My daughter Ava is three years old, and she just loves to wear dresses. Everyday she asks me, “Mommy, can I wear a dress today?” And I usually let her wear one. But recently, she’s started asking me a new question each time she puts on a dress. She heads to the mirror and asks, “Mommy, don’t I look pretty now?”
It breaks my heart to see my daughter starting to enter more fully into the lifelong relationship every woman has with beauty: a relationship both with their own beauty and with what the world says about beauty. As a mom, I so wish I could protect her. I wish I could download and program into her little mind a philosophy about her image that would spare her the hurt and struggle that women go through in this area.
I know I can’t. But IF I could, I’d use my little ‘brain programming software’ to instill these top ten convictions that I’ve come to (through a lot of suffering) into her little heart (but minus the suffering).
Sarah's Top Ten List
for what I'd want engrained in my daughter's heart about Beauty
- We tend to think that the way beauty works is that there’s a specific list of qualifications that you have to cross off a list in order to obtain it. Either you have beauty or you don’t. In our culture, we’ve established a definition of beauty: being skinny, having a good figure, certain facial features, the niceness of our house, the trendiness of our clothes, and so on and so forth. However, I’d want my daughter to come to realize that our definition of beauty is NOT the same as God’s. God made women, (and I do mean ALL women) to be beautiful. That’s just the way we are. We possess it; beauty is in our essence. I sometimes already tell my daughter Ava, “You’re so pretty. Guess what? So is your sister Bethany. So is your Nana. So is Mommy. Your friends Myla and Bristol are pretty, too. Every girl you see around you is pretty. God just made girls to be pretty. That’s just the way they are.”
- Why are women beautiful? Well, the reason we are beautiful is because GOD is beautiful. In the beginning, when God decided to make people, He decided to display His image in people. He made two genders to display different characteristics of Himself, and a dominant thing He designed women to display about Himself is…beauty. So, if you’re a woman, you can’t NOT be beautiful. It’s like a birthright. We’re born into it. It’s just who you are: you ARE beautiful. Because God is beautiful.
- I don’t need something else to make me beautiful. I am beautiful. Period. Clothes don’t make me beautiful. Being young doesn’t make me beautiful. Makeup doesn’t make me beautiful. Being ten pounds skinnier doesn’t make me beautiful. There’s not an equation that says ‘Me + <insert something else, such as a bigger chest, or makeup, or the cutest clothes> = beautiful.’ No! If there’s any equation, it goes ‘Me + NOTHING = beautiful.’ And, again, it’s because of God, The Beautiful One, making women to display His image, that we’re beautiful.
- Also. My beauty can never be defined in comparison to someone else. The beauty that’s on MY life is personal, particular, and unique. It’s not an ideal cultural list of criteria. It’s a gift from God. For example, has this ever happened to you: you feel good about your outfit until you reach the party that you’re going to, and all of the sudden, you hate what you’re wearing? It’s happened to me too many times. Or recently, I’ve been working on exercising daily and I feel good about my body getting more in shape. But I can feel like a fat, ugly blob when I see someone who is skinnier than I am. Or have you ever tuned in to notice the images everywhere in our world that are screaming at us what it means to be beautiful and what standards we have to achieve? But my beauty can never be defined in comparison to someone else. It can’t be measured by our culture’s definitions. My beauty can only be defined in relationship to God.
- The Beautiful God has specific reasons for making beautiful women. He has purposes for our beauty! He wants our beauty point people to Himself. My beauty is not a chance to prove to everyone that I’m the best. But we’re like little wildflowers who might make someone think of the Creator. Our beauty is to point back to Him. That’s kind of theoretical. But here’s a purpose that’s pretty tangible: our beauty is supposed to create a safe place for other people. Our tendency is to use our own beauty to make ourselves feel safe. But God gave it to us to make others safe.
