Do you know that only 4% of the women in the world think that they are beautiful? That is tragic.
How do we know that we are beautiful if no one tells us that? Growing up in an environment where we are abused, we learn to see ourselves through the eyes of our abusers. We have a function and that function is to meet other people’s twisted needs. We come to hold our value based on how others treat us, and when we are treated without respect, without dignity, we do not ascribe those values to ourselves.
I cannot see my beauty unless it is reflected in the eyes of another person who is able to love. Being surrounded with very broken people speaks loudly to us- life is not beautiful, WE are not beautiful.
And yet, there is something that remains within us after all of the abuse that is drawn to beauty. It takes a lot to snuff out our God-given desire to experience beauty. It is the city dweller that needs to take a hike in the mountains, the sailor that longs for the sea, the painter and the poet who cannot quench the thirst for expressing the beauty they find around them. You know that longing for beauty each time you watch a spectacular sunset and it moves something within you. The beauty in your soul connects with the beauty you are a part of every time you stand in awe of a majestic waterfall or pause to contemplate the snow-capped mountains. The only reason you can even recognize beauty is that you, too have beauty inside you.
If we, then, are drawn to beauty, and create beauty, are we not resonating with something innate within ourselves? If beauty is completely foreign to us, then we would not seek it. We would not feel we have found home when we are ensconced within it.
We were created to perpetuate the beauty that is within us. No matter what has happened to us, those embers of beauty burn, even though they lie hidden. Though our abused inner child may see our insides as stained and blackened, we cannot keep ourselves from being drawn to that which is beautiful. And beauty begets beauty. As we experience beauty around us, we feel our inner beauty. And that which is in us flows out to create beauty.
We can also have people tell us day and night that we are beautiful but if we have bought into the lie that we are ugly, then no one can convince us otherwise.
What do I mean when I tell you each week that you are beautiful? You say, “Misa, you can’t even see me, how do you know that I am beautiful?”
Kahlil Gibran has said: “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”
I say that the light of the heart shines through the face and makes it a thing of beauty.
What do I mean by beauty? The world’s standards of beauty are based on a narrow definition of physical qualities. It judges the 90% of us that fall outside of that category as less desirable. It’s easy to buy into that if many of your experiences as a child have already convinced you that you are less than valuable. The truth is, beloved, that it is a beautiful soul who can stand up to that twisted culture and ignore the darkness that speaks those untruths.
“Beauty shouldn’t be about changing yourself to achieve an ideal or be more socially acceptable. Real beauty, the interesting, truly pleasing kind, is about honoring the beauty within you and without you. It’s about knowing that someone else’s definition of pretty has no hold over you.” ― Golda Poretsky
Beauty is about the whole person- inner and outer. There are many physically attractive people who are ugly inside. I have never seen a person shining with inner beauty who I thought was unattractive. When someone is living authentically from the heart, fully grounded in who they are, they are utterly beautiful.
One thing that many of us have become confused by is the difference between the words beautiful and perfect. First off, “perfect” does not exist, this side of Heaven. If you hear someone say that something (or someone) is perfect, what they mean is that some aspect of it is very close to their ideal of the thing. What might be “perfect” to one person may not be anywhere near acceptable to another. And even then, it is only a part of something that meets that ideal.
We believe our bodies are not beautiful because we have physical imperfections. I wish I had a longer neck, a smaller waist, and more shapely hips. My calves, though strong and muscular, have a hard time fitting into a standard pair of boots. It doesn’t mean they are fat…they are just not the “standard” shape. I can choose to reject the shape of my legs and feel inferior and unattractive, or I can appreciate the fact that they are good, strong legs. I can see myself as I am as well designed and beautiful rather than taking on my culture’s very narrow idea of what beautiful looks like.
I used to be 25 lbs overweight and believed that when I lost that weight I would be beautiful. Now I am 5 lbs away from my weight goal and I still see that extra yardage around my waist everybit as much as I used to see all 25 lbs of it. Of course now, at 52, it is the oncoming wrinkles that disturb me. My new challenge is to learn to see beauty in my wrinkles, as society has taught us to reject that too.
I coached a young woman once who had lost over 40 lbs. She was pretty before she lost the weight, and now she was even prettier. She said that it was hard to deal with the weight loss because she didn’t like the fact that people treated her differently. She was still the same person she always was. And she noticed other things now that her weight wasn’t an issue…if only she could change her nose or have a longer neck…there will always be something we are less than satisfied with.
