What is Beauty?
by Anita Yoder
This article first appeared in the September/October 2015 print edition of Daughters of Promise.
Where’s that eye cream my friend gave?
This was my thought the minute I saw my eyes have crow’s feet when I smile.
When I noticed wisps of silver at my ears and temples: I’m too young for grey hair. Where can I buy some brown tinted shampoo?
I didn’t think I had a complex about my age. I don’t notice wrinkles and grey hair on other women. But on my face? Suddenly I was aware of a complex I couldn’t even name.
It had something to do with my idea of my face, and wrinkles and grey hair didn’t fit into that. Or then it was connected to my self-image, and my body’s new developments messed with who I thought I was: not beautiful, but not aging.
What is beauty, anyhow? I started mulling.
The miles of aisles selling cremes, toners, colors, and oils seem to imply beauty is in a bottle or package. Particularly one with shiny wrapping and curlicue graphics. The bottle’s contents will surely imbed the same attractiveness on your face or hair or legs.
Age-defying. Blemish-perfecting. Clearer skin after 7 days. Glossy hair – in the color of your choice. Break-through ingredient. Regenerating technology. Nature’s micro-oil infusion. Shimmering. Instantly luminous.
Beauty is something you can hold in your hand, exchange for some money, and keep within arm’s reach every day. Or on your vanity, catch-all basket, or bag. (Beauty is also the style and color of your shoes. Or scarf. Or belt design.)
Several years ago when a friend was approaching 40, I noticed the wrinkly skin at her wrists and thought I’m glad my hands don’t look like that. But now I’m 40 and her skin has become mine. When I spot the odd discolorings that used to be clear, and sagging skin that used to be firm and smooth, I feel compelled to run out to find the bottle with the graphics that promise me the fluid that will instantly restore the effects of sun, wind, caffeine, and hormone changes. If not instantly, then at least in seven days.
In my town, I watch a woman with a lithe figure join another fitness group. I observe a young girl with professionally-manicured nails buy an new color of nail polish. Women cluster around moisturizers on sale because today beauty is finally more affordable. Tomorrow it’ll be too late and beauty’s promise will evade them.
I cannot scorn these women because when I give myself permission to be honest, I feel the same desperation and compulsions. I walk down the sidewalk, past hundreds of drop-dead gorgeous women and sophisticated men, and I feel their eyes stop on me, sometimes curious, sometimes disdainful. (In Eastern Europe, status quo and fashion are uber-important, and staring seemingly isn’t considered offensive.) When their eyes catch mine, I know their attention was arrested by my unfashionable clothes and white veil, but what I really wish is that they’d think my eyes or smile or hair are gorgeous enough to catch their eye.
Or am I the only woman who wants to look amazing enough for a stranger to admire her face?
Part of being a whole woman means recognizing the pull – the groaning, longing, powerful tug – inside our hearts toward beauty. To be acknowledged as beautiful. To respond to beauty. To connect with its power.
Because beauty is powerful. It shouts and sings and cajoles. It can be heard above the noise and distractions of the dusty daily. It soothes and comforts and refreshes.
It is so compelling and powerful that woman’s first fall from grace involved noticing beauty, responding to it, and demanding it. Eve did what every alive woman does when beauty, not God, calls the shots. She responded to what pleased her eyes and took it into her hand for herself. Who said you can’t hold beauty in your hand?
Sometimes when I stand in a store, the shiny packages and sleek ads remind me of that fruit that looks so pretty. Youth in a package. Beauty in a bottle. It fits in your hand, smooth and shining and promising.
This is not a call to dump all our creams and never again patronize a pharmacy. This is a call to mindfully engage the messages we’re absorbing. We may be believing some lies about beauty or ourselves. We may be scared of beauty’s power. We may be demanding it, plucking it off in handy sizes to enhance, defy, and manipulate.
Striving and grasping defeats beauty. So keep it simple, sweetie! Eliminate the body odor. Trim the chin hair. Clean and smooth your nails and heels. Part of beauty is being at rest, not obsessing, insisting, grabbing.
Being at rest and being beautiful requires knowing our Creator and His heart. His hands would never shape something untrue to His character. We, His pieces of art, are beautiful as soon as we use the smile He gives. Have you noticed this? It is an endless joy to me, how an other-wise plain girl’s face is transformed when she smiles.
Beauty isn’t in a bottle. It’s in an identity that is more true and deep and changeless than the loveliest skin you ever saw.