One thing that I’ve been reading a lot about lately is beauty. Not inner beauty, but physical beauty. I’m not sure why, but appearances seem to be making the stage on a lot of blogs/news articles/viral videos. I’ve read a lot of different opinions on beauty, from people who prefer skinny people to those who prefer fat people to those who prefer neither in particular.
I’ve changed my mind a lot. I’ve gone back and forth, this way and that, trying to figure out what the truth about beauty really is.
So here it is: You are not beautiful. You are not ugly. You are not in between. You are not these things because these are people’s opinions. Opinions don’t define you.
Hear me out. You can let other people’s opinions define you. But that doesn’t mean that they do. We all know that there are reasons something is “aesthetically pleasing” or not. But we have also found that it’s subject to changes in culture or popularity. One person liked the “rustic look” and that person was popular enough for other people to value his or her opinion, so it became something that people like. But it was only an opinion. Purple was “in” one year and “so last year” the next. And for whatever reason, people feel like they need to define themselves based on these fleeting opinions of appearance.
There is a video that is making the rounds once again, by Dove, about women who describe themselves to an artist, and find that when other people described them, their portraits were much more beautiful. You can watch it here. Now, this video is powerful in its message that women are often too hard on themselves. I think this is great and I’ve shared this video because it really does make you step back and rethink how you view yourself. But what it doesn’t do, as was made clear to me by this criticism, is strive to redefine the common conception of beauty. It fuels this idea that “thin” and “young” are descriptors of something beautiful, and that wrinkles and dark spots are not beautiful. Wrinkles and dark spots are markers of a person who has lived through a few things. Youth, among other things, is something that marks a person as being capable of bearing children. Both of these things should be beautiful! But, because we’re led to believe that only one of them is important (i.e. the potential fertility against the potential wisdom), well, that’s what we prefer.
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not some enlightened woman who has broken through the shackles of acceptable beauty. I think about my appearance just as much as the next person. I still ask my husband to remind me that I’m attractive. I still worry I won’t be able to get the pregnancy weight off, or that I don’t look presentable when I go out. I still shave my legs, even though I hate it with a passion. But I always try to remind myself of its actual importance, which is super, super small. I want to be pleasant, and in that way, I plan to not make people have to look past poor wardrobe and overgrown brows in order to see the real me, just like I wouldn’t want my B.O. to offend a person with a sense of smell. But that’s about it.
One thing that seems to be rising up is the idea that a person who is comfortable in their own body, even if it would be medically considered unhealthy, is just as beautiful as a person who is comfortable in their natural weight. I don’t disagree with this. A lot of people are saying “Beauty doesn’t matter, health does!” But that’s not true in the case of women who are proud and overweight. Or even women who are proud and perhaps too skinny. I think health is important, but it’s not more important than happiness. You can argue that health makes a person happy, but you really can’t speak for everyone.
Big is not beautiful. Victoria’s Secret models are not beautiful. These are opinions.
You can say that they are beautiful, and that would be your opinion, and millions of other people’s opinions. But one thing I’ve learned in my life is that the truth does not have to be agreed upon in order to be the truth. And the truth is, beauty is nothing more than a word we have to describe how we perceive something that seems pleasing to look at. It’s not really a thing. I mean, this is sort of getting into philosophy, which is not exactly my comfort zone, but hopefully you can understand what I’m trying to say.
As a Christian, I have reasons to devalue common perceptions of beauty that go beyond self-esteem. It is good for your soul to ignore your body sometimes. Our physical selves are just one part of who we are. God makes people who they are and has a reason for all of it. If you are ugly, deformed, or otherwise not normal looking, you can still have a profound effect on the world. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Clearly it doesn’t matter to God, the authority on everything, that a person looks one way or another.
We all know its important not to “judge a book by its cover,” because you will never know a person’s true nature if you only care about what they look like. But I don’t want to discount that it is respectful to present yourself properly, I just think you should be aware of the true value. The Bible praises modesty and condemns vanity (1 Timothy 2:9, Galatians 5:17). It begs you not to conform to the world, but to instead be good (Romans 12:2).
I truly believe that the formula for true and evident beauty is: God > Happiness > Health > Appearance.
You are beautiful because you value yourself for the good that is in you. You are free to like pretty things, you are free to exercise and eat healthy, you are free to do your hair and take pictures, because, as long as you love good and hate evil, there is no wrong in such things.
But in regards to starting yourself on the journey to being happy with your looks, I offer the following advice:
Today, I encourage you to look at yourself and say you are going to stop thinking you are ugly. Say you are going to look at the blemishes and let them remind you that you have lived. Say you are going to redefine your features to be all important, because they are attached to you and no one else. And when they change, I encourage you to praise your body for carrying you through to this day. If you want to make changes, do it because it enhances your happiness, and then condemn vanity and conformity!