- How do we use our beauty to make ourselves feel safe?? It can look so many ways. It’s a pretty sneaky temptation, in my opinion. For example, I’ve struggled so often with having the wrong motives for making my house cute and well decorated. A good word for what it feels like deep inside is striving. And I do that striving to prove to myself that I’m feminine enough, a good enough woman. And I’ve wanted friends to think the same. I used the gifts of my personal taste (which IS beautiful) to find a sense of security in my identity. Or I’ve certainly picked out clothes to make myself feel safe. I’ve thought if I’m trendy enough, I’ll be wanted as a friend. Or I won’t be rejected. And I’ve been afraid that I’m ugly and I’ve worn makeup to cover up my face to give myself a sense of security. I’ve striven to be skinny thinking that if I weigh more than I’d like to, I’m scary place where I might lose something valuable…my security. It’s like I’m trying to save myself from the scary place of being unwanted or unloved by being beautiful enough, both in what I look like and in who I am.
- What will it feel like for other people when I follow the temptation to use beauty for my own safety? Well, it will hurt them. I’m actually going against the design that God has for my life. I’m actually creating more unsafeplaces and feelings for others. When we strive after the ideals of needing to be skinny, having a perfect house, never aging, and so on, we’re perpetuating the lie that beauty is a list of criteria. We’re just one more voice saying that you can’t rest in who God made you to be. You have to change the way you are and strive, strive, strive, to try to grasp an illusive security that will never actually feel safe. The Biblical term would be that we’re encouraging others to chase after ‘false gods.’ I can think of an extreme example of this: think of an actress who is playing a role in a movie that includes nudity. If you’re watching a movie with a sexual scene in it, and you’re next to your husband, do you feel safe? Nope. You feel very unsafe…and compelled to strive harder so that you can be safe in an unsafe world. The actress is using her beauty in a way that’s attempting to secure some kind of safety for herself (fame, the label of ‘sexy,’ etc) and it creates an unsafe environment for the rest of us. It’s going against the design for a woman of creating safety.
- So now that I know that I’ll be tempted to use my beauty to secure safety for myself…but that God’s design is for me to make others feel safe…how can I do that? What does it look like? Well, one thought I have is that it looks like putting limits on myself in the area of beauty. We’ve heard some sermons about this idea of limits on Sunday mornings at LFA, and I think it’s very applicable to beauty! For example, we learned 3 ways we can know we need to impose a limit on ourselves. The first was if I’m trying to be more than human. That’s certainly applicable to beauty. We have the pressure to try to: live up to a supermodel standard of appearance, lose ‘baby weight’ at a super-human speed, keep an immaculate house, stay looking as young as I did when I was 21, keep the same body that I had pre-babies, always look perfectly put-together, and on and on and on. Or the two other ways we can know we need a limit were if we’re trying to live someone else’s life (do you have an ‘arch-nemesis’ that you’re always trying to live up to?), or when we just want something too much (being skinny? a bigger house? pottery barn furniture? perfect family pictures? no wrinkles? a six-pack by summer?). When we find tendencies such as these in ourselves, it’s a GREAT time to impose a limit on ourselves.
- And what might a limit on myself look like? It might look like coming to terms with my post-babies body and being kinder to myself in my movement towards health instead of striving so hard to be as skinny as possible. It might look like a more balanced, calm approach to my diet. It might look like changing my focus from a perfect house (that I’m trying to get to prove my identity), to creating a house that will feel safe and welcoming to people who enter it. In fact, getting that welcoming and safe feel might have more to do with me working on myself and who I am on the inside and how much I’ve listened to the Hoy Spirit’s desires for this person than with my actual house. It might even look like using my energy to get people into my house, aka using my energy to look for who I can love and get to know. A limit could look like choosing not to wear something immodest that looks great on me. It could look like not dressing as trendy as I possibly can and being more normal. A limit can look so many ways, but it will create a safe place for other people, a refusing-to-strive-place.
- One other way of using beauty to make others feel safe is kind of the opposite of imposing a limit. It’s intentionally offering who I am. When I hide and try to change who I am, it’s yet again trying to manipulate safety for myself. But a woman who trusts that God has made her beautiful, both inside and out, and that who she is will be a gift to those who get to know her because God made her and God lives inside of her, will be a gift of safety to people. She’ll be emanating rest. There will be a lack of striving. She’ll be a safe place that points others back to God. When she is restful in the way God made her, believing that she is innately and uniquely beautiful, she can proactively use her beauty to minister to a hurting and confused world. She has nothing to prove.
So there you have it. My top ten list for thoughts on beauty. Unfortunately, I don’t have a secret brain programming software. But even so, I do pray that God would give my daughter Ava, me, and also you, grace to walk in His design for beauty.