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.
I tried to write this blog post yesterday, but I decided after the first twenty minutes you didn’t deserve to read the drivel that was appearing on the screen. It just wasn’t happening yesterday. Then, other things happened yesterday, and maybe, there was a reason I never finished.
Every once in a while, someone says something that startles you with its outside-of-the-box clarity and dead on accuracy. A statement that makes you go all Homer Simpson “D’oh” and realize, “That should have been my brain’s default mode.” But somehow, it never is. I had that moment yesterday morning reading the Psalms.
In Psalm 39, the writer watches “the ungodly” and all they do and say. He promises himself, and presumedly God, that he will not jump in with a harsh word or a stupid comeback, no matter how bad it gets. Tough to do. When surrounded by idiot behavior, most of us are seriously prompted to at least a raised eyebrow and more likely a holier-than-thou judgment call.
Rarely do we hold our tongues. More often, we relate better to the next words of the psalm.
“The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” Finally. Here it comes. The retribution. The put down. The “Wow am I glad I’m better than that” passive aggressive throwdown, or even the “God’s gonna get you” point play. He’s going to let those sinners have it.
And then comes the next line. “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me my days are numbered. At best, each of us is but a breath.” What??? No, “Lord, remind them of how awful they are.” No, “Lord, remind them they’re going to get theirs.” No, Lord, thank you I’m not nearly that bad.”
No. Instead, he haunts us with the question, “Lord, how am I doing?”
Watching other people mess up did not give him leeway to blast them but caused him to look inward and say, “Hey, God, am I doing the best job I could be doing with what I have?”
Yesterday, we were surrounded by actions far more serious than stupid–our surroundings were just plain evil. We are reminded now, on a seemingly regular basis, that “ungodliness” is not the old-fashioned term we’ve come to regard it as. If the actions of those who take life pointlessly cannot be described as against all that is God’s nature, nothing can. Ungodliness is alive and devastatingly robust, despite, and certainly because of, our disbelief in it.
Yet the challenge I received prior to yesterday’s events remains true. Perhaps the best response of those who wish for better should be to examine our own lives. “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.” What am I doing with that time? Specifically, am I creating a life story that will be remembered far longer, and better, than the ones laid down by those who choose evil?
Marathon bombers, school shooters–their names cover our headlines. But for how long? What will we remember about them? How long will we care? In the face of that, what do I want to leave from my brief days here circling the sun? What can I do today to move one step toward making that quick breath here a deep one, that sliver of space gorgeous?
Three months after 9/11, I watched what became my favorite movie ever, and I heard one of my favorite book/movie quotes ever. The words were surreally appropriate then, as now.
Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
That’s all we have to decide, and it’s all that we can decide. Every day we don’t decide is a part of that breath, wasted.
I need to dance more. Anyone who really knows me knows that I do dance. I dance in musical theater. I dance at the annual medical ball which, believe me, has little else to recommend it in terms of entertainment. And here’s a tidbit of trivia for you-I belonged to the ballroom dance club in college.
I won the the father-daughter dance contest my senior year in high school. Well, my dad and I won it. That’s not something you can do alone. I went to the disco every Sunday afternoon in high school. Yes, go ahead and laugh. But to this day I can do a mean swing dance. I’m just way more likely to turn an ankle than when I was seventeen.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning
and clothed me with joy,
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” (Psalm 30.11-12)
You remember the drill when it was bedtime? Check in the closet for monsters. Or scary animals. Or serial killers in clown masks with pitchforks. I had a very vivid imagination. Sigh in relief when no monsters show their face. Even after you got up the nerve to check under that suspicious three-foot pile of dirty laundry your mom was always bugging you to bring down.
- One, the anxiety about what my (loving) parent might do imprisons my soul. I could just go and find out and get it over with. But why do that when I can spend hours imagining it in ever-increasing degrees of worry?
- Two, It locks my relationship into the realm of fear, when it could be transformed into the heathy thing it was meant to be–a parent and child teaching and growing.
- Three, hiding becomes my default whenever I don’t want to face something, robbing me of experiences outside the closet.
- Four, it’s really hot and stuffy in an upstairs closet in a century-old house with no air conditioning. I think this may have been the beginning of my claustrophobia issues.