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.

 

Advertisements

Choosing One Another

I had a conversation earlier that stuck with me.

We were talking about relationships and getting things out in the open at the very beginning. How it’s better just to lay the big things out right there at the start: the important things, the maybe-even-a-little-bit-crazy things, the dreams, the parts of you that you know just aren’t going to change.

There were a million thoughts running through my head. I thought about all the times I’ve tried to balance those early conversations–what you can say, what to hold back, what to wear, how to sit. It’s like a dance of trying to figure out how to be just enough, but not too much.

The idea that first impressions are everything is so engrained in us and sometimes we take it farther than we even realize.

Believing that first impressions are everything is often a way we unintentionally tell someone (or ourselves): don’t fully be yourself. Because you, the real you, might just go and ruin this whole thing. Sometimes this sticks with us and we find ourselves becoming someone who is always holding back. We end up telling ourselves people wouldn’t stick around if they found out the truth about who we really are.

Sometimes in our fear and desire we treat the deepest parts of ourselves like an arsenal that we’re trying to strategically figure out how and when to fire.

But the deepest parts of us, the things that make us who we are, shouldn’t feel like weapons. Our deepest truths shouldn’t feel like things that will one day inevitably lead to the death of our hearts or chances for a relationship.

Believe me when I tell you, we don’t want people to fall in the love with the first impression version of us. Because most of the time we don’t even like that person. That person is fearful and insecure. They hold back or they overcompensate. They often put their value in saying or doing all the right things. That person is a shell that carries your face and your name. Don’t keep giving that to someone, don’t ask someone to choose that.

You are worthy of someone choosing you, and everything that comes along with that, right from the start.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission slips to let our guard down. Because you’re going to waste a lot of experiences, a lot of interviews, a lot of dates, a lot of years if you are always so afraid to be yourself.

Here’s the thing: I am not going to go on a date and eat pizza with a fork. I will fold that pizza in half and eat it fiercely because if the man across from me is looking for a woman who eats like she’s at cotillion, we do not need to proceed any further.

He needs to know right up front that I cry at movies, on occasion I like ugly sweatpants, I have more crazy stories than anyone would probably ever want to hear, and that I have no plans to diminish my southern accent (I’ve tried, it’s just not going anywhere). He needs to know that I love government and I’m going to yell about the national debt and want him to vote in elections. I’m also never going to own a cat. This just needs to be said on day one: there will be no cats.

There have been guys that have cringed and tried to pull these things out of me. They grew annoyed at my emotions, thought my sweatpants were unacceptable, didn’t like being with the girl who sometimes told her stories to a room full of strangers, rolled their eyes at the southern phrases that come barreling out in my excitement. They’ve tried to tell me to tone it down during election season. They hoped my passions and personality traits were a passing phase. I wish I had figured these things out sooner than I did.

I don’t want to get my heart in something and hope or think maybe they will change. I also don’t want to find out that they’re thinking the same thing about me.

We all know how that movie ends.

I am also learning that I want to sit across from people and let them know it’s okay to say the thing that keeps them awake at night, the things they can’t seem to figure out, the dreams that make them constantly contemplate dropping everything and just going. I don’t want to be asked or forced to choose mannequin versions of people that seem to have all the right words or plans.

We are human and I think we need to realize that humans choosing one another is one of the most glorious, beautiful, but fragile things we get to experience in this life. Shells, mannequins, and masks choosing one another is something far less worthy of our time. But that is what happens when fear leads us to forfeiting who we really are because of who that first impression version of us tried to promise ourselves and someone else we could be.

It’s Easy to Lose Ourselves

I’ve pretty much been in a car for the last week.

I’ve done so much driving, traveling, last minute road-trips that I’ve had lot of free time to think, a lot of free time to ask myself some really hard questions. I’ve had a lot of free time to examine all the good, bad, and uncertainty that I see in myself.

So, when you’re stuck alone with yourself for several hours every day, you really start to figure out how you see yourself. What you think about yourself starts to come out in the strangest ways (especially on Valentines Day). 

One thing I’ve realized is that I wince a lot when I think about the raw truth of who I am. There are truths, ideas, desires, dreams that I’ve carried since I was a little kid and the moment they come to the surface, I notice this tight grimace come over my face and my hands tense up.

I’ve done it so many times over the last two weeks that I’ve lost count. Every time I catch myself cowering, I force myself to sit up straight and shove down whatever that shameful feeling is.

My denial was going well until God got involved.

“Stop apologizing for all the things that you love.”

I took a deep breath and whispered under my breath, “Is that what I’m doing?”

I knew the answer. I didn’t need Him to respond. I needed to admit that I already knew He was right. I had become so accustomed to being reprimanded by floods of people in my life. I was scolded for not being mild-mannered, for not being quiet, for being a little too stubborn. There were many times I was condemned for not staying silent when someone really needed to stand up.

Today, I caught myself wincing in a really passionate conversation about something that I love. I was looking carefully around the room, afraid that the scolding would soon come. When I deeply love something, I get loud and I get feisty. I go back to the eight-year-old Ashlin. But then, almost immediately, I start to cower and prepare for the punch.

It was today that I realized how easy it is to lose ourselves, to become walking apologies. We start to be so afraid of our differences that we live miserably trying replicate everyone around us.

“Well, people like her and sing her praise, so maybe I should be more quiet and reserved like she is.”

