.
Beliefnet: What advice do you have for other people who may want to share their stories but are unsure of how to do so or afraid to take that step?
Chloe Howard: It’s scary. I was once asked if it’s hard to tell my story knowing that so many people can use it against me, and I’ll leave you with what I told him: I don’t know what the future holds, but I believe in a God who does. Just as the truth of Acts 26:16 reveals, God has worked in your life. So why not speak out about it? After all, this story was never ours; it has always been God’s. Let yourself be a disciple and spread the message – tell your story. Join the movement, and believe you are part of God’s plan.
Beliefnet: How did you decide on the three action points of Stand Beautiful?
Chloe Howard: While I do write out three action points to standing beautiful, at the root there is only one: be confident. In all aspects. Let confidence seep into every part of your life: your relationships with others and with yourself, the way you view the world, and in your faith. Be confident that God is using you for His glory. Recognize that your world is bigger than this moment, and live in the beautiful reality that we love a God that doesn’t make mistakes. Be confident. You were made for this. You were made to Stand Beautiful.