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 Dictionary.com 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.