Every girl, every woman, has a deep, inescapable desire to be liked. Valued. Treasured. And every woman since the Fall has struggled with the concept of Beauty, because appearance changes how people react to you. It does. Even studies have confirmed it: People are drawn to beauty, and tend to avoid things they consider “not beautiful.”
Since beauty is a means of achieving a valued status, women pursue beauty with a ferocity that they display in few other applications. I must be pretty. I must be prettier. I must be prettiest. We compete with each other in a silent, constant beauty contest.
If a stranger tells me that I’m beautiful, there’s a sense in which I feel accomplished. Out of all the hundreds of people he knows or has encountered, and whom he has unconsciously ranked by physical appearance, I am in the top percentage. Yay for me!
But it’s a short-lived and self-conscious accomplishment. What did he mean when he called that other woman “gorgeous”? Is gorgeous better than beautiful? What about that woman? Is she more beautiful or less beautiful than me? If the two of us stood together, which woman would he evaluate as more beautiful—me or her?
If my father tells me that I’m beautiful, I automatically put all kinds of conditions on that statement. Yes, but he’s my dad. Obviously, he’ll have some self-interest in proclaiming me beautiful, since he won’t want to believe that he could produce an ugly daughter from his DNA. Yes, but he knows me personally. People tend to overlook your physical imperfections when they know you well.
And here’s where I have to stop, because there’s an underlying assumption here that is startling: the assumption that a stranger’s perception is less biased and more informed than the perception of a loved one.
Less biased? I doubt it. The stranger has all kinds of bias. What if he prefers brunettes because he encountered a negative blond? What if his mom--a woman he respects--was short, and that’s why he thinks petite women are attractive? What if my appearance reminds him of a good childhood friend and that’s why he considers me pretty?
More informed? What does he know about me? He knows only what he sees right now. Maybe if he saw me in a different context, he would see something less or more beautiful to him. And, again, that would fit in with his preferences. Maybe I would be less beautiful if he saw me hiking, because he doesn’t personally like physical activity. Or maybe I would be more beautiful if he saw me hiking, because he enjoys the outdoors and considers someone more beautiful if she shares similar interests.
Now take my father. More biased? Less informed? True, my father might want to believe that I am beautiful, because I am his child. But my father has also seen me in contexts that, frankly, don’t show me at my best. He’s seen me spattered in mud up to my waistline, he’s seen my skin peel from a bad sunburn, he’s seen me puking my guts out, he’s seen me smeared with paint and dusted with flour. He’s seen me when I’m angry and spewing verbal poison. He’s seen me when I’m upset and my nose is red from crying. He’s seen me when I’ve embarrassed myself in public.
Yep, he’s seen me at my best and he’s seen me at my worst, and he still thinks I’m beautiful. Whatever bias he might have is well tempered by his depth of knowledge about me. Perhaps he sees my beauty more truly than the stranger does.
I have a friend whom a quirk of genetics has determined will never match the world’s standard of beauty. But in the time that I’ve known her, I’ve seen her beauty blossom. Some weeks ago, she and I spoke together while half a dozen children buzzed around us and vied for our attention. Her hand went to a little boy’s back and rubbed it in a tender, motherly gesture. I don’t think she had any idea what I saw at that moment. Whatever the world would say about her face or her figure, I looked into her soul, and I saw beauty.
When I read Cyrano de Bergerac in high school, I was struck by the theme. Cyrano has a marring feature: his ridiculously large nose. But he also has an incredibly quick wit. The love of his life prefers a handsome fool over him, and Cyrano selflessly helps poor Christian win Roxanne’s heart, by helping Christian write letters and make speeches that adequately express Christian’s love. At the end of the story, as Cyrano is dying, Roxanne learns the truth: that she fell in love with one man’s face, but she fell more deeply in love with another man’s soul.
Every girl was brought up with some version of the story of Beauty and the Beast: a young woman remains a prisoner of the Beast in her father’s place, and slowly falls in love with him, because the Beast’s disfigurement cannot hide his kindness and genuine care for her. Again, she looks beyond his face and sees his soul.
And wasn’t the Greatest Love Story of all time written in the same way, in letters so much fiercer and larger? A Man who could look upon myriads of stars, hear the unequalled singing of angels, enjoy the company of His perfect triune nature—this Man chose to live in dust, walk with lepers, stand against demons, and look a ruined, wicked, and disfigured people in the eye and say, “I love you so much that I choose your pain, your destruction, and your ugliness, so that you may have all that I was, am, and will be.”
This is the Man who spoke, not as a stranger, but as a Father. A Man who saw me at my worst, and chose to exchange that for His best. A Man who made Himself the horror of the universe, and still bears the scars of His torture, so that I could be irrevocably beautiful.
I have met Beauty. I have His soul in my body. If the world declares me beautiful, or judges me ugly, its opinion cannot match the proclamation of the God of Universe. He calls me Beautiful, because of His Son’s work in me. That is more than enough for me.
Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.