Sunday, August 28, 2011

beauty (sorry,'s a long one)

i've been thinking a lot about beauty lately. it started one day while i was cruising through the berry and came across post after post of terrible plastic surgery. one picture that struck me particularly was this one...

i couldn't figure out why 2 young women would absolutely obliterate themselves like this. i mean, it seems to me that they didn't just change their faces... something inside of them changed, too. it's like they tried to erase who they were entirely. i can't imagine the kind of self-loathing that would take. 

so i started thinking that i wanted to post a rant against plastic surgery. i looked at those girls and all i saw was hurt, and how our culture had smashed into them over and over until they believed the lie that they weren't enough, weren't beautiful, as themselves. i was going to flay our western life.

last night we had dinner with friends who have an infant daughter. we got to talking about raising girls, and how careful you have to be how you talk to them about them. i never tell one of my daughters how beautiful they are (and they are beautiful!) without also telling them how smart they are (also true) or how i noted their kindness or generosity or inner beauty in some way. i want them to be confident in their appearance, but also know that it's not the thing on which they should hang their hat, you know?

and then i had a conversation at church today with a friend who got a haircut she didn't like. if you know anything about me, you know that i am unusually passionate about cute hair. :) so when my friend bemoaned her hair, she had me at hello. but then she said, speaking of her young daughter, "i always tell her it doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter if that's your favorite dress, all that matters is how you treat people... what your heart looks like. and here i am whining that i don't like my hair!" 

suddenly, the confluence of those conversations overwhelmed my plastic surgery fury and something shifted inside of me. i remembered that we are created for beauty. God placed man in the garden of eden, the epitome of lushness and beauty. God created man & woman "in his own image" - and God is described variously in the Bible as beautiful, radiant, full of splendor, glorious, like the dawn...the list goes on an on. and if we are created in that image, we are also created for beauty. even "capital B" beauty. to long for it, to create it, to reflect it, to be drawn to it. from a painter with his palette to a chef with her cakes, we all long for splendor. the mom who delights in braiding her daughters' hair, the engineer who creates perfection in the machine, the tourist lost in front of a painting at the louvre, the gardener who plants a riot of flowers... we are all obeying an innate drive to participate in the creation & celebration of beauty. and now, when i look at those girls, instead of railing against culture or wanting to call them idiots, i feel very, very sad. they have an inner drive toward beauty, but they don't know what it means. they may not have ever had someone celebrate the beauty they were - inside and out. i see them and think how we have gotten this so wrong. and my heart breaks for them.

i said some of that to my friend this morning, and she reacted with surprise. the idea that the small, seemingly petty desire for cute hair could be a reverberation of something deeper, something more real, caught her off guard, i think. don't get me wrong - the way we look should neither be the capstone nor the cornerstone of our lives... but it seems to me that we do ourselves a disservice when we shrug it off as shallow, or beneath us, or even worse, "unchristian". we worship a God who every night paints a sunset, who created, for example sea slugs - sea slugs! - that are some of the most beautiful creatures on our planet! and they have no need for beauty! i think it was just the pure joy of God in decorating them that we get to witness when we see them. we should get to participate in that joy! 

what if, instead of following a list of do's and don't's, trying to be good little girls (or boys), we tried to live in a way that created beauty, even just a little bit, in every moment. if we asked ourselves in each interaction, "how can i add some beauty here?" if we told someone when we thought they were being beautiful in how they were... or that we thought they had a beautiful smile, or laugh, or hair? 

i believe that humanity was created on purpose. i believe we were created to reflect the image of our Maker, and that he is Beauty. any beauty we create, long for, or experience is simply an echo of that ultimate Beauty.