Some of us are deeply scarred by the cruelty of others, and it makes it tough to believe in the reality of our authentic feminine beauty. We may need professional help from a faithful Catholic therapist to help us open to healing from these wounds, but hope and a new vision of ourselves should always be sought through the sacraments of the Church and wise and holy friendships.
As I prepare for this fall’s launch of True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life, I am very touched to see that new conversations about beauty are opening up–just as I have hoped and prayed they would.
This week, just after I spoke about my new book on Catholic Connection, a Facebook friend sent me the following question about the nature of authentic feminine beauty:
I am so excited about your new book! I have a question about women, and how they compare. I am hoping that you may be able to give me some good perspective. At times I come across women who are not happy about their looks. One time in particular, I had a co-worker tell me how she didn’t like her teeth and how hard it was to live like that. She had buck teeth, which I didn’t really think much about until she brought it up. That experience made me feel very bad for her. But it also changed me. I happen to be blessed with straight teeth and so I started to question why would God give me straight teeth and not her. Because she expressed herself in such a negative way, it affected me into thinking that she can’t be beautiful. And that she would have a difficult life of ridicule and rejection. I wonder if you have come across this kind of experience. What would be a good response to give. Would God expect us to find ways to help improve ourselves, by maybe getting braces etc. Or if we pray to God, would he help us see ourselves differently so that these imperfections would not affect us? I hope I am clear in my question and I hope your book will help me.
Here’s how I answered:
GREAT QUESTION. First, the authentic feminine beauty that God gives us has nothing to do with superficial standards, like straight teeth. God blesses us each with inner and exterior beauty via a huge variety of traits, but we misjudge our own beauty because of the false messages of society. Did you know that in Japan, young women get braces to make their teeth crooked? It’s considered a sign of beauty!!! Look for the beauty in your friend. Show her the beauty you see in her. Compliment her virtues, pray for her, and thank God for the gifts that she brings to the world. Each and every women is important to God’s plan of salvation, and appreciating and encouraging each other is part of that. We have to fight against false standards of beauty. They hurt us deeply. All of that said, there is no sin in wanting straight teeth or good health or anything else that makes us feel more confident (within reason). But we should not be enslaved to the culture’s standards, and we should help each other to find freedom in Christ, the source of all our beauty and goodness. The beauty of women is in our receptivity to each other and to God, our generosity of spirit, our maternal desire to nurture and protect each other’s dignity, and our sensitivity to the state of each other’s hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Your friend is beautiful. And so are you. God says so.
One of my favorite phrases from the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church is “something of the glory of God shines on the face of every person.” (no. 144)
Memorize this: Something of the glory of God shines on your face. Then remind yourself the next time you come face-to-face with a mirror.
The human person who fully lives her dignity gives glory to God. Let True Radiance help you reflect on that truth.
Amen and amen, my dear sister in Christ!
This conversation and the truth that “Something of the glory of God shines” in every human face also got me thinking about my re-conversion to Catholicism in 1992, at a time when I could not see the beauty in anything or anyone, least of all myself. Many Masses, Rosaries, and confessions later, everything has changed for the better.
Here’s a song that describes my soul now, which is filled with joy and a passion for the healing love of Jesus Christ, the source and summit of our beauty. Enjoy, “For Love of You,” by Audrey Assad.
“For Love Of You”