At twenty seven years old I can only think of a handful of times in my life when I have felt beautiful, which I think is rather unfortunate. The rest of the time I've felt fat, average, awkward, less-than, frumpy, not-quite-right, and a million other negative things. My self-image, quite frankly, is horrendous.
A very wise woman brought to my attention, that when we as women spend an hour in the bathroom getting ready, we are not getting all dolled up for men, we're doing it for women. Not in a "boys on the side" kind of way. No, what we do is more like "Mean Girls", with our unwritten rules and our imaginary boundaries, we are desperate for affirmation from other women. No, no that's not it.
We are terrified of being rejected by other women.
Or judged, or looked down upon, or whispered about, or somehow someway deemed "less than".
I want my daughter to know that she is beautiful. But therein lies the problem.
What is beautiful?
Several years ago a girl in my area was in an awful accident. In the days and weeks following, there was much uncertainty. Would she walk again? Would she be the same mentally and emotionally? Her family waited by her bedside, unsure of whether they would ever again hear her voice or see her smile. It was in this period of helpless waiting that I began to pick up on a different concern from the people around me. I realized that when someone told a stranger about the accident, they would almost always make the comment that, "She was so beautiful."
And she was. And while I realize that the accident had altered her appearance, and there was no way of knowing at that point whether she would ever look the same, I couldn't help but be bothered by the fact that (all else considered) this was even a point of concern. I don't mean to fault the people that said this, they meant nothing by it, but it is an example of our human priorities. For us, the loss of physical beauty is often seen as a tragedy in and of itself.
Now, years later, I look at her and say confidently that she is physically every bit as beautiful as she ever was. Quite stunning really. But also, what I see in her today, is a different kind of beauty. The beauty that I want my daughter to strive for. Not something that is defined in fleeting terms or by human standards.
A living, breathing, active beauty.
It sickens me to see how we as women critique one another. My best friend has a very different body than I do. In fact, before we could officially become friends, we had this conversation, in which we both acknowledged our different body types. She is naturally petite and thin, and I am, well, not so much. One thing that has always bothered me is when women who are quite obviously smaller than I am make comments about how fat they are, in my presence. It leaves me thinking, "If you're fat then I'm a whale!"
But, something my friend has helped me to see, is the flip side. She has the opposite weight struggle that I do. There have been times when she has struggled to gain needed weight (such as while nursing her baby). And what happens when she tries to share this struggle with other women? She gets chastised. She hears things like, "Oh I don't even want to hear about it!"
Do you see what's happening here?
If I look at a thin woman and assume she's anorexic, and she looks at me and assumes I'm a lazy slob, equal fault lies with us both. The source of the criticism and snarky remarks is the same: insecurity.
Somehow, as long as their is someone that we can pinpoint who is a little chubbier, a little more gap-toothed, a little more gray-headed, a little less curvaceous, a little more pimply, a little less beautiful, then we feel better about ourselves.
Sisters, God help our daughters if we are passing this on to them. It needs to stop. Our rhetoric needs to change, as does our presentation of beautiful.
We did not create beauty, therefore we do not define it.
What we should be doing is affirming the true beauty that is in each of us. The beautiful stamp left by a loving Creator. And then, shift our focus from the desperate pursuit of worldly beauty, and begin to seek the divine. The reflection of Christ in each of us, out of which radiates the same beauty that is beheld in sunsets and rainbows and majestic mountains, that lies in the heart of every believer. And, here's the good part, that kind of "beautiful" is more than an adjective.
It is a way of living.
This is the beautiful I want my daughter to embrace. The beauty of Christ, who we know was not handsome by worldly standards, but that's irrelevant. How he loved, and led, and befriended, and encouraged, and pursued the people that the world deemed unworthy...the ugly people...
that is beautiful!
So the next time you look in the mirror and begin to scrutinize yourself, consider the message you are sending to your daughters, or to yours sons. When you step on that scale for the tenth time in a day, or flippantly remark about another woman's weight gain (or loss), I urge you to redirect. Get off of the physical, and look at the heart. Yours included.
How are you loving the people you have been called to serve? How are you reaching out to the unworthy, the rejected, the downtrodden, the "ugly"? How well are you following the beautiful example of Christ? That is what counts, Sisters.
How do you define beauty? Have you struggled with this in your own life? What advice do you have to mother and fathers on how to teach our children about true beauty?