The Myth of Inner Beauty

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t roll my eyes every time I hear someone say that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty.

Not because it isn’t true or because I don’t live by that standard, but because I live in a world that says that, but does everything to contradict it.

Recently I’ve lost weight and it seems to be the only thing anyone in the world wants to talk to me about. It seems to be the only thing worth commenting on. And I’m never sure how to handle the situation because it wasn’t exactly by choice, so I’m never certain how to respond.

“Yeah, really bad migraines and the medication for them will do that to you…”

and yet still people’s comments seem to run down the path of telling me that “well, you look great anyway” or they scold me not to lose any more.

The conversation rarely goes much deeper than that. That’s my life these days, the weight that I’ve lost and everyone’s opinion on it and how it’s affecting me. What about my classes? The brilliant paper I just wrote on conservative politics and their disturbing/fascinating relationship with evangelicalism? What about the book I just finished? The last movie or documentary I just saw? What about what I’m learning or understanding in my life right now? What about God? My heart? Anything else….really.

We tell women that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but if the only thing you ever approach them about is their outer beauty, you shouldn’t be surprised when they stop believing you.

I see the difference in the way men look at me now.

Tears fill my eyes as I write those words. I’ve always been considered a healthy weight. But the thinner I’ve gotten and coincidentally, the more blonder I’ve become, I have seen a change in the number of men that approach me. It hurts to write those words. It hurts to write those words because they do not say, the more books of I’ve read or the more I’ve grown to know myself. It hurts because the words I wrote say: the thinner and blonder I’ve gotten, the more men have been interested in me.

I wish those words were not true.

Those words about inner beauty appear to be a myth and because of it we have a crisis on our hands.

Inner beauty feels like a myth for the girl who sits home alone on a Friday night, for the girl who wears t-shirts at the pool, who tries to make herself feel comfortable with the word “curvy”, for the girl who is always looking for the perfect foundation to cover up her acne scars.

Inner beauty: the two words she tries to hold on to, but secretly hates because she feels like they’re meant for the best friend of the pretty girl.

We have created a Youtube makeup-obsessed culture. We are obsessed with the next work-out fad, and kale-bowls-with-quinoa and green smoothies. We are obsessed with looking good in leggings and having perfectly sculpted eyebrows. But we post all about these things while saying what we really care about is inner beauty.

Health is good. Vanity is not. 

Eat kale. Work out. Wear leggings…I don’t care. But if you need the world’s approval for it on a social media platform—it is vanity, not health.

Yesterday, I saw this group of girls running down the street in their cute workout gear. I want them to pursue health, but every fiber of my being just wanted to pull over and yell: if any of you are here because you hate the way you look, get inside this car right now! 

Because if our motive for health is hatred, if our motive for anything is hatred, we will fail and we will kill something precious inside of ourselves in the process.

Let me tell you a secret: you can become thinner and blonder and more men will look at you, more women will praise you. Men will turn their heads and honk their horns when you are waiting at the crosswalk. Women will envy your body, ask where you got your clothes.

But the truth is, you will secretly hate them for it. You will have to sit in your tears and repent for all the anger you feel inside of you.

Because this body is not you.

You are not your body or your hair color. You are your heart, your soul, your spirit. You are your mind, your humor, the witty things you say when you haven’t had your coffee yet. You are the person who prays in crisis, the person who cries at Beauty and the Beast. You are the one who helps the elderly lady put her groceries in her car, who picks up trash in public bathrooms, who sits with strangers so they don’t have to eat alone.

You are not your weight, your height, your hair.  You are not your dress size, your exercise routine, your teeth.

Still, I know you have read these posts a million times and it doesn’t change the Friday nights you sit alone, all the phone calls you don’t get. I know it doesn’t ease your pain. It doesn’t make you look in the mirror and not wish you saw something else.

But let it change how you approach your conversations. Instead of approaching someone and immediately commenting on their weight or appearance, ask them about something that sits deeper. Ask them about the thing that we tell the world we value, but never seem to show them we have any value for. Ask what things have been inspiring them lately, what has been exciting or difficult, where has life been bringing challenges?

Inner beauty is a myth only when we don’t allow it the place of honor in conversation. We choose what we talk about, what dominates the discussion. “Cute dress” should be a passing comment, while conversations about things that change us and change the world should be what take up hours upon hours. Those are the things I hope my daughters someday see on the cover of women’s magazines.

