Witnessing firsthand the horror of sex trafficking of girls in Cambodia, and the painful recovery that follows, has led me to question all I understand of femininity and what it means to be a woman.

In January, I went to Cambodia with my father as a companion to visit charities like Destiny Rescue, Agape Missions and UNICEF, and their daily fight against the lucrative trade and their rehabilitation of victims. I was exposed to the brutality committed against the children who had been trafficked, the cruel life they are subjected to, and the difficult road in rehabilitation, counselling and education of survivors. 

An important part of the work is educating young girls who become mothers themselves; how to properly love and care for their child. These young mothers were not modelled this behaviour by their own mothers, many of whom sold them into the sex industry to begin with.  What mother would subject their own child to a fate like this, you ask? Good question, and I asked it too because I just didn’t understand. But then I was shown the extreme poverty these people were faced with, day after day, and of course to the horrors of the 1970’s which erased the cultural and moral lifeblood of Cambodia.  And then I understand just how far some people will go to create a situation of financial stability for themselves, and I can see the roots of the problem.

What does this devastating situation teach me about what it means to be a woman? The essence of the female spirit? Prior to getting involved in this work, I only really had experience of being a girl who became a woman under the cloak of an affluent life. Obviously not affluent in the Western world, but certainly when compared to theirs.  I started my own successful beauty business that actively shows my clients, women, that they are beautiful. We all primp and preen our external facade, enjoying the attention it brings us from others, including men. We don’t necessarily want them all to engage with us in any way, but we like to be noticed.  We say our beauty is meant for ourselves, and of course it is, but we like to share our images on Facebook, Instagram and WeChat so that our peers can reinforce us, tell us we are beautiful. 

But now that I see these young girls in Cambodia who had their youthful beauty taken advantage of, used against them, it makes me consider the real value of the external.  Because of this, many girls don’t blossom into the women they were meant to become. They shy away from any idea of sexy orbeauty, they don’t want to show off their shape or style. Attraction is not a positive experience for them. Even after their rehabilitation, they remain shy, introverted, unwilling to be seen as the stunning young women they were meant to be.  Their definition of beauty lies deep within, and I see flashes of it when they smile, which sadly is not as often as it should be. They hide their real beauty deep inside, and anyone who wants to love them will need to spend time discovering it.

So, I have a dilemma. I am single, young and many would say attractive. I have always liked the idea of my appearance being attractive to others, including men, as well as to myself. But how easily can men’s heads be turned by other women who are also pretty? Like those girls I met in Cambodia, I would hope to be attractive to a young man, or anyone for that matter, who is not attracted only by my external beauty.  I would want them to see the person I am, in all my many facets. It will take time and energy for them to unwrap them all. We are all so much more beautiful inside than we are out, and I would want anyone to fall in love with the internal me, who is often shy but very, very kind. The me who is totally committed when I believe in something. The me who is courageous and won’t be walked over, but who will devote herself to you if you are worthy. 

This is what I learned about beauty from the girls I met in Cambodia; that the beauty that is just skin deep will attract anyone, but the genuine beauty that exists deep within, is where my true heart lies.