On Beauty

(A while back a friend of mine asked people to write some of their thoughts on "Being Beautiful" for a Young Women's mutual activity. It was a great idea, and she got some wonderful responses from women that I love and admire. These were my own thoughts.)

When I think of a beautiful person, I think of the whole person, complete with their personality traits. This person is usually a friend or family member; someone that I love. This image usually includes them smiling.

Contrary to what the media would have us believe, a beautiful person is much more than their physical appearance. When we know someone who is physically gorgeous, but is also selfish, self-centered or snide, the bubble quickly bursts. Outside of junior high, nobody wants to be like that person at all.  Most of us enjoy being around happy people, loving people, fun people, awesome people--people who give and share of themselves in all their different ways.

Beautiful people are beautiful all around. Their beauty affects their entire being. They really do glow from the inside out. We want to be around them, because they make others feel happy, comfortable and loved. The world is a better place because they are in it. There is always a lot more to say about them than, “She’s pretty,” or, "He's handsome."

As I come to know someone, their beauty starts to jump out at me. It is much more than the first impression of good looks. All of a sudden I see the liveliness or depth of their eyes, their smile that makes me smile, the particular shade of their hair, the shape of their face that is their own, unique beauty--a beauty that I would never want to change.  I notice beautiful things about them in their expressions, their actions, their way of saying something, their grace, their frankness, their individual style, their exuberance, their zest for life, and their love for those around them.  Their looks and personality come together to make a beautiful whole.  The people I know are much more beautiful to me than when I first met them.  Their beauty grows as I grow to know them.  At first they were just a face, now they are a person.

Perhaps the media displays physical perfection as the ultimate goal because for materialists there is no other goal. When our eternal purpose is left out of the picture, there is not much else of meaning that can be shown in a photograph. There is only physical appeal and the public reaction to that appeal. Mother Teresa was never photographed because of her outward beauty, but because of the beauty of her whole self.

If one’s ambition is to pursue this fleeting physical beauty, it doesn’t matter how beautiful and physically perfect they are. It will never be enough. There will always be someone more beautiful, or something better that one could or should achieve, as there is no divine sense of self in such a fruitless endeavor. The phrases “self-acceptance” and “feeling fulfilled” may at times seem like empty words, but the feeling that comes from this is wholesome, satisfying and completely different from the feelings that come from public approval. It’s like the difference between eating candy and eating a good meal. One of them feels great for a few minutes, the other provides feelings of contentment, strength and endurance.

When one has a higher purpose, when one feels loved and accepted, when one feels able to do the things they want to do in life--the need for that perfect appearance quickly fades into the background.  Instead of being consumed with achieving something so unfulfilling, one has the time to become truly beautiful.

I love the feeling I get when I have worked hard to do something. I love learning new things. I am truly happy when helping others, serving God and my family, and knowing that I am part of something wonderful--knowing that I can shine.

Whenever I start to get caught up in the dazzle and distortion of worldly perfection, I ask myself:  What would I do if I lost a limb tomorrow, or if I were burned in a fire? What if I could no longer look like my best self? What would my attitude be? Would I waste my time lamenting forever? What would help my family, my children and me? What would I want to be known for, if there were no way that I could be known for any kind of physical beauty?

I know what I would want. I would want to be one of those inspiring people who get out and overcome things and accomplish things against all odds. I would want to be the mother who changes her babies' diapers with her feet, or the woman who runs a marathon on prosthetic legs, or the great lady who is brave enough to show her scarred self to the world--still able to raise a family with love, active enough in the world to make a difference, and there to inspire others. Thinking of all the admirable things to be, which good things can I choose out of them that will stick with me no matter what physical shape I’m in? What will last after I’m gone? What will I be known for? Most importantly, what will continue on as part of "me" forever? I want my beauty to be something tangible, something that makes a difference.

The fashion of beauty is always changing. There is always another pretty face or body to look at.  There will always be a current trend. There may be anything about me that defines me enough to make me an example to the whole world, but I can focus on becoming the most beautiful person that I can possibly be--inside and out. Living without the aim of worldly adoration is truly living. It is the only way to develop into your true and purest self. And that self is original and incomparable. That is how you shine.

One day my youth will be gone, and there won’t be any going back. I hope that on that day I will have lines on my face. I hope they’re from a beautiful life, well-lived. I hope they’re from smiling.

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