You are beautiful. Most women hear these words and don’t believe them. Did you know that 2% of women believe this to be true about themselves? I’m starting to understand why.

You are beautiful. I hope someday we learn to hear these words and never once associate them with anything other than what right now we’ve made seem like just a myth.

 

She Actually

“She actually turned out to be pretty…”

A few years after coming out of the awkward i’m-far-too-lazy-to-wake-up-early-and-dress-like-i’m-going-to-Paris-when-i’m-actually-going-to-gym-class stage, these words were said about me.

Casually, someone told me about that conversation when we were in the car leaving Walmart and something about it dug deep into my skin. It had been a conversation between boys who apparently wrote the definition for pretty.

I had always known that braces, curly hair and untamed eyebrows were not a winning combo, but it did something to my core to hear those words actually said out loud (even years later).

“She actually…” 

As if there had been some town council meeting that had convened during the years when flannel wasn’t cool and nobody liked the messy/bed-head hair look. It was as if everyone had gathered to secretly whisper their doubt about me and my future cool status.

“Yeah, that girl? She’ll probably always be awkward, gangly and discombobulated.”

There was a fire that sat in my bones for years. “She actually…” Over and over again those words would follow me around. It took everything in me to keep blow drying my hair, or using any makeup. There was something in me that so desperately wanted to just go back to how I looked at twelve years old. I wanted to prove to them that twelve year old Ashlin? She actually had always been pretty.

Oh, and that she actually knew that people were pretty in their own way. No one person, or group of people, is superior enough to decide a universal definition.

I’ve seen so many gorgeous girls stand in front of a mirror with a look of disgust. Even if I thought them to be absolutely breathtaking, it never mattered, because they couldn’t see it in themselves.

I should have said something like this to them:

Oh, you were always beautiful, babygirl. It was never about your hair. It was never about the tag sewn into your jeans or how much mascara you could coat onto your eyelashes.

Pretty was that fierce way you stood up for truth in the lunchroom. It’s the way you love to make others laugh. It’s the way you choose to stay and hold others when they cry. 

Pretty is when you still cry at movies because you’ve got a heart beating inside of you that knows love is still worth waiting for and not so impossible to find.

You know, the world will say these words are stupid, they will roll their eyes and call this another inspirational speech or ridiculous piece of encouragement for people that I’ve never even seen.

But I hope you don’t really believe that we have to see someone to know if they’re pretty or beautiful. Those words are not lost on blind eyes, but rather on blind hearts. 

Whether we never sit across from one another, I will always believe there’s something breathtakingly beautiful about you.

Because to me, you will never be a number on a scale. You will never be just another face. You are entirely your own kind of wonderful, though some may never see what I do. How sad for them, that they’ve defined their own worth by what they see in a piece of reflective glass in the bathroom.

You were always enough. You actually were always pretty. Even in your awkward middle school years and even when you take your make-up off. You are beautiful because you are intricate and deep, and thousands and thousands of details make up the heart of who you are.

And you are worth untangling. You are pages upon pages of your own kind of story and it’s worth reading. You have value and I hope that’s what you see when you look at yourself. I hope you know that at the end of the day, it will never matter how tan you are or whether or not you ate that second serving.

You deserve to hear that you are incredible. I really know that, I really believe that. There is somebody in your corner who thinks you are worth loving.

But I hope you really believe that about yourself, too. Because no matter how many times I write it for you, it only matters what you see.

As for me, when I stumble into the bathroom to get ready, I see a collage of all the stages of the person I’ve been and the person I am. I laugh at her frumpy ponytail and oversized pajama shirt and I shove the lies from the back of my mind and think about those words said to me on that car ride and I reply,

She actually was born beautiful and lives beautifully and she actually didn’t ever really need anyone else to believe that but herself.

She actually wants the world to see the person behind the hazel eyes and tiny hands. She actually knows that there’s something put inside her that the world can be changed by.

And she actually wants to say thank you. To the girl who told me about that conversation and the two guys who never intended for me to hear that and most likely meant no harm. Because in their twisted compliment, they made me love that girl in a whole new way, the one I am and the one I’ve always been

Maybe G was for Grace

I have been learning how to live without.

I’ve also been baking non-stop. If you don’t know me, then let me tell you, I ain’t the kind of girl that bakes.

But this week? Brownies, muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls.

I learned a lot about loss when I lived in Apartment G.

My doctor told me I had to cut out sugar and white flour. I didn’t respond well to being told that I couldn’t have chocolate or pizza or cheesecake. It was a sad day when I was forced to break up with Ben & Jerry.

