What Makes You Beautiful

4:12 AM

She looks at her hands, twisting, untwisting, fingers chasing fingers. Now she looks at the ceiling. Now her hands. Twist. Untwist. Twist. All the while she's saying it, getting it out there: "Sometimes I feel like I'm not very beautiful. I see things in magazines -- and I don't look like that. I know that God doesn't create anyone ugly, but it's hard to believe it. Usually it goes away. After I cry."

I want to cry, want to beat up the Lie, want to scrape up a big scoop of confidence and contentment and love and stuff it into her heart. One thing I do not understand: why beautiful girls think they're ugly. The long-legged, thick haired, athletic, gorgeous middle schooler thinks she is too pale, too big in the hips. The big-blue-eyed homeschooler sobs because the girls at ballet say she has "cow eyes." The beautiful-hearted, friendly, popular, cutely freckled girl cannot stand her reflection. My friends talk about diets while I'm on my third piece of cake.

None is who she thinks she is. I tell her that, laugh it off, comfort her, joke about my own flaws, but I see in her eyes it's not sinking in. Words do nothing when the acne is bad, freckles overpopulated, tummy pudgy and hair messed up. What's worse? She tells me I'm beautiful. She beats herself up and tells me I'm beautiful in the same breath. Words really escape me then.

I want to know why. Why is this such a big deal? Why do skin cells, fat cells and keratin determine worth?

Because they do. Girls compete and compare -- not for a man and not for beauty but for herself, for her security. There's an undefined pressure to be beautiful in a circle of girls -- whether one constantly feels runner-up to the resident beauty or whether one is surrounded by girls who spend decades each day in front of the mirror, discuss diets or describe other girls by less than flattering features. I once heard another girl explain her friend as someone who needed Proactiv -- badly. It wasn't meant as a cruel jab, just a passing explanation, but it threw me into quiet confusion. If someone could say that without a second thought -- with a knowing giggle afterward -- did she see me the same way? Did others define me by my acne? Did they think me slovenly, ugly, second-rate because of a few clogged pores?

It's unnerving when one feels like the only girl amid a bunch of women, women already watching their calorie intake or fussing over their make-up or going in detail about how this or that article of clothing makes them look fat. I had been quite content to eat whatever wound up on my plate or go entirely make-up-less or wear whatever I thought looked pretty -- until I learned that in the female social circle, those things mattered. Big time. You could be cute and funny but you got a star by your name listing you as "great but...."

This is something I've only learned recently, since I spent much of my growing up with boys, tomboys and imaginary horses. I didn't have an older sister: I got to set the stage for what beautiful, cute and fashionable meant to my younger sisters. (I wasn't qualified for holding any opinions in those area -- but my aberrant "fashion" sense is another post entirely, and not so serious.) My mother never talked about dieting or make up or fashion; I willingly woke up at 6 a.m. to work out with Mom and Denise Austin because it was fun, not because it had anything to do with calories. She French braided my hair and bought cute matching dresses. There were no set dates for me start looking like a grown woman. She let me be myself (which was very embarrassing to her, no doubt). Beauty never felt out-of-reach for me. I never associated tears and heartache with beautiful things. We Bergmann girls created our own beauty -- scrunchied, straight-haired, pimply, kind-of-frumpy beauty. Beautiful was something we were, not something we achieved.

Of course, some days I felt less-than-beautiful. We had many sister councils on the subject -- don't let me lie to you: I cried some nights. But that was long after I was young, long after I had acquired beautiful friends, long after girl conversations became less and less about My Little Ponies and more and more about purses and sundresses. I think it was when I heard girls talking, comparing, gossiping, when I saw the plain girl excluded, when I saw the popular girls wearing cuter clothes and stylish cuts -- that's when I lost innocence and felt shame.

We blame Barbie and the media, but no, that is too far away to hit home. The cause of sobbing middle schoolers, girls blind to their own beauty? We are. Their friends. Their role models. Their mothers. We are the culprits -- for taking out our insecurity on friends, for obsessing over externals, for spending too much money on new shoes. We have created a female culture where only the beautiful may walk free -- even if that excludes ourselves. We have made a big deal out of beauty, the external beauty, the beauty that dies off with age and use.

I'm a big sister. I feel ugly some days -- so ugly that I want to hide in my bed. But I refuse to speak lies to myself and I refuse to speak lies to my sisters. I don't want to plant negative thought patterns in their mind; I don't want them to learn how to scrutinize their beauty. I don't make beauty a big deal -- I let them wear ridiculous color combinations, and we eat whatever we want, and we laugh hard as the post-lunch ab work-out. I let myself do it. I want to create a different female culture in my sisters' lives, in my life -- one where we know what's important and Who defines us, and that beauty is meant to bring delight, not pain.