“People seem to really respect him, He seems so indifferent about everything, so maybe I just shouldn’t care so much.”

We are constantly looking around rooms and trying to figure out how to stop standing out, or how to stand out in a way that will get us applause .

But what if we just stopped looking around?

Because if we stopped looking around, we would stop noticing whether or not people clap. We wouldn’t be broken by whether or not their face has a scowl, and we wouldn’t be made prideful if they are enchanted and can’t look away.

Maybe if we stopped looking around, we would stop finding a million reasons to apologize. Maybe we would stop giving up the things that make us come alive.

Maybe we’d stop trying to fit in a suit, a sweater, a pair of shoes that we don’t even actually like.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: stop apologizing for your heart. 

Stop worrying about if everyone else approves.

Ask yourself if other people’s approval is worth a lifetime of being a watered down, cardboard-cut-out version of yourself. Ask yourself if the opinions of people are worth wearing clothes that don’t fit or having a career that steals your joy.

Stop worrying about how many likes you get on Facebook or Instagram. Stop putting it all on scales and wondering if you are too much or if you are not enough.

Start asking yourself what’s going to matter when you’re in that car alone and no one’s there to approve or disapprove. Start asking yourself if you’re okay with living a life that makes you cringe because you’re afraid someone else might be a little uncomfortable. Will it matter if everyone else likes you if you don’t like yourself?

Ask yourself what’s worth trying, what’s worth loving–even if you fail. Ask yourself if you’re willing to do those things even if God is the only one who ever approves.

Mirrors, NyQuil, and Thomas Jefferson

We used to be enough.

Back when our feet were muddy, our hair was tangled and t-shirts were the uniform.

We were enough and mirrors were just decor, most days we walked right past them never thinking to ask for their opinions.

But somewhere along the way started asking questions. Now it seems that’s all we ever do.

We stand in front of reflective panes, asking them to tell us what we’re worth. We swipe cards and search to find something, anything that will make it a little easier to stare at the image before us.

Back then we weren’t ashamed to speak loudly, to point, to call things like we see them.

We weren’t filtered and fearful, worried that someone might think our opinion useless or immature. We were inexperienced, but confident.

Age and experience do not make you more confident, it’s actually innocence that produces freedom.

I want to be unaffected, apathetic about what passes before mirrors. I want my voice to know volume and strength when it needs to be heard. I want to stop worrying about putting my best foot forward or dressing for success.

I don’t want to be the sort of messy that takes an hour to perfect, where people will cheer for my relaxed vibe.

I never had a decent haircut as a child.

Mostly due to the fact that my unruly hair was too curly to cut evenly. But Mom would always tell the hairdresser one thing: as long she can pull it into a ponytail, she’s fine.

Which was true. So, even though I usually left the salon looking like some sort of manic poodle, I never worried because my hair-tie came out immediately and it all went into its typical ponytail.

Years later, that stopped being the case. I worried about having the right hair cut, the right length, the right style.

Until recently, when I barged into a Great Clips and gave a random woman the permission to do whatever she wanted to with my hair. Okay, I gave her like 2 guidelines, but I mostly just told her to do what she pleased.

While she barely obeyed my guidelines, she took me up on the offer to do whatever she wanted.

And I left with what I consider an almost-mullet. 

While I should have freaked out, cried, had a feedback talk with her about stretching the guidelines.. I didn’t. I paid her more money than I should have and got into my car.

I laughed the entire way home.

Because somewhere in the middle of getting the worst haircut of my life, I remembered those times of being little and my Mom saying that I didn’t really care what my hair looked like.

That’s a pretty great and rare quality for a little girl to be known for: not hard to please, not concerned with the outward appearance, content with what she’s given.

I’m not telling you to go and get a bad haircut. I’m telling you that it matters a lot less than we think it does.

So I have an almost-mullet and the world didn’t end. I don’t hate myself. I don’t think I’m doomed to be single.

I have an almost-mullet and I’m just as valuable as I was the day before I started resembling Thomas Jefferson.

We’re too concerned with things that change. Hair grows, weight changes, bank accounts fluctuate. They’re never going to sandwich you in, keep you safe, give you the confidence to stop questioning mirrors or use your voice for change.

If I’m being honest, I like myself more with this awful haircut. Mostly because I’m not relying on anything to do the talking for me. I’m not trying to craft an impression. I am a better person when I’m less impressed with myself, when my own flaws are on display. I don’t get the chance to fool myself, to let that piece of glass tell me that I’ve got it together.

I’m a mess right now, and not in a cute or enviable way. I’m not the kind of mess you would photograph for Pinterest and call stylish. I’m a genuine train-wreck of a girl who let some stranger give her a mullet and went out to buy NyQuil wearing men’s shorts & a stained sweatshirt. 

But I’m content, more content with myself than I have been in a long time. Because the more I let go of the image I’ve clung so tightly to, the more I find permission to just be myself.

We’ve always been enough. It’s just that we’ve changed who and what defines that word.

I’m not saying that I’ve started wearing newspapers and stopped brushing my teeth. But rather that overvaluing my outward appearance created a debt in my heart.

Somewhere along the way I started asking questions to something that will never have the answers.

I stopped treating mirrors like decor and started treating them like wardens, asking for their permission to walk out the door.

I’m done being hostage to a piece of glass, an image in a book, a figure on a screen. I’m just a girl with flaws who is tired of being told that it’s a dreadful thing to truly be seen.