Now, here I am a year later. I’ve learned to do without it. Apparently, I learned to bake without it. I learned a lot about grace while giving up a lot of things I love.

Not just sugar or flour, I lost a lot more than food when I lived in Apartment G.

I am now seeing just how much these months have changed me. I am not even close to being the same person I was when my sister and I unpacked our lives in that little space.

In that time, grace grew me up to be steady. She taught me how to choose love when it seemed like a complete waste. She sat with me while I ate peanuts and tried to figure out how to dance through someone else’s sadness.

Her elegance and class kept me from saying all the things I held in my clenched fists. “Keep your head high, love.” Over and over she would whisper words like, “You’ve always been enough.”

She would grab my hand in critical moments, tuck my hair behind my ear and remind me,”You are better than the words you want to speak in your anger.”

Grace is the kind of girl who wears a dress to meet you at a diner. She orders coffee at 9 pm and settles in for the long haul. Grace knows how to love the bad, endure the imperfect, but grace looks for the beauty, the worth, in everything she sees.

Even after I ignored her, left her in the cracks and crevices of apartment G, she quietly followed me. She followed me back to my parents house, and hangs out with me in the kitchen while I bake.

Because that’s who she is. Grace tells you to do what seems impossible and then she teaches you how. When you can’t quite sing the words, she teaches you how to hum the tune. She teaches you how to live with less. She’s beautiful in that way.

Even in all of her elegance, grace knows about living with less. She knows how to make loss seem lighter.

Even when I was knee-deep in blame and anger, she was waiting for the day when I came back around. Always waiting with her wit, strong coffee, healthy breakfast and some endless laughter.

Grace is teaching me to do the same. She’s teaching me to be classy in my efforts, poised in my anger. She is teaching me how to stick around for the long-haul, even in the midst of terrible loss.

Grace addresses birthday cards that may never be appreciated for their sentiment and she never believes that it is a waste.

Grace knows Thursdays are for calling to say “I miss you” even if they don’t miss you back.

I’ve always known her, but we became good friends when I learned to pay bills and sweep my own kitchen. I think maybe that was fate because in these days I need her more now than ever.

Maybe G was for Grace.  Maybe those days in that tiny apartment were about learning how to stand alone when others walk away, about learning how to live without, with less and with loss.

 

When Life Just Doesn’t Feel Like a Grand Adventure…

You need the joy in the ordinary. There are times when every day life is just so grand and glorious. 

I want you to know what that’s like.

You need some belly-aching, can’t-breathe, tears-in-your-eyes, knee-slapping laughter.

You need to sit in a parked car in a traffic circle with a dipped cone of ice cream with people who care about you and act silly just to make you happy. Even when you sneeze on them and are so exhausted that you can’t hold a conversation, they will love you and laugh with you at the simple joys of life.

You need to be friends with people who walk out of their office to go and give five dollars to a homeless man. You need to stand there in the cold and hold hands with them and pray for his heart and pray that he experiences love in every part of his life.

I want you to experience the adventures to be had sitting at bonfires, restaurants, coffee shops & on airplanes; fumbling over awkward introductions and crashing into the joy of turning strangers into friends.

Oh, that you would be broken by the beauty of the ordinary things in your life!

Life is happening and people are living and the world is crazy and beautiful. And I want us to see it.

I want us to be moved by the miracle of a newborn in our arms. I want our hearts to be stirred by the simple act of someone complimenting our smile, or strangers saying hi as we walk down the sidewalk.

There is true beauty in everything that is happening around you.

The comfortable doesn’t always have to be so colorless. There’s a dimension of breathtaking awe that could come over you if you would just take time to appreciate the constant love of the people in your household or the steady affection of friends who have known you for so many years.

You have a beautiful life. Even when you’re restless and ready for an epic adventure or for your big moment to arrive. You need to see that you have precious and irreplaceable things and people around you. Their consistent presence in your life is one of the greatest joys you will ever know.

Be grateful for the dinners with family, the kettle corn with co-workers, the movie nights with funny friends. Even when you’re holding up your pant legs to try and keep them from dragging in the mud of your fears and failures, be grateful that at the end of the day you were given the strength to keep plowing your feet through the pain.

You have greatness all around you. I have it all around me. I want us to see it. With every glance through our not-so-rose-colored-lenses, I want us to recognize that even in the day-to-day there is so much awe to be had for the ordinary