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The meaning of true beauty: Talia’s story

September 19, 2012

The first thing you’ll notice about Talia are her striking brown eyes opened wide with wonder, shining a light and a warmth that radiates from the inside out. And then her smile- a toothy grin that’s a little bit sweet and a little bit mischievous. With a sideways grin, she draws you in as if you’ve been best friends your whole lives.

It’s that charisma that has made her a YouTube phenomenon and captivated a loyal and loving audience. Well, perhaps it’s both her charisma and her passion. When you meet her, you’ll also know right away that she has a passionate love of makeup. This isn’t your average 13-year-old’s love of makeup; it’s an artistry, a form of self-expression, and a way to channel her pain into positivity.

For the past six years, Talia has endured a wearisome battle with cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma at seven years old, and she has stayed the course through the rollercoaster of three remissions and three subsequent relapses. And now, she finds herself at a precarious crossroads: she has developed myelodysplastic syndrome (a sort of precursor to leukemia) as well as her recurrent neuroblastoma, and her treatment options have become limited.

Instead of focusing on her disease, though, Talia chooses to focus on her affection for all things beauty. In fact, it was cancer that first led her to a love of makeup. When she began losing her hair six years ago because of chemotherapy treatment, she tried to wear wigs to disguise her hair loss. But, as she explains it, it just wasn’t the right fit. “It just didn’t feel like me,” she says. So, she opted instead to highlight her favorite features through makeup. She explains very simply, “Makeup is my wig.”

Since that time, she’s become a self-taught makeover expert, and her online tutorials have been viewed more than 15 million times. She dreams of one day becoming a celebrity makeup artist and recently visited the Ellen show where she was given the extraordinary privilege of becoming an honorary Cover Girl.

While Talia uses her video blogs to discuss the same teenage obsessions that millions of her peers enjoy- clothes, makeup, and music- she’s also led her audience into deeper discussions. She’s shared honestly and openly about her life and death struggle, and she leads her viewers along the journey with her.

In a recent video, as she shared her latest diagnosis, she delicately but directly expressed her feelings about her disease:

“This isn’t fair to me anymore. I’m only thirteen; I shouldn’t have to do this. No one should have to do this. Having cancer has been a gift, but yet a horrible, horrible, terrifying thing.”

Somehow, through her honesty and sincerity, Talia is able to open others’ eyes to the brutality of cancer and the treatment that comes along with it, yet in the next moment channel the enthusiasm and carefree exuberance of a bubbly teenager. It is that combination, the tension of understanding both her painful struggle and her joyful, passionate embrace of life that captivates each of us.

While Talia delights in makeup to display her outward beauty, it’s clear that her beauty isn’t only skin deep. Her eyes are beautiful because they are a window to a deep, soulful spirit. Her smile is beautiful because behind it lies the irrepressible joy that comes from within. She is beautiful because of her love of life and her love of others.

Her bravery in sharing her story with the world has shown us true beauty.

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