Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).
As a college counselor, I meet many young women who consider themselves unattractive. That hurts because their appearance matters much to them, often controlling their sense of worth more than their other good qualities and the love of friends and family.
Thus, they suffer serious consequences of this usually inaccurate self-perception.
- One young woman settles for an abusive relationship for fear that no other man will love her.
- Another enjoys popularity on the outside but suffers persistent loneliness on the inside. She believes everyone is just being nice to her out of pity for an ugly duckling.
- Yet another young woman generalizes her imagined ugliness to inadequacy in every way. She deems herself stupid despite good grades, unlikable despite invitations to join friends for dinner, and doomed to career failure because no one would want to hire her.
- Needless to say, disordered eating, depression, and social anxiety often ensue.
Why does beauty tyrannize these young women?
While many factors contribute to this sad state, one is very clear: The fashion, make-up, and diet industries need for young women to consider their bodies inadequate. Then the young women will keep pouring money into their corporate coffers. These industries coax young women to gaze at images depicting a body ideal that literally nobody realizes.
- Only five percent or less of young women combine the tall height, low weight, and slim hips of fashion models, not to mention facial characteristics like large eyes and gapped teeth. No diet or exercise regimen can achieve this.
- Teams of specialists typically airbrush the images of models for at least two hours. That does not include prior hours of photoshoots. With computerized imaging, they may substitute body parts from other models.
- Therefore, our young women measure themselves against beauty icons who do not exist….and hate themselves for falling short. They invest massive dollars and precious hours in the pursuit of an unattainable goal.
Women naturally care about their physical appearance. It plays into their role in courtship and parenting. It becomes a currency in their relationships with each other for good (mutual encouragement) and ill (competition). Women want to look good for each other more than they want to look good for men.
Owning your beauty and using it lovingly
But the bottom line emotionally and spiritually is how their appearance plays into their relationship with themselves and God.
Competition is the driving force not only in the market economy but in the secular mind. If we see ourselves as commodities, neither our appearance nor any other quality we possess will satisfy us. We can always imagine someone better. Even if that person does not exist.
In competition, we cannot love ourselves unconditionally. For competition requires us to win before we can accept love as a prize. Real love, on the other hand, finds the precious and unique heart and cherishes it with no interest in comparisons and conditions. In the eyes of God, who is love, all are precious with no competition about it.
Before considering beauty, consider that you are made in God’s image. Thomas Merton said that if God calls you to preach to the rabbits, look upon the rabbits as precious creatures who reveal the rabbitness of God. See your friend, Fred, as revealing the Fredness of God.
So, let me take that another step and urge you to look in the mirror, see the unduplicated (and not airbrushed) you. Recognize that you reveal something about God, something that you reflect in the mix of beauty and imperfection that you uniquely embody. If your name is Jill, for example, say aloud, “I reveal the Jillness of God.”
Now let’s face it: Some people are exquisitely beautiful. My wife, Wanda, is, and I have learned a lot from her about turning the gift of beauty into a gift for the world.
Beauty draws the best and the worst out of people. When used to compete with others, beauty diminishes the one who possesses it and everyone else. On the other hand, because of Wanda’s modesty and kindness, her beauty brings out the best in me, her children, students, friends, colleagues, and everyone else in her midst. We call beauty with that quality, loveliness.
Therefore, beauty carries a responsibility. And when carried with humility and kindness, the blessing upon the one beheld blesses all beholders.
Meanwhile, look around. Amid all the loneliness in the world, love still abounds. There seems no correlation between surface beauty and loving relationships. There is such deep love between people whose beauty requires a longer look to detect.
If you get no accolades for your appearance, your beauty remains nevertheless, seen with the longer look. No eye sees beauty more keenly than the loving eye. That look will come; in fact, it likely comes already more often than you realize. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Love knows you and delights in you as you are.