For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
– Audrey Hepburn
Something that’s been on my mind lately, as well as all the other random thoughts whizzing around my head, is what makes someone ‘beautiful’? I love the above quote, and in theory try and think of beauty as far beyond skin deep. Yet in an often superficial and shallow world, beauty as defined by the ‘perfect face’ or ‘perfect body’ can be rammed down our throats. It’s a subject that women especially have approached again and again, and for Christian women it can be a cause of real conflict- the battle between knowing that God looks at our heart, and that ‘beauty soon fades’ but living in a society where surface beauty is all too glorified, and that God has made us in His image, just as we are.
I’m going to try and be real, and this is more a collection of thoughts than a defined stance. I would love your thoughts, feedback and conversation on this. What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?
The UK beauty industry is worth over £17 billion. ‘Zoella’ a British beauty blogger has 7,611,899 subscribed to her YouTube channel. Bethany Mota her US counterpart has 8,414,326. Now whilst both do admittedly talk about lots of subjects and tackle anxiety, bullying and many issues young women value advice on, the main focus of both vlogs are beauty and lifestyle.
What is it about outward beauty that causes millions to follow these girls for tips? Is it more about them being approachable and relatable and the insight into their lives than the beauty tips they offer? I don’t know? I do know that women often love fashion, beauty and magazines and especially things that give you practical advice on ‘how to look and feel great’. I know I am drawn to beautiful things, beautiful people, have boards on Pinterest solely of lovely faces, manicures, clothing and accessories. Yet isn’t beauty so much more than that?
So, the honest part… For many years I really struggled with my body and really who I was. My birth mother had anorexia for a lot of my life, and without really knowing it I think her relationship with food caused me to have issues myself. When I was fostered age 15 it took a while to not only get out of bad habits of just being ‘fussy’ with food, but to also recognise the value in it, and really enjoy it. The consequence being I put on quite a bit of weight, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I remember vividly in the very early days before we were about to go on a holiday to Wales, my mum knew I needed some new clothes including more summer appropriate outfits. She took me to a shop, convincing me to try on a knee length denim skirt. And I cried…
I cried not because I was a ‘prude’ offended by showing skin, or that I didn’t like it, but more that I was so confused and angered with my own body, that the sight of parts normally kept covered caused me distress. I eventually got the skirt as well as 2 tops the same style one in blue and one pink, because again knowing the joy or pleasure in clothing beyond practicality was something alien to me. For years I had slicked back my curly hair, having no clue how to tame it; now encouraged to let it fall free. For years I had been embarrassed by my milk white skin; now showing it a little more. For years I had hated my ski slope nose and the moles above my mouth; now a little more at ease with them.
Every woman and man I’m sure knows that feeling. Each of us have parts of our body that are not our friends, which we sometimes even hate. For me; my teeth, my chin, my thighs and tummy that bear stretch marks from sudden weight gain, and my old nemesis cellulite. Oh and body hair in general. Sometimes our discomfort makes sense, sometimes it’s totally illogical.
“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”
I know women who have young babies, for whom being clean and clothed is important, but little beyond that. Are they not radiant? Yet sometimes the media shoves images in our face of pregnant women in 6 inch heels, mum’s who’ve immediately lost all the ‘baby weight’, or women stepping out with their babies with the perfect outfit, perfect manicure, and perfect blow dried hair.
I know women who are battling physical and mental health problems who do well to be up and dressed, all the while bombarded with these images of ‘regular’ women strutting around like catwalk models. Is beauty not so much more than that?
In recent years most of the time I don’t have the energy or the money to look or feel my best. I often struggle just to get out of my pj’s and out the house, so ‘looking great’ isn’t top priority. Yet it’s always in the back of my mind; if I could just do this, if I just changed that.
I am at my worst before social gatherings. I recently spent hours before a friend’s wedding freaking out about my hair, makeup and clothing because I knew photos would be taken and many people would be there. My absolute worst often comes before Church. Hours are spent fixing my hair, applying makeup when most ‘work days’ I don’t bother, and changing several times to find the right outfit. Why? If I’m honest with myself the presence of guys is always a factor, but also other beautiful, confident, preened and ‘perfect’ women can be a bigger battle to face. I find it so sad that in Church, in the company of friends or before some of my most exciting outings is when I feel most unhappy, most fat, and most ugly. That isn’t right.
Isn’t beauty just being the best possible version of yourself? The one who makes their world more beautiful? The one who loves and gives, is kind and generous? Am I not beautiful enough ‘as I am’ because of my soul, my spirit, my heart?
Now don’t get me wrong- I think we all want to look and feel our best. It’s great if we want to live healthier, be cleanly and groomed. But it can often spiral so far beyond this can’t it? When does wanting to look good turn into a soul shredding obsession with ‘fixing’ all our flaws?
“Perfection is the disease of a nation, it’s the soul that needs the surgery” – Beyonce, Pretty Hurts
You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. – Song of Songs 4:7
The Bible is full of amazing truth as to the true value of a person. The ‘woman of noble character’ in Proverbs 31 is not talked about in terms of her appearance and beauty, but her character, work, wisdom and compassion for the poor. And above all her love for God.
30: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
1 Peter 3 (MSG)
What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewellery you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.
4-6 Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way
This is such a hard lesson to really live. As I said earlier, I think there is a war waging amongst Christian women especially between the truth we are told from our loving Father; that he loves us just as we are and that he looks to our heart, our character and our love, and between what the world and sometimes even the Church perpetuates that we are loved based on our beauty, our brains or our skills. How can we be our best, love our bodies, have confidence in ourselves and everything physical God has given us, yet not get swept into a frenzy of idolising beauty, sexy, fashion, clothing, makeup, and appearance. It is a lesson I think we learn again new each day, and one that we may never perfect, but I for one want to strive for it.
I want to celebrate beauty and brains, smart and sexy, confidence and success but also celebrate love and compassion, generosity and kindness, introverts and hard workers, people with physical or mental disabilities being their best, innovation and change, fortitude and favour.
I want to celebrate and shine a light on those whose beauty comes from overcoming, from struggles and falling down but managing to get back up. Those whose beauty comes from strength in times of terrible adversity, from healing scars, and pushing through. Those whose beauty comes from their fighting for freedom, for justice, for love and equality. Those whose beauty comes from living through the daily grind and being the best they can be. Those whose beauty comes from putting others before themselves and using their life to help others.
I know and see so many BEAUTIFUL men and women. You are unlikely to see their faces plastered across magazines or on TV, and you won’t see them walking the catwalks. But their legacies will live on, their words will be passed down generations and the effects of their beautiful lives will live on long after those magazine images have faded.
Why not comment or share with someone today who is truly beautiful.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”