I can’t take my eyes off her lips. She’s saying something but I’m too distracted, I am just watching her lips, which are all of a sudden full and pouty, as if stung by a bee. I want to ask her what she did to them. But of course I won’t because that’s a “no-no”. And she never tells me either. She probably would if I asked, but she won’t volunteer the information. Rather she will try to pass it off as natural. And I don’t blame her, I have my own beauty secrets that I don’t own up to, most of us do.
We color our hair and our faces, using make-up to accentuate our good features and camouflage our flaws. There are tricks of the trade to making cheekbones appear higher, eyes look larger or a deeper shade of blue, height seem taller and bodies slimmer.
While I do not believe there is anything wrong with this, it seems to beg the question of why. Why do we feel the need to change the way we look and the way people perceive us? Why do we feel that who we are is not enough? And why do we feel we need to trade beauty for authenticity?
- Accept yourself the way you are, rather than try to be something you’re not
- Appreciate the imperfections that make you, you
- It’s cliché but true: beauty is not skin deep, focus on beauty in other areas like kindness, strength, grace, and resilience
- Live as the unique creation that you are, fight the urge to measure yourself against others
- Know that beauty is so much more than skin, clothes, and weight
- Look for beauty in expected places
Wherever did we get the idea that beauty isn’t authentic? Who ever set the standard for beauty so high that no one feels they can ever measure up and still be real? I was lamenting to friends the other day that we should all grow old gracefully without all the surgeries and procedures. Except that would only work if everyone else played along too. But instead we play this game of comparing ourselves to each other and measuring our self-worth against how we stack up. And even worse, the standards for what we measure ourselves against are glossy, air-brushed beauties in magazines, who by their own admission do not even look like that. We know that, we know it’s not real and yet we still try to achieve it. The insecurity that builds when we compare ourselves to each other causes discontentment at best, jealousy, self-loathing, and manipulation at its worst.
A few years ago, I spent the evening with a group of women who were about twenty to thirty years older then me. I listened as together they lamented and laughed how when their bodies were young and lithe they never appreciated them, rather they were always trying to improve and be something different than what they were. By the time they were comfortable in their skin and how they looked, their bodies spoke of time, life-experience, and gravity. As I contemplated what they said I started thinking that I wanted to be comfortable in my body now. Why wait twenty years to feel at home in your own skin?
- The idea that there is one standard of beauty
- Beauty is perfection
- Beauty is one-dimensional
But how do we do this? How do we be authentically confident with who we are when the standards for beauty are so inauthentic? How do we live what is true, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made?” Well, I set out to try. I started an exercise at the beginning of my fitness routine. I committed the Bible passage Psalm 139 to memory and while stretching before my workout I would recite the truths in my head,
“You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
At the end of my workout, as I stretched again, each part that I stretched I focused on what that particular body part did for me and why I was thankful for it. When stretching my legs I considered how my legs take me where I need to go. I can run, climb, tip-toe or just stand still. My arms enable me to hold an ice cream cone or hug the people close to me, without my nose I couldn’t smell my mom’s homemade spaghetti, or fresh baked brownies. These features are not perfect by any magazine standards. But they are mine, my very own gift from God, and with these gifts I am able to enjoy the life given me. As I incorporated these practices into my routine, to my surprise what began to emerge was a comfort level with myself - flaws and all.
I took a walk on the beach this morning. My legs took me over the mounds of white powdery sand to the water’s edge, where the waves tickled my toes. The surf pounded in my ears that were otherwise filled with the delighted squeals of children frolicking. I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin and tasted the salty air on my lips. As my eyes took in the clear turquoise water, the sun-kissed bodies of all ages, shapes and sizes, the toddler, hot, covered in sand and fussing in frustration, and the sand castle that was just chased away by a foamy wave I was struck by the beauty all around me. There was beauty in God’s creation both in nature and in people, all of whom were created in the image of God. It was real, it was beauty, and I invited it to fill my soul.
Simply pay attention. God’s beauty is all around us. To train yourself to be more aware, each night before falling asleep, think of something that day that you found beautiful, the end of a sunset you caught when driving home, a child’s laughter, affection between two people…allow the memory of that beauty to fill your senses, lifting your soul in gratitude.