Alexxus -- the title is for you.

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17 impressions

  1. "You don't know you're beautiful
    Oh oh oh
    That's what makes you beautiful."

    ^ I'm listening to that song right now. :) I've been thinking about this subject lately and you hit the nail on the head about insecurity.

    I am awful, pathetic, and pitiful about comparisons. I see a physically flawless girl, compare myself to her, and begin the "I wish..." thoughts. It's something I have to pray about.

    "I want to create a different female culture in my sisters' lives, in my life -- one where we know what's important and Who defines us, and that beauty is meant to bring delight, not pain."
    Amen. That sentence in itself was beautiful, but the way.

    ^ Jumbled thoughts, I know, but I'm functioning only on 20 FL OZ of Coke right now. :P I did appreciate this post. *hugs*

  2. This is a wonderful post, Bailey. As the older sister of four beautiful girls, I always want to be the one that encourages them to see beauty for what it really is. Honestly, some of the most "beautiful" people I know would never make it on the cover of a magazine... but they constantly shine the beauty of HIM WHO MADE THEM exactly the way they are. That is so much better than being on the cover of "Seventeen".

    And, from one sister in Christ to another, keep eating that third slice of cake. :)

    God bless!

  3. I'm the youngest of five girls, so I had a lot of influences... some greater than others. The sister that I shared a room and most of my life with also shared a lot of other things. She was bulimic, and as much as I tried to plug my ears to the sound of retching in the bathroom, it impacted me more than I can say. I didn't realize it until I hit that age where conversation was "less and less about My Little Pony and more and more about purses and sundresses." I really struggle with self worth. A lot. Thank you for posting on this topic, I really appreciate it.

  4. I've been thinking about this lately, asking myself where my drive to be beautiful is coming from. Wondering where the line between taking care of myself(I gotta tell you, I just feel way better when I exercise regularly and eat right) and wasting my time on something that's not really important. I know that I can look great to my peers and such(anybody that only sees me with my clothes on=), but then the haunting question comes...what about my husband? Will he look at my cellulited thighs and still think they're beautiful? Not to mention that my family has a tendency to put on a lot of weight down there once the babies start coming, and then struggling with weight the rest of their lives. I'm struggling with fear I guess, and with finding a balance for it all.

  5. I love you.

    And One Direction is blaring through my head.

    Okay, that's all.

  6. I love that song! :D Haha.

    Well, I loved it before my brother decided it was his favorite, and therefore played nothing but One Direction for over a week. That would be why I don't like sharing my favorite things with my brothers, and also why I never liked Star Wars. I mean, there are some great love stories and awesome world-building, but when it's all your brothers talked about for years, it kinda makes you sick of it.

    Anyway. I have always been and will always be makeup oblivious. I've worn it for dance recitals, church plays, and a special Japanese-style photo shoot, but the one time I tried to put it on myself, I massacred a brand-new bottle of mascara.
    In school, I was the kid who had two friends: the loner who beats herself up and the girl who is friends with everyone, class bully included. I was also the victim of said bully. That one year of public schooling taught me that the opinions of teachers, parents, and grown-ups from church are what should define our values. So I grew up reminding myself that penmanship, posture, and personality defined beauty, while magazines, critical peers, and Photoshop defined mindless bullies. And now, out of all the girls I know, I'm the most confident in my own skin. I hope I can influence just one little girl to grow up feeling this way.

  7. TanyaBeth the same question about what will my husband think of me echos in my ears sometimes and then God reminds me a beautiful woman is not one who is clothed with designer clothing, a model body, or no acne, its a woman clothed with good works and the Spirit of the Lord!

    If you struggle with the way your body looks for your husband go to God and give Him those struggles! I did that and now I don't worry, if your guy is on fire for God He will love you because you love the Lord too not because you have the perfect body! The right guy will not be looking for a model for a wife, but a gal who is in love with Jesus.

    God bless,

  8. Anonymous, I am so sorry -- for your struggles now and your influences then. I hope you can find grace and worth in Christ. *HUGS*

    Tanya Beth, there is increasing pressure in conservative, complementarian Christian circles to dress nicely (always), look great (always) and be beautiful for hubby (always). Don't fall for that trap: be beautiful for beauty's sake, for God's sake, and start now to find your worth in Him. If you do end up struggling with weight later down the line, you'll already have the focus to combat that effectively as a health problem instead of dealing with the baggage of wondering if you're beautiful. Be blessed, friend!

