Average read time: 5 minutes.
There is beauty that is born, beauty that is made, and beauty that is cultivated.*
We can make our beauty, even if it isn’t born. Snapchat filters can bulge your eyes out, add makeup, and make your face glow. Instagram filters can hide acne scars and cellulite thighs. On top of that, millions of cosmetic products and services promise us our beauty can be made, can be fixed.
If we aren’t born “pretty” and we have enough cash, we can treat it.
Being a woman is difficult. (Being a man is difficult too, by the way.) It seems we have to work so hard to be accepted as beautiful by others. Of course, we want to look our best and that’s normal, but our culture places such a strong emphasis and value on how we visually appear to others, that we often forget the more important characteristic: how we treat others.
“’Have you ever wondered what makes attractive people attractive? I mean, genuinely attractive? Magnetic?’ He pushed on the big glass door and they walked outdoors into the warm September day. ‘They love to give. That’s why they’re attractive. Givers attract.’”
—From The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann
We all have those accounts in our social media feed, you know the ones: gorgeous photos, brilliant smiles, perfect hair, trendy clothes. I’m not knocking on the beautiful, sophisticated people out there (I mean, how many times have I wanted to be a beautiful, sophisticated person? All the time, and I fail, ya’ll!). But the sad truth is, I’ve seen those same lovely people who post glossy social media photos with thoughtful quotes (or even Bible scriptures… gasp!) treat their loyal friends like crap, talk down to their server, demand their way at the expense of others, or make some prejudiced, hateful comments… on the regular.
Increasingly, I see a huge disconnect in our culture between perceived and true beauty. With the help of good old social media, we perfectly craft our image, hoping to be viewed by our “followers” as intelligent, kind, artistic, successful, spiritual… beautiful. We can flake out on our commitments to a friend in need, and still be “liked” wholeheartedly by our audience. We can post a picture of running a 5K race in support of a homeless shelter, and later that night go out for an expensive dinner and treat our server poorly because it makes us feel superior. We can yell at our spouse about the most trivial things, and the next second post a shiny image of the two of us with an inspirational quote about marriage.**
I propose we start doing something different. I propose instead of cultivating our image (“beauty that is made”) while hoping to be perceived as beautiful, we start cultivating true beauty within ourselves. I suggest we start investing our energy into what truly makes us attractive and lasts well beyond fleeting physical beauty: loving others more than ourselves.
As a Christian, for me this looks like walking as close as I can with Jesus and hoping some of His goodness rubs off on me. I know that there is no goodness within me apart from Him, so I humbly ask Him to show me how to love others more than myself, how to be more like Him.
And I struggle with this, too. I was the dorky, bullied, quiet, frizzy-haired, nose-stuck-in-a-book, pot-bellied (and a little chubby) girl growing up (please see included photo for proof, and please note the socks). I so want to be liked, to be beautiful, to be attractive. However, as I get older, I recognize the thing that makes me feel the most beautiful is becoming a more beautiful person on the inside. I will always have physical flaws (and social flaws, let’s be honest) and they will only increase as I age, but growing in the lasting kind of beauty not only has an effect on me, but on my community.
Let’s go beyond body-positivity. Let’s go beyond posting confident selfies. Let’s go beyond commenting on a friend’s photo, “You’re so pretty!” or “You’re the most beautiful couple! #relationshipgoals.”
Let’s start giving our time to a friend who suffers from depression and needs additional support. Let’s hold our tongue when we want to share some juicy gossip or when we think of a mean, sarcastic quip to say to a coworker. Let’s start keeping our commitments to one another: When we say we’ll be there for someone, let’s be there. Let’s call someone out on when they speak offensive, untrue prejudices. Let’s give sacrificially of our finances or time for a single parent in need.
And let’s start celebrating people who are truly beautiful, who cultivate beauty in their life and in the lives around them by loving others well.
A True Beauty
“No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
My mom’s side of the family recently lost their matriarch, my Great-Grandma Iris. She was a nurse, a missionary, a Jesus-loving dive bar owner, a church musician. She did not fit the delicate, hyper-feminine, or “pretty” form that is still so highly valued by our society. However, not one person who knew her wouldn’t describe her as a beautiful woman—including the wrinkles, slouched spine, large nose, and broad shoulders of old age.
Why is that?
She was infinitely attractive—she cultivated beauty wherever she went by accepting others for who they were and where they were at. She loved people unconditionally. She treated people better than she treated herself.
Instead of focusing on the physical beauty that was born or can be made, let’s focus on the beauty we can cultivate in ourselves and others. Let’s give ourselves fully to becoming more generous and selfless and caring people, and loving those around us hard.
Instead of focusing on our acne, cellulite, extra five pounds, uneven skin tone, unruly hair, social media posts, or trendy-or-not clothes, let us devote that energy to loving and serving one another well, cultivating a beauty and attractiveness within ourselves that outlasts time and physical appearance.
Let’s be beautiful together. Let’s be beautiful by cultivating the type of beauty that leaves behind more than well-liked social posts after we’re gone.
2 Corinthians 3:16–18 (The Message)
Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
*I don’t consider myself to be particularly beautiful, and am a complete a work-in-progress on the inside. I just chose this blog article title cause I thought it was provocative, duh. #clickbait
**Friendly disclaimer: I am not perfect, and have probably been guilty of all the above at some point, or will be one day.