Julia Roberts. In college I loved her chick flicks. Pretty Woman. Steel Magnolias.
So it felt a little odd to take my daughters to see a Julia Roberts flick. It was even stranger to realize that in Mirror, Mirror, a comic take on Snow White, Julia is, um, not the Pretty Woman. Yes, she is still beautiful, but she plays the aging beauty—the stepmother who is losing her powers. And, oh yeah, she’s just a little bit older than me.
I admit as a child I was not much of a critical reader. It wasn’t until a college history course that I realized the Brothers Grimm were really, well, grim. I missed the obvious. For example, Hansel and Gretel didn’t exactly get lost in the woods: the family was starving and mama left them. I always took the Snow White story at Disney’s face value: evil stepmother, good princess, heroic prince, odd little men. It never crossed my mind that the aging beauty fighting youth and time was an everyday theme, a constant occurrence.
I recently read a friend’s Facebook post about her large family. Speaking of her college-bound daughter, her toddler had happily informed her, “Lizzy is prettier than you, Mama.” Yes, she is prettier than her mother, my friend.
Oh, my. Catch your breath.
Julia’s character, the evil queen, says to her reflection, “Those, those, aren’t wrinkles . . . they’re crinkles.” Denial isn’t pretty, either, you know? In a particularly comic scene she receives a beautification “treatment.” Bees sting her lips to plump them, fish nibble dead skin off her fingers, and bird poop refreshes her face and chest. It would be funny if those bee stingers didn’t look so much like Botox needles.
When I was a child, my grandmother would painstakingly brush my tangled hair and say, “It hurts to be pretty.” And it does. Being beautiful takes time and effort: hair appointments and treatments, proper nail care, makeup application, wearing the “right” . . . oh heck, just clean clothes, take a lot of time. The older we get the more painful it all becomes. Waxing? Vein treatments? Botox, anyone? (Have any of you seen Gloria Vanderbilt lately?) Just taking your teenage daughter to the dermatologist opens a Pandora’s box of youth-seeking possibilities.
And I think there’s another sort of beauty pain—the pain of letting it go. The pain caused by watching that power fade–the pain that the evil queen can’t endure. Even for those of us who would never label ourselves beauties, the reality of losing our youth is something we mourn. We were all so much more beautiful than we ever realized.
Which brings me to my grandmother’s other adage: “Pretty is as pretty does.”
The “fairest of them all” is nothing if she is full barbs and claws underneath, nothing if she is just a pretty face.
The Scriptures say, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)
Yes, I do buy my daughters cute clothes and fix their hair, but in the end I talk to them not about their looks but about their hearts–their hearts that are really not so cute and precious–their hearts that are full of mucky sin.
And I talk to them about the cross, where we go to really be clean, to be transformed, to be truly beautiful. I talk to them about Jesus, the real hero, the real prince.
Because His beauty is the true beauty: the eternal, never-fading, still there when the trumpets blow, strong like the sun beauty. Following His beauty takes time and effort, too. We read His word, follow His footsteps, and ultimately kneel at the cross, praying that He will transform us, that He will make our true selves far more beautiful than we ever imagined.
Because He is the redeemer of the aged, the broken, and the ugly, the healer of the wrinkles and veins, and the renewer of our hearts.
And His beauty will never fade away.
So, when you look in the mirror, whose beauty do you see? Yours, or your Savior’s? This Easter, I hope you see the Fairest of Them All.