Beauty. As I sit down with a Style book in hand and a folder on my laptop full of actresses on red carpets dressed to the nines, I can’t help but wonder at the vague term we use loosely but all strive for. What is beauty? According to beauty is “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind; grace; charm; something extraordinary.” Type the word “beauty” into Google Images and you’ll see close-ups of young mostly white women with smooth perfect hair and flawless complexions wearing a ton of makeup. If you head to the Beauty department in Target you’l be presented with aisles upon aisles of concealers, perfumes and hair dyes that seem to suggest beauty is something that you put on like a persona. You can’t be beautiful on your own. You need makeup, hair products, straighteners and curling irons.

The Bible says “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV). While I certainly appreciate the image that phrase “gentle and quiet spirit” evokes–a girl in a white lace dress sitting in a field with flowers in her hair (that’s what it makes me think of anyway)–it’s always been hard for me to figure out what that actually means. Are people who are naturally loud then not beautiful? And while inner beauty is certainly nice to wax on about eloquently, is isn’t really all that helpful when deciding on a dress to wear to Premiere Night or how to do my hair.

I was taught for years growing up the same thing I’m sure most Christian girls had pounded into them: It’s what’s on the inside that matters. When outer appearance was mentioned, it was a list of do not’s, rules on everything from appropriate ages to wear makeup to the line where a skirt crossed from modest to immodest (any shorter than your fingertips with your arms resting at your sides). Any further talk about outer appearance targeted areas of our bodies most likely to call men to stumble if we dressed in a way that drew attention to them at all.

As I write this, I am preparing to leave for Premiere Night in a dress I know my mom won’t approve of. I can already list the people from my old homeschool group who will see the pictures on Facebook and take them as a smug confirmation of what they already knew: that I was a bad influence with loose morals that was bound to walk away from the faith eventually. Once your skirt raises to a certain length and your neckline drops past a certain point, you can no longer be a Christian, don’t you know?

Needless to say, it’s been a struggle trying to find my own personal definition of beauty, especially during my formative years. I don’t remember my parents telling me I was pretty until high school, maybe junior high. I didn’t grow up thinking I was beautiful, that was for sure. I was mostly happy with how I looked, but I didn’t think I was beautiful. How could I? The examples of beauty I saw around me barely resembled what I saw in the mirror. Even now that I’ve come to think of myself as beautiful, I still struggle with what exactly that means to me.

I remember a year ago my boyfriend at the time told me I was beautiful. He was quick to differentiate between calling me beautiful versus attractive. Attractiveness was temporary, he explained. I like that, the idea of beauty as a core attribute rather than something you are only when you’re wearing the right outfit or eyeshadow/mascara combination.

My working definition of external beauty is fearlessly and honestly being yourself. The next time you’re getting ready for an event where you’re supposed to look “beautiful,” such as all you film ladies and friends tonight for Premiere Night, try making it your goal not to meet someone else’s expectations of how you should look. Aim to look as much like you as possible–however you feel, flaws and all–and trust that it is enough because you are enough. Just you.

I want to end with a poem by Keegan Allen: “Ask if these are palm trees or flowers/Ask if I miss you more everyday/Neither answer matters/when we are not around to experience/the beauty/of/the truth.” Truth is beautiful. Let it shine through.

Character is Destiny

It’s been way too long since I’ve written and I apologize. I guess I had so much to say and not sure which to say first. The last few months, I have been desperately broken. The simplest things have become a profound struggle as I find myself doubting things I have counted as fundamental truths. It was if one day I woke up with the realization that maybe gravity wasn’t a thing and two plus two could equal something besides four. It is not too often that you have your entire world shaken like that. Only for me, it wasn’t my belief in gravity or basic arithmetic that was thrust into doubt and questioning. That I could have handled. It might have even been a little exciting. For me, it was my basic belief in love and friendship that was turned upside down.

I can’t remember the last time I sat down and wrote down what love meant to me. It wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about it. It was more something I soaked in through my skin, something deeply engrained in my psyche. Without realizing it, I walked around every day feeling safe to a certain degree because even in the midst of the craziest storms, I had something to anchor myself to. It wasn’t until that anchor was yanked out of the ocean floor that I realized how much I had come to rely on it. I believed in the very core of my being not just that love existed, but exactly what it was, this thing we called love. I believed that love was selfless, that if someone claimed they loved you, they were promising to lay down their preferences and sometimes even deep desires to meet yours. I believed that those who claimed to love me would never do anything to purposely hurt me, would never willfully thrust aside my feelings in order to pursue what they wanted at the time. I believed that those I loved, that I sacrificed everything for, would do the same for me because that was friendship was. That’s what I believed love was.

The most shocking part of all of this for me was not realizing that someone who claimed to love me could break me. You can’t live as long as I have loving as deeply as I have without being betrayed a handful of times. What shook me was realizing that these same people were still claiming to love me, to care about me. Could this be love? Could love allow for such pain and blatant betrayal and if so, what was I to do with that?

My immediate impulse was to react in turn. If people could “love” me and still treat me like this, then I also could claim love while manipulating their emotions and shamelessly using them for my own selfish devices. People around me even encouraged such behavior. I was told time and time again directly and indirectly that it was my “right” to retaliate, to hand back in turn what I had been dealt. It made me feel strong for a while, to believe that I had the upper hand because I was the one playing the game the best, because I had completely removed my emotion from the situation and barred my heart. At the end of the day, however, it only left me empty. Sure I was “winning” but at what cost? As Mark 8:36 says so well, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

I think that was the moment where the phrase “character is destiny” truly began to ring true for me. As my one of my favorite actor/photographers Keegan Allen explains it, “it’s about believing in yourself and not letting yourself become something that’s bad or evil or misrepresented. Because your character is who you are and who you will become.”

I realized at the end of the day, all I had left was my character, who I was at the core. And if I left this betrayal change my ability to love, who I was at the core, then that was not a victory. So I chose to open my heart again, to allow myself to love and bleed and be hopelessly broken, to fight with the people closest to me and fight to keep them in my life while simultaneously fighting to have my own voice. People have questioned me a lot more for that. The “why would you forgive/hang out with/still talk to this person?”s flooded in, but I realized I no longer cared. At the end of the day, I was proud of who I was, I was proud of being a good friend, of living fearlessly, of getting up every time I got knocked down. I was a fighter, a warrior, a survivor and there was nothing in that worth being ashamed of.