A Teen’s Life-changing Encounter
When Lia Emily Ho was just a kid (two whole years ago!), she had an epiphany. Not an “I-love-Justin-Bieberhe’s-so-hot” fake epiphany. A real one. One that actually changed her life – so much so that now, at the ripe old age of 17, she is a published author of her first book. It’s called You as in “Ugly.”
Back to that epiphany. It happened the night of her 16th birthday. She was in Paris (yes, she’s a child of privilege). But instead of taking pleasure in one of the most romantic cities in the world, she was consumed with how she thought she should look to the glamorous Parisians around her. So there she was, sucking in her stomach, flipping back her hair, checking out her reflection in shop windows.
And then she saw something that “knocked my fluffy socks off.”
“Upon the cold concrete sidewalk lay a young girl, no more than 5 years old, together with her mom on a thin plaid bed sheet. Her mom looked really young, maybe in her late 20s. She had a hand comfortingly resting on her little girl’s back. They were like two poverty-stricken characters in an Oliver Twist movie, except so oddly real – so wrongly real.”
Thus began Lia’s journey toward self-acceptance and realization.
“It was actually kind of weird,” Lia told me, “because it didn’t start out as a book. The purpose was just to help me understand what it means to be unconditionally beautiful and to understand what I saw in Paris.”
What she saw made her stop and think. Part of it was that she was raised by a single mom. She related to that homeless mother and child, and it was the common thread of their humanity that affected her in a visceral way.
Lia began to look – really look – at the people who crossed her path daily. What she found was meaning and beauty in unconventional places.
It’s said the best authors write about what they know. In Lia’s case, her subjects are herself, her family and her classmates.
“They are totally real people. I had a discussion with my headmaster at Iolani School, and we agreed to tell them all before the book was released that they were going to be in it. I did tell all the girls and one boy.”
She talks about the true meaning of friendship. About loyalty, about love, and the materialism of herself and her peers. She admits her obsession with looks and weight. She explores the impact of divorce. In one chapter, she describes a classmate’s tears as the girl’s father has an alcoholic meltdown.
“Her dad was yelling and violently swinging his arms at the black sky, and no one could calm him down. Nothing could pacify that infamous alcoholic rage. So we waited.”
In another chapter, she talks about two girls who come out as lesbians. She makes very clear her support of LGBTQ teens and the courage it takes to be yourself in the face of possible social rejection.
Does it bother her that people will know exactly how she feels on some very controversial issues?
“Yes,” she says. “Which is the scary part of it because I’ve always been a quiet person. I don’t like to get in people’s business. I don’t like to be the one to say ‘no, let’s not do this’ or ‘let’s make a change.’
“So this book inevitably has taught me what it means to be a braver person, to really believe in something and to pursue it, not just to stand back and hope that other people will.
“I put so much value into things that were tangible and visible, only to realize later they weren’t as valuable as I initially thought they were. And then when I started to realize that the clothes that I wore, and the size of my pants and the size of my shirts and how skinny I was in comparison to the other girls in my class … those were the things that didn’t really define who I was as much as the type of person that I was. How much gratitude I had, how honest I could be, how brave I was. Those types of things really changed my self perception.”
You as in “Ugly” is available at Amazon.com. It’s a good read by an amazing young woman.
And Lia already has started on her second book, focusing on the idea of love.
What, I ask, does a 17-year-old girl know of love?
“I don’t know anything,” she says, with that amazing smile, “and that’s what makes the book fun. This is what I’m thinking as I’m trying to figure that out.”