Our society places a high value on outward beauty. One does not have to look very hard to see images of what we are being told is beautiful and of what we are supposed to look like. We are bombarded daily by those images and it is no wonder we feel inadequate.
In chapter two of the book, Lee shares the stories of two young women who believed those lies that society told them. One young woman, Jenny, allowed the darkness of abuse in her life to overtake her and to make her feel ugly and unlovable. She wanted so much to feel beautiful that she starved herself to become thin with the hopes that she would feel good about herself. Sadly, she lost her battle with anorexia and the world lost a beautiful soul. Shannon is a lovely young woman who is a talented flutist. A horrible incident with a dog left her face horribly disfigured and she was no longer able to play the flute. Since she had lost her outward beauty and her talent could no longer be used, she decided that she could at least be thin. She spiraled into anorexic behavior and only through extensive therapy was she able to see herself as worthy. Recovery gave her the ability to believe that she was pretty again because she now has a new definition of beauty: “I base it more on how I feel emotionally about myself, others and the world. I am more beautiful now because I am authentically me.”
As I read those stories, I thought of my own struggles with my weight. When we got married almost 40 years ago, I weighed 145 lbs. and at that time, I thought I was fat. Oh… to be that fat again!! Over the years, the number on the scale has crept up to a number that I never imagined I would see. As a result of what I see in the mirror and on the scale, I do not like to have my photo taken as all I can see are the extra lbs. I am an emotional stuffer… by that I mean, I keep things inside and stuff them down and as I think about my weight gain, I have come to realize I do that with food as well. I eat to avoid dealing with issues that I don’t want to face.
One positive step I have seen the fashion industry take in recent years is in offering fashionable clothing in the plus-size market. Gone are the days of mu-mu’s and baggy shirts and elastic waist pants. Regardless of size, we all want to feel pretty in our clothes and no matter what I weigh, I always try to take pride in my appearance. My sisters and I all have different personalities and different clothing styles. They both tend to wear more professional, career type clothing whereas I am more of a bohemian dresser… denim, long skirts, lacy tops etc. At one time, my older sister tried to encourage me to change my style but it just was not me. I do have to say though, that I have recently become more adventurous in my clothing choices and I am enjoying it. I grew up in the “purse and shoes must match” and “you can’t wear white after Labor Day” generation so it has definitely been a bit out of my comfort zone!
Shannon could have chosen to hide behind her scars but she used them to help others. Broken but brave she encouraged others to love their own scars and declare themselves beautiful. I pray that I can become so brave as to use my own scars to do the same.
For reflection: 1. How do you define beauty? Can authentic living and cultural ideals of beauty overlap?
Webster defines beauty as “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” Beauty is different to everyone… what I see as beautiful others may not. We have a dear friend who has Down’s Syndrome. By society’s standards, he is not a handsome young man… but the joy and love for life that bubbles up within him is contagious. One cannot spend time around John and not laugh and feel love. So yes, I do believe that authentic living and cultural ideals of beauty can overlap.
2. What are the scars of your life that you try to hide from others? How is learning to love your scars an act of bravery?
I am introvert “bookended” by an older take-charge, outgoing older sister and a fun-loving impish younger sister… so I am the middle child. I always felt lost in the mix… not the oldest and not the youngest… just the middle one. One of the reasons I am writing this blog is to learn to love that position in the family, to accept that it is okay to not be the first cherished child or the last precious little one.
3. Do you believe you are beautiful? Name three character traits you possess that you wouldn’t hesitate to call beautiful in someone else.
I do not consider myself physically beautiful. I have no physical qualities that I would consider outstanding. I just blend in to the background which I think makes it easier with my introvert personality.
Three character traits: 1. I am sensitive to other’s feelings and try to keep peace in my relationships. I do not like conflict. 2. In spite of being an introvert, I am friendly. My role as Office Administrator at work puts me at the front desk where I am the first person people see as they enter the office. It is important that I make them feel welcome. 3. I am loyal. My family and my friends are important to me and I will do whatever I can to protect those people and our relationships.