The “Pretty” Complex
I had an interesting conversation with one of my friends a while back on what it means to be beautiful. It was very eye-opening for me because, number one, I’d never really thought about what does and doesn’t qualify as beauty, and number two, I was surprised that other people have. Now, don’t get me wrong. This young woman is one of the most godly people I know, and I completely respect her and have so many deep, meaningful conversations with her on a regular basis. (I also know that she has since changed her mind on this topic) But, girls being girls, sometimes we fall into talking about clothes and shopping and, yes, the nuances of beauty.
On this particular day, my friend was listing all of the qualities that she thought she needed to be considered attractive. Tall, long legs, flat stomach, smooth skin, thick hair… the list went on and on. I sat there like a typical female, uncomfortably listening in silence and mentally checking off whatever I did or didn’t have. Smooth skin… check. Long legs… er, not so check. And then my friend pointed to the freckles on her face and arms and said, “These bother me, too. I wish I could be tan all over, instead of so… freckly.”
This caught my attention. I sat up straight and shook my head. “That’s ridiculous. What’s wrong with freckles?”
My friend made a face. “There aren’t any models or actresses with freckles.”
What? I could think of at least three or four. I rambled off a few names and then said, “Freckled faces are so interesting. Everyone’s into being interesting and unique these days. Wouldn’t you like to have an interesting face?”
That’s when my friend summed up the conversation with the simple statement: “No, I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be gorgeous!”
At first, I was kind of shocked by that statement. And then it hit me: So do I. No, seriously. As much as I try to convince myself that being interesting-looking is great and that I care more about being smart and witty and funny than I do being pretty, the truth is still there. I, just like my friend, would rather be gorgeous than unique.
I tucked this conversation into the back of my mind and mulled over it for a few days. I was perplexed and disturbed by this idea of wanting to be gorgeous. What was wrong with me? Was this a normal part of being a girl, or was there something sick and twisted with my mind? Then I had a conversation a few days later with another friend who had a lot of the same ideas. She told me that she only eats about a thousand calories a day, because she wants a flat stomach and thin arms. Once again, my mind started whirling. How many calories do I eat a day? I’m pretty sure it’s way more than a thousand. Am I not going to be attractive if I eat chocolate cake and skip a zumba class?
After a few days, all of this thinking was really starting to mess with my brain. I started being paranoid about everything. If I burned instead of tanned at the pool, it freaked me out. If I went a few days without exercising or ate a slice of pizza, I got worried. I thought about my friends and grew discontent over the fact that they were so disciplined and beautiful while I was growing more and more attractive.
And then one day, I looked at my little sister Ruthie at the dinner table. We’d been at the pool all day and I was internally struggling over whether or not to take a roll from the basket in front of me while Ruthie touched her sunburnt cheeks. Splashed all over her nose and cheeks were hundreds of little freckles, covered in a rosy blush of pink. She was smiling, and talking about something, and right then it hit me: Ruthie is so beautiful. And her freckles are so pretty. And no matter what anyone says, nothing could ever convince me that Ruthie would be more attractive with smooth, tan skin or pale, porcelain features.
I left that dinner table with a new perspective. I realized that although there’s nothing wrong with either of my friends’ desires to be pretty or fit, I never want to get to a place where I second guess what is or isn’t pretty. A smile is always beautiful, no matter how crooked or covered in braces your teeth are. Eyes are always lovely and full of light, whether they’re brown or green or black. Freckles will always be lovely, and pale skin will always be precious.
I don’t know why, in this day and age, we have such a problem with having t0 be “pretty”. We want to be gorgeous, and we’re unhappy to be around anyone or anything that makes us feel less than stunning. Just like me, too many of us gauge our own attractiveness by what our friends do and think, rather than what God’s Word says. In our hearts, we know that it’s better to have a gentle and quiet spirit than to be considered “hot” or “gorgeous”, but that’s not what we want! We nag and push ourselves to be better looking than ever before, and then we crumple apart and grow dissatisfied when we don’t reach that unattainable level we’re seeking after.
This misconception of beauty also translates its way into books and movies, I think. No one wants to read or write a book about an overweight, pimply, mousy-haired girl. No, we want the raven-haired beauty who doesn’t realize how absolutely stunning she is, even though the author points it out every other chapter.
This idea is something that we have to beat. As writers, as girls, as Christians, we can’t go on beating ourselves up over something as vain and silly as looks. I know that it’s natural to want to look nice and, believe me, I’m as into dressing up as the next girl, but I now realize that this “pretty” mindset isn’t what’s most important in life. I may get into an accident tomorrow that completely scars my face and body and then what? Will my whole life fall apart because it was built upon my outward image?
I know that this is kind of an awkward blog post and doesn’t really fit in with what I usually talk about, but it’s something that’s been on my heart lately and I couldn’t help but share it with you all. I don’t want to judge or talk bad about anyone who is concerned with wearing makeup or working out. Like I said, those aren’t bad things and I do them all the time. But I want to help my sisters in Christ who are obsessed with their image and don’t think that they’ll ever live up to the world’s and their own expectations of beauty. If that’s you, then hear me out. I struggle with that problem, too. But you just have to realize that life goes beyond freckles, moles, and braces. I know that it sounds really clichéd, and you’re probably chuckling at me right now, but no one else is concerned with how you look. Seriously. If someone is a true friend, they love you for your sense of humor and your intelligence and your sweetness, not your fantastic hair. I think that my freckly friend is one of the sweetest and most beautiful young women that I know, and I’m very thankful that she now realizes it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking less about yourself just because you don’t look the way you want to. If that’s what you rest your happiness on, then you’re never going to be satisfied. You’ll always want to lose another pound or slather on another bottle of makeup. Learn to love your freckles and your dimples and your braces. God thinks they’re beautiful. Why don’t you?
P.S. The top photo is of my sister Ruthie. Isn’t she stunning, freckles and all? 😉