  9. ~ FROM BAILEY~ There is increasing pressure in conservative, complementarian Christian circles to dress nicely (always), look great (always) and be beautiful for hubby (always). Don't fall for that trap: be beautiful for beauty's sake, for God's sake, and start now to find your worth in Him~~

    Amen, praise the Lord, Hallelujah! I'm not the ONLY one who's seeing that. It's not that I'm against looking nice, but to put that much focus and pressure- well, that's just as bad as the world's pushing fake, plastic people as beautiful. I was just reading in a well known new book written by some girls you've heard of, that I took away a lot from, but one thing irritated me greatly. They seemed to be suggesting that you should try and dress 'well' all the time. (Whatever precisely that means to you...) I dress modestly all the time. I try and be careful to wear clothes that are not too tight, too low or have the possibility of gaping (and lay a hand over the top if I bend over) but I feel like the 'push' if you will, to dress 'well/nicely' all the time is like false advertising- at least coming from me. I do not wear my nicest, collared, starched and ironed shirts around the house generally. I wear a t-shirt and shorts. I don't spend a lot of time on my hair. Sunday morning is the only time of the week I do something besides pulling it into a pony tail or braiding it. I just don't care that much.

    And guess what? Unless someday my dad or husband specifically request that I do something different or the Lord convicts me about my views on any of this, I probably won't change. That means someday when I've got (Lord willing!) 8 or 9 little ones running around me, I will still be in my shorts and t-shirt. I feel like it would be dishonest to a young man who might be interested in me to dress 'nicer' than I normally do. I feel like this 'push' for dressing nicer places more attention of young men on our outward appearance- as if there isn't enough of that already! And maybe I should put a bit more care into my personal appearance.

    I'm always clean and-- well, I was going to say neat, but no matter how many bobby pins I use, those little hairs just WON'T stay nicely tucked away in my pony tail. (And then you should see it when I take my hair down!!) But to suggest that young men want nicely dressed women as wives to represent them, I feel, makes girls like me feel unnecessarily guilty. God is my standard, and He is the one I am seeking to please with my dress. And young men!?! As long as I am trying to treat them as brothers in the way I dress, I could care less what they think of my attire.

    Thank you for sharing this. Oh, and also- loved the line about scrunchies. I'm wearing one today. Mom and my girlfriends tease me for being so out of fashion. (A good many of my scrunchies were my mom's to begin with and at least 20 years old!) I laugh because if I like 'em, I'm going to wear them! Go scrunchies! :)

  10. Thanks for the encouragement Rebecca and Bailey. I know the truth. Really. I do. In my head and my heart. I know where true beauty comes from and I want that kind of beauty so much more. Rebecca, what you said about a Godly guy not wanting a model for a wife was just profound to me. I didn't really realize it till I started thinking about that, but maybe I really have been listening to the wrong messages, like the ones Bailey talked about. It's not that I find my worth in how I look...or maybe it is subtly becoming that way, and I didn't even realize it. I still want to discipline myself to take care of my body, but I think I need a new perspective. Hm...I think I should spend some time praying about this...on my next run. ;) Thanks girls.

  11. Savannah -- great thoughts. I think I'm going to write a more in depth blog post. These are the voices and feelings that I'm fighting against in my own life, and they're not coming from Hollywood...they're coming from your local conservative heroines.

    -- written in cupcake pjs and Hillsdale t-shirt after recently rolling out of bed

  12. Thanks for considering it, Bailey. I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the subject!

  13. This post is beauty itself. All of this is so, so true. We girls love beauty because it brings us security, but it's a circular issue that we ourselves have created. It's hard to face and harder to deal with. I can't count how many girls have admitted to me with tears in their eyes, "sometimes I just wish I were pretty. then all this would go away..."

    Ugh. Such a horrible, ugly untruth that we have allowed to worm its way into our hearts and manifest itself in our actions. My mom recently heard that the average woman pays $100 a month for cosmetics. Craziness!

    It's not just the truth that God made us beautiful on the outside-- He has made is in the image of His Son on the inside. Is this not the most glorious truth of all? Because of Christ, God sees me as beautiful. This is the freedom I love.

  14. "Beautiful was something we were, not something we achieved."

    Bailey, you hit the nail on the head. We often hear that everyone is beautiful, but it's become too cliche. You freshened things up a bit. God has blessed you with a wonderful way with words - so thankful you're using them for His glory!

  15. Hi there, Would you be willing to let us repost this on ylcf.org sometime? I think it would be a great encouragement to the girls who read along. If so, can you email me with a short bio and a picture you wouldn't mind us putting with it? alaskawildrose at gmail dot com


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