It happened at Walgreen’s.
A fairly young man was in line in front of me. He was checking out the tabloids and magazines beside us. He picked up one, with an unflattering picture of Julia Roberts; turned to me and said, “Isn’t it sad that they have to make her look so awful, just because they are lying about her?” Then he points to a picture of another celebrity, who quite obviously had been photo-shopped, to be an unrealistic version of herself, and said, “Then look at this…with her they go to extremes, telling us, ‘This is beautiful.'”
As he laid the magazine back in the rack, he said, “Women are beautiful, just the way God made ’em.”
I’ve continued to ponder the encounter, and it’s hitting a nerve. I think it’s worth talking about.
This is a touchy place for most women and girls. We find it hard to think of ourselves as truly beautiful. We default to blaming it on Hollywood, and how beauty is defined by the media and the top fashion designers of our culture, and we know we will never attain it.
Many of us are also carrying around messages from our youth, that formed our identity, and our perception of beauty.
At the age of 10, I hadn’t thought of myself as fat, but when family member motioned towards me, as I walked across the living room and said, “Sheila’s getting chubby!”, I formed an opinion about myself and how men measure a woman’s body.
The truth was, I was not fat, and I believe that while it isn’t something that should have been voiced out loud, it was voiced with little or any understanding as to how those words would effect a young girl.
Growing up in a strict, legalistic church denomination, any attempts to be make ourselves attractive, were labeled as prideful and sinful, and preached heavily against. I grew up with what are called, “Standards”.
Verses from the Bible were frequently taken out of context to fit the sermon theme, and I grew up being taught the plain-er a woman was, the more godly she was.
We had a black book of rules (The Manual) that said the women and girls must never cut or trim their hair, but rather wear it up in a bun, or younger girls could wear it very long. It was common for the younger girls to have their hair grow past the waist.
Hem-lengths were measured, and pants on females were the biggest NO-NO. We could not wear makeup. Jewelry, open-toed shoes and hair accessories were considered “worldly adornment”.
Then there were the messages:
“Beauty is as beauty does.”
“Beauty is only skin deep.”
It’s not hard to take all of that, and come to a clear conclusion as to why I had such a distorted understanding of true beauty.
You see, what the grown-ups didn’t realize, was that while they were constantly “warning” us about the perils of eye-shadow, necklaces, and skirt lengths, they were communicating completely different messages. Such as….
“How you look, is the most important thing.”
“As long as you make the outside look right, no one will pay attention to the inside.”
These church messages were not that much different than those of Hollywood. Opposite sides were focused on the same issue– our appearances.
We can all agree that what we see in a magazine, or Hollywood is far from realistic. We hear about celebrities on a weekly basis, who from all appearances, have it all- yet the beauty, fame, and wealth are not enough to mask their despair.
My experiences growing up legalistic, turned me into record-keeping critic. If I had to measure up, so must everyone else.
Last week, I reached into a bowl of grapefruit on my kitchen counter, choosing what looked to be delicious and beautiful. It was bright orange, with a hint of pink. As soon as I grasped it, I could tell that the outside did not reflect what was going on inside. It looked perfect, until I applied minimal pressure, then all the rotten-ness that was going on inside, became quite noticeable.
We left that church when I was sixteen…and for the first time, encountered Grace.
“Oh, the Love that drew Salvation’s plan, Oh, the grace that brought it down to man, Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span, At Calvary.
Mercy there was great and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.” (William R Newell, 1895)
Grace that comes unearned and undeserved, the Ultimate Gift from the Cross . Grace, never about how perfect I look, for those keeping score. Grace for my record-keeping.
God’s gift of grace, once accepted, is capable of cleaning out heart-rot. His Power, changing us from the inside out, and removing the focus off rule-keeping and striving to please.
He shines His light into the dark corners of a rotten soul, and healing occurs. Peace, Joy, Love… flows from a heart filled with light.
The Fruit of His Spirit creates beauty within a woman, changing lives around her. The Fruit of His Spirit consistently brings the focus back to the heart.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
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