The kicker is this: we do not know how to be content. No matter how close to perfect we get, we will never arrive: Not by this world’s standards, nor our own internal desires. We were created to live in beautiful perfection and we are keenly aware of when we, and others, fall short of this ideal. Instead of accepting that we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, we try to create some vision of what we would look like if we were perfect and stuff ourselves into that mold. Yet, how beautiful is the person who has graciously accept their own and others imperfections? One who can find the beauty in the midst of brokenness is beautiful indeed.
Confucius says that everything has beauty but not everyone can see it. Can you see the beauty of your own child? Every mother I know has a view of their children that ascribes worth and beauty to them. If you can see the beauty in your child, you can learn to see the beauty in yourself, too.
If I could look you in the eye right now, I would tell you how beautiful you are. Would you believe me? Only if you could come to see you the way I see you. But I don’t even know you, you protest. That is true. But I do know this. You were a beautiful child who probably had something stolen from you. The thing that they took was the truth. Not your beauty. Not your heart. They are still inside you. Now it is up to you to find that truth again and live from it. And part of that truth is that you are beautiful. No matter who you are, what you look like, what you have been through, you are beautiful. Period. As we choose to open ourselves up in safe relationships and become vulnerable to imperfect but kind people, we find our hearts again and realize just how beautiful they really are. We can learn to live from our hearts and let our beauty sing out to all we meet.
And then, we can call out the beauty in others.
Have you ever been around a really beautiful person? Most likely, it was someone who sees the beauty in others. The people I most want to be around are those who can see into my heart, underneath all accumulated layers of self-protection, and embraces me just the way I am. That is what my spiritual director has done for me. I’ll tell you more about my story shortly. But everyone who knows her wants to be around her more. That is because they feel more of who they really are when they are with her.
We all have our best and worst angles, our bad hair days, our “leave me alone and go away” days. We all have those days that we look in the mirror and see our age, our imperfections, our sad and weary eyes. But even on those days we are beautiful. We just sometimes need someone else to see it within, hiding under our sleep deprived sags and angry crow’s feet, and call it out to shine once again. Then our beauty becomes a mirror and calls out the beauty in others.
I love the courageous TED talk by Cameron Russell: Looks Aren’t Everything, Believe Me, I’m a Model. She boldly tells the truth about being a model. “The pictures are not of me,” she says, they are of my body, after it has been made up and clothed by professionals, artistically framed by an expert photographer, touched up by a graphic artist and displayed by another expert in a glorious setting. Then, next to this fabulous, sexy photograph, she puts a picture of the real her…playing soccer, being with family, etc.
When someone else shares their story of abuse, my guess is that you feel sad for them, maybe even angry. That is because you see the beauty of the child who was so badly treated. You see the precious person underneath all the survival mechanisms they may have put into place to protect them over the years. You see their heart and wish for them that they could still live from their heart.
Well, that’s how I feel when I hear your stories, too. I see the beautiful little heart inside that was hurt and lied to. I see you for who God created you to be. It is in there- you just have to develop the eyes to see it, the way my spiritual director did for me.
If you can see the beauty in others, despite their imperfections, you can learn to see the beauty in yourself, too. We are all people in the process of becoming the awesome individuals that we were crafted to be. Maybe, as we uncover bits and pieces of truth about ourselves, parts of us can embrace them. Parts of us can believe the truth of who we were made to be. But perhaps other parts of ourselves can’t hold it yet. That’s okay. We must be patient with ourselves and give ourselves time. It will come. There is no magic pill, no easy answer. But we can come to trust the process.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself. Consider journaling the answers:
- When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
- What/who makes you feel beautiful?
- How often do you feel beautiful?
- Do people tell you that you are beautiful?
- What is your definition of inner/outer beauty?
- Do you tell others they are beautiful?
- What constitutes beauty for you?
- What do you find beautiful?
- What parts of yourself do you believe are beautiful?
I can look in the mirror now and say “I love you” and it doesn’t feel painful like it used to. Now, I believe it. It trickles down into my heart. My beauty is not dependent on the things that I do, but as I am able to hold the truth of my beauty I find that it leaks out and touches the lives around me. It manifests as I help a client to rediscover their own beauty, or as I do another 60 minutes of Beyond Abuse Radio and perhaps inspire a few people to have hope for their healing. And I know that all that I have suffered and all of the healing work I have done and the miracles I have been the recipient of are growing and blossoming into something of great worth. They have served to make me into the person I am and they enable me to touch the lives around me so that they will look in the mirror one day and know that they, too are beautiful. And then they just might pass it on to others.