Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Beauty

Last night, a mother posted something on Facebook that made me think.  I am the mother of a daughter...and have had the privilege of knowing many young women as they walked the road of life in their early and impressionable years.  How they would ask my opinion and hear what I had to say...and sometimes would even follow my advice and it would work out.  Not that my advice was ever meant to be intrusive.  I just wanted to help them navigate those craggy places in life where it is easy to lose your footing and plunge into a cesspool.  Where - if you make one misstep - you find yourself taking years to heal and remembering the pain of the experience as if it occurred only days instead of years before.

I looked at those years as a huge responsibility.  I doubt if any of the girls I walked with even truly understood why I invested my time that way.  They probably preferred to think of me as a helicopter parent or "overprotective."  And to some degree...there is truth in that.  But to me, the stakes were incredibly high, and although I am and was not responsible for the outcome  as that is in God's hands, I figured that I needed to do what I could and pray for the best.

But even with all of that...I may have missed something important.  I missed the chance to explain beauty.  And it is a question that every female has to come to grips with at some point in time.

Yes, sometime in every girl's life, there is a point where she asks herself, "Am I beautiful?"  Most of the things that we believe about ourselves - except for a few fortunate people who honestly do not value the opinions of others above their own - come directly from the words that are spoken to us, about us, and around us day in and day out...year in and year out.

Some girls are lucky and find that what they hear outside of themselves is positive.  They know their worth and hear it from enough people that they can drown out the one or two dissenters...of the words of a jealous girl who thinks that all of the positive things in life are baked into one "pie" and that the bigger the piece of pie...the better life is.  Eventually, she will begin to try to take more and more from other girls...while protecting the piece of pie that she has already claimed for herself.

The term "less is more" doesn't apply here.  To a girl trying to run down another to make herself appear "better" - "more is more."  The thing that they don't figure out...sometimes until years that there isn't just one pie...there are unlimited pies.  All you have to do is broaden your horizons a bit so that you can see the possibilities.

Parents help in this regard...except that sometimes there is a disconnect in what a parent is saying and what the world is not confirming.  People tossing around words casually like, "Hey, pretty girl!" without understanding that it can come across as insincere at best and hurtful at worst.  Because for a little girl who never hears those words directed at her by someone other than her parents...she may begin to see that something is indeed wrong with her at best...and that her parents are liars at worst.

Both of these are false.  But the father of lies will keep whispering it to her anyway.  Sometimes for her entire lifetime.  Which actually explains - in part at least - the people addicted to cosmetic surgery, who deal with eating disorders, who dress shockingly young to give the illusion of youth, or who just go completely in the other direction and quit caring at all.

So, what to do?

First of all, you need to understand that beauty is very compelling.  And that each person's interpretation of beauty can range from external beauty to a beautiful spirit.  How we look to others is something that we cannot really control...outside of being the best that we can be.  But a beautiful spirit is possible for everyone.  It just takes a lot of cultivation to achieve.

Some of the most beautiful women I know are not classically beautiful.

But some of them are.  My mother, for instance, is one of these.  As is my daughter. There are other family members that are as well, but the truth isn't always easy.  When you are born physically may open doors for you...but it makes friendships tricky to navigate and you aren't ever really sure if people like you...or just the way you look.  So, the nit-picking about "flaws" begins.

Sometimes, the unthinkable happens.  An illness strikes or an accident happens.  Weight is gained or time passes.  And people who relied wholly on the external view get a rude awakening.  Occasionally, someone will step in and set things right...

(By the way, I loved Dixie Carter.)

But what to do?

Well, first of all, we need to realize that every person drawing breath is beautiful because we are made in God's image.  Sometimes we forget that when we look in the mirror.

We also need to remember that everyone's view of external beauty is different...and we cannot extrapolate that because one person - or small group of people - does not see us as beautiful that it must be true.

Finally, we need to work on cultivating that wilderness within us that is internal beauty.  So few of those on television who are considered "beautiful" actually are beautiful in this sense.

When Jill was growing up, I refused to allow her to have any popular magazines around the house.  There was no Seventeen, Glamour, or most definitely Cosmopolitan.  I did allow her to have a subscription to Shape Magazine...because the models in this one were focused on fitness...not emaciation.  We joined Hogan's Gym when she was fifteen...and she did aerobics classes there...and later worked there for two years.  Having returned to Montgomery to work after graduating from University of Alabama, she is back in the gym.  To her, being beautiful means feeling fit.

And each of us can achieve this in some measure.

Equally important is a strong spiritual life.  If matters less what people say about us if we know what God says about us.

It also helps to do what you can to be the best that you can be.  Not to impress the world...but to remove this as a cause for concern.  If you don't like your skin...get thee to a dermatologist.  If you are concerned about glasses...try contacts.  If your teeth need straightening...find a way to make that happen if at all possible.

And if you see a group of little girls standing each of them beautiful.  Because they are.  It is easy to forget...but God has plans for each of them...or they wouldn't be here.  So, do what you can to genuinely point out their achievements, their sense of humor, interesting way of looking at the world, their insatiable curiosity, their tender heart for others, their academic or athletic ability, their sense of purpose, their inner beauty, and never stop encouraging them.

Start today.

Sometimes we don't really know what is going on with a young person.  They may seem to have it all together...but their struggle is so great to them that they cannot bear to tell you about it for fear that it will all unravel.  Those who have the most sometimes have the least praise and encouragement...or those who push you away are really doing it to test whether or not you really care.  Be strong.  Help them find their inner strength and resolve.

I believe that all of us are born beautiful.  We have something to offer this world.  And our ability to make that happen is sometimes - sadly - limited because of how we view ourselves.

Be that person who honestly - and genuinely - says..."you are beautiful..." and means it.  Take a little time to dig beneath the surface and try to see each person as God sees them.

In the final installment of the "Twilight" saga...Bella is "changed" into a vampire and becomes a "better" version of herself.  This is what is possible within each of us.  Not to be a vampire (please don't miss the point...) but our best version of ourselves.  God can do that...and the people that he puts in our path can speak those words of truth to us that make us better, faster, stronger, and more beautiful than we ever dared to dream.

And if you see a young person who is in your path...they are there for you to have an impact.  Make it life-changing.  Point out the obvious to them.  Be intentional.  Love.

Thanks for reading.  I wanted to post this because my friend had a little girl who had a bad experience yesterday.  It won't be the last...because junior high is brutal.  But my wish is that we will be aware of the young people, yes, but also ALL people that He puts in our path today.  Remind them of their beauty in His eyes.

Immense, wild, crazy, unspeakable beauty.

Because it is there.

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