What Is Beauty?

On August 29, 2015, I am honored to be speaking to women and girls about beauty as they prepare for Building Inner Beauty’s exciting annual pageant, being held on September 12. Building Inner Beauty is a non-profit organization founded by Crissy Broeske “to empower and equip females to believe in themselves and realize their dreams.”

As a little girl, I didn’t think much about beauty. My daddy always called me “his real live Barbie doll” and that doll was cute, so I thought I must be cute too. I was a secure child. Then, I entered second grade. Back in those days, we were seated alphabetically in straight rows. Two cute girls with very long hair pulled back in half-ponytails with very pretty bows sat beside each other a few desks in front of me for most of the year. My hair wasn’t long. I didn’t know how to pull it in a half-ponytail. And I had no bows. That’s when it started—the first lie: long, straight hair is prettier than my hair.

I spent so much time admiring their hair and that of my teacher, who let her long, straight jet black hair down from a tight French twist a few times a year, that I failed to learn my phonics instruction. During the next years, TV advertisers arrested my attention with fashion. As I struggled with reading, I was now more concerned that my clothes were not as stylish as my classmates’ garb. Polyester was less expensive than the soft cotton that was worn by all the popular girls. Thus, the second lie formed: clothes will make me popular, and polyester is ugly. (Actually, that second one is the truth, but in the early seventies, polyester was cute enough.) And since my frugal daddy dressed his real live Barbie doll in polyester, I was doomed to be unpopular.

Junior high consisted of a lot of insecure girls trying to find a way to look pretty and be noticed by someone. Of course, I felt I must be the only one who was never noticed by anyone. I’m sure we all did. Except, maybe, the “beautiful” girls. Every school has them. That handful of girls who are beautiful right through the awkward puberty years and maintain their beauty even into their old age. I always wondered what it would be like to be as beautiful as one of those lucky females. And so, I allowed the third lie to carry me along through high school: I’m really not all that pretty.

In the eighties, someone had the ingenious idea to give women (for a fee) a Hollywood makeover, complete with an attractive hairstyle and sparkling jewelry, and then have a Hollywood photo shoot. When I graduated from college, in my thirties, I treated myself to one of these fabulous sessions. Throughout the process, the customer does not see a mirror until the end result. I eagerly awaited the big reveal, but for me it was a big letdown. I didn’t look like a Hollywood starlet. I looked like me with a lot of makeup. I tried very hard not to let the stylist see my disappointment and “oohed” and “aahed” like expected. I also smiled my best for the photos. We took photos with the fancy jewelry and faux fur, and then with my cap and gown and diploma.

While the photographer processed the shots on the computer, I sat in an alcove looking at advertisement photos of a beautiful woman scrolling across the computer screen in a slideshow. She had long hair, like mine, but hers flowed over her shoulders in shining large curls, not the frizzy mess that I had to live with. Her blue eyes sparkled with her smile, and I thought to myself, Why couldn’t she make me look like that! I wonder what it would be like to be that pretty for a day?

Then, a pose passed across the screen that looked very familiar, followed by another, and there was no mistaking the turned-up nose and the thin lips. The pose in the cap and gown appeared. I had been looking at myself. Once I realized the beautiful woman was me, I no longer saw the beauty that I had been admiring just seconds before. I saw every flaw that I had studied in the mirror for the past thirty-four years. That’s when I realized my first truth: physical beauty is an illusion achieved through carefully placed make-up and strategically posed angles. But, more importantly, physical beauty is a state of mind.

Do you look in the mirror and allow the image that you think you see to glare back at you? Does the image tell you lies? With all the airbrushed Hollywood starlets and advertisers manipulating us into desiring an unattainable physical beauty, how can we gain confidence to see ourselves more compassionately, more realistically?

The first step is to realize that we were created “in the image of God,” male and female, as the Bible tells us. So, when we look at ourselves, we are looking at an image—an image of a glorious Creator. But we probably don’t talk about ourselves with that image in mind. James tells us: “With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” James’s focus is how we should speak to one another, but I think this equally applies to our self-speak. We use our tongues to continually advance the lies: I’m too short, I’m too tall, my nose is too big, my nose is too small. My eyes are squinty; mine are too large. I look like a stick. I’m a big barge!

We criticize ourselves as if we are responsible for our features and never stop to consider that when we are dissatisfied with our image, we are totally missing God’s perspective on His good work. Before we can see our own beauty (and each of us does possess a unique beauty), we must stop passing judgment on God’s work and join the Psalmist in giving thanks to our Creator, and declare that His works are wonderful.

I have finally come to see myself with much more contentment than I did twenty years ago. I did not, however, bring myself to a place of contentment and satisfaction with that image in the mirror simply by repeating a mantra, such as, “I’m beautiful.” I found it as I drew close to my Savior, Jesus Christ, through His Word. When I read that I have been fearfully and wonderfully made and knit together in my mother’s womb, I know that I am someone my Heavenly Father treasures, and I am once again secure in myself.

Certainly, there are fabulous tricks I can accomplish with Maybelline and the help of my color stylist, and I do apply these tricks daily. We paint and decorate our houses to look nice and inviting; how much more should we do the same to ourselves? But if we can’t see and appreciate the end result of our cosmetics, as I could not in that photo shoot, what good does it do? A self-deprecating attitude obscures beauty behind a cloud of negativity and condemnation, and falls short of the vision our Creator has of us.

If you have a difficult time believing that you have beauty, look to the One who created you. He will show you the beauty He gave you. You may also want to see what the women at Building Inner Beauty have to offer. They are on a mission to help women of all ages develop true beauty and confidence. Read about their workshops and annual pageant at their Web site at http://www.buildinginnerbeauty.com/.


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