A lot of us, women specifically, have watched and been moved by the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video this week. (see below) It has reminded us one more time that we are our own worst critics. We focus on our flaws and magnify them in ways that onlookers, if they knew what was going on in our heads, would shake theirs and wonder what we saw that they don’t.
Except, the same self-criticism is going on inside their heads. Few of us, male and female alike, are immune to this constant background mental noise that we’re not measuring up to whatever the standard is. That is a topic far too large-scale for one blog. In fact, there’s a book or two in there I’m going to work on.
I hate the standards society imposes on us, and I hate the self-loathing we impose on ourselves. But that is not the subject of this post. Not specifically.
The subject ladies, and gentlemen, too, is that chasing beauty is chasing the wrong goal. Those who do it long enough figure this out or get really depressed trying. Feeling beautiful is not where we get our deepest joy and worth, despite what we are told by every grocery store magazine rack in existence.
Despite what we are told, too, by well-meaning Christian authors who convince us that at the center of our being women need men to tell us we’re beautiful. You know what? I love my man. He’s pretty great, and on the whole, I think I’ll keep him. But my psychological well-being will never depend on whether or not he reinforces my desire to be beautiful. And I do desire that–I’m not at all immune to its power.
I do not like the brown spots time has put on my face or the grey hairs on my temples, and I definitely despise the belly that has stretched to cover three children and two diseased kidneys the size of footballs and will never, ever go back to the way God made it. I have no problem with women looking their best, and I have no plans to adopt the “If you’re really godly you won’t care what you look like” attitude that really means “I don’t feel like trying.” I have my moments of looking in the mirror and saying, “Ick.”
But those moments do not define who I am. Why? Because what I know is that am the image of God. What I know is that means I have an amazing capacity for creating beautiful things on a daily basis. As the image of God, it isn’t so much my job to be beautiful as to make beautiful. It isn’t my purpose to perfect the surface but to offer meaning to the depths.
This weekend I watched a woman I know who is not what society calls conventionally beautiful. At one point in the day, she was devastated by the “rejection” of a man who, I guess, no longer considered her beautiful or worth his investment. Later, she spent hours elbow-deep in water, bleach, and dirt helping a friend whose filled-to-overflowing basement had been submerged in floodwater.
And I thought, that woman is beautiful. Why? Because that woman was making beautiful. She was giving her time, her energy, her self, to someone else by choice. She was choosing to look at another’s hardship and do something about it. She was being meaningful, which has so much more value than a number on a scale or a hair color. hope she went to bed last night feeling beautiful.
So in answer to our constant self-criticism, I offer an alternative. Stop thinking so much about ourselves. Stop searching for elusive beauty we all never believe we have enough of, no matter who we are or what we look like. Start searching for meaningfulness. Don’t look in the mirror this morning and wonder how you can get rid of that wrinkle or cover that grey hair. Look in the mirror and wonder how you can be meaningful today. How that face can bring joy to someone who sorrows. How that body can be strong for someone who is weak. How that image of God in your mirror can be compassionate, creative, or challenging to someone stuck somewhere they can’t find their way out of.
Make beautiful. I think you’ll find you feel beautiful.