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.

 

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Why I Won’t Pursue a Man

Relationships and opinions about them are sticky.

People get passionate and everyone has an opinion. I think it’s something that we all work out, a choice that is ours to make. I can’t and don’t judge anyone’s personal journey, or the way they feel like God calls them to pursue romance.

As for me, I can state this (after much wrestling and questioning):

I can not and will not pursue a man.

Feminism is becoming a common doctrine of our world, and because of it, there is a question of whether or not women can approach a man in the way that they’ve been forbidden to in the past.

I’m not going to answer that for humanity. But as for me, I have one desire:

I want the (and yes, I said “the”) man that God has for me. God cares for the birds, so I believe that He intimately cares about my husband. He is sovereign over that. I believe that, I’ve prayed for that and I live my life trusting for that.

My entire life, I’ve wanted a man whose life is committed and unquestionably sacrificed to Jesus. I want a dead man, whose own life means nothing to Him, who doesn’t want a Sunday morning Jesus, but is branded by the very God who has wrecked my entire life.

And, yes, we’re going to be equal.

We deserve the same privileges and respect, we are both fully human and should be loved and valued equally. But there’s an order, a way that the Bible calls me to be. It says that I will be submissive, it says that my husband will love me as Christ loves the church.

To be submissive appears to be contrary to everything that makes sense to me. I’m independent, opinionated, passionate, argumentative. But if someone loves me sacrificially, unconditionally, I can (and want to) submit to that.

The problem is, we don’t trust men to love us as Christ loves the church. In a lot of ways, that makes sense. They’re imperfect, they mess up, they aren’t Jesus. No one will love me like Jesus, this is something that I must accept.

But my husband’s desire will be to love me in that way. My desire (though it won’t always happen) will be to submit.

I want that to start as soon as I meet him, as soon as the pursuit begins.

If I want a man that loves me, the way Christ loves the church, then that’s going to point me toward this belief:

Christ came for his church. He chose me, I did not choose Him.

I was the responder. Yes, I got a choice. I was given the right decide whether or not I wanted to enter into that relationship. AND I knew what God’s intentions were toward me in that relationship (and if I didn’t, I was free to ask!)

But He found me, He chose me, He came for me.

I want a husband, a man, who has that quality stained in the core of his heart, his behavior, his choices.

I can submit to that. I can say “yes” to that. And it might surprise you, but I feel respected, equal, free, and valued in that.

Feminists everywhere might nail me to a cross. That’s fine, I’ll loan you my hammer. This is something I am willing to put my life up for. This is something that I will not compromise. This is because it is one of the biggest decisions I will ever make. The man I marry will be my partner, my advocate, my leader. He will be the father of my children. He will need to be responsible, he will need to be bold and he will need to know what he wants and how to pursue it.

When we are ninety, I will wipe the drool from his cheek, bathe him, feed him mashed potatoes. And he will sit with me when I’m frail, he will pray with me, he will still stand up to fight for me…(even if he knows the other guy could take him).

I want someone stronger than me. And if that’s the hammer I hand you, the thing that makes you call me old fashioned, weak, or irrelevant…well, I’ve been called a lot worse.

You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to believe that this is the path for your life, I’m not telling you it is. This is me, this is what I’ve chosen, and these are my reasons.

All of them because I fell in love with a man, with holes in his hands, who comes, fights for, and pursues his bride.

I want my life to mirror that on this earth. On earth, if I ever get married, I’m going to be a bride; so, I don’t want to, at any point, act like the groom.

Lovely Letters: Getting Out of “The Friend Zone”

He told me that he thought of me as a friend. All my friends tell me to move on and that I should just throw in the towel, but I honestly don’t think I could find a guy more perfect for me. What should I do?

Sincerely, Friend Zoned

 

Dear Friend Zoned,

It came down to me and my best friend. She and I were sitting on the cold tile floor, in front of the filing cabinets, when he said he liked us both, but he knew he had to choose.

We were seven years old. I just sat there patiently waiting.

My odds weren’t looking good. My best friend was beautiful and she knew how to color better than I did. She was nicer than me, taller than me, her hair was straight (mine was tangled, curly and tragic).

He didn’t even know all the good stuff about me.

The only things he knew were things like: I was terrible at art, I was a painfully enthusiastic evangelist and that I carried a green Tarzan lunch box. These are not cool qualities for a seven-year-old girl.

He chose me and that, dear friend, will forever be the greatest mystery of my childhood.

There was no good reason for it. It wasn’t my dazzling/witty personality, my sense of fashion (unless I missed the memo that said my best look was high water jeans and t-shirts). It was just the mystery of life, the unexplainable reasons of why we love some people and why we don’t choose others.

I don’t have all the answers about love or how this whole thing works. I know that some people stay with their high-school sweethearts, some girls marry a guy they met online, some people never find anybody and I can’t tell you why.

What I can tell you is that if you get the chance at a love story, make it a good one. Don’t choose your hero to be someone who doesn’t even own a white horse, don’t let your heart ache for a man who is looking for Cinderella in other places.

This is your story. You can make it epic, but only if you decide to use the best characters. I know he’s probably incredible, I have no doubt that this guy you’re talking about (your best friend) is likely a good fit for you.

But the reality is that he wants to be cast in a different role and he wants to be the leading man of another story. You know how I know that’s true?

Because “When a man loves a woman… can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else. He’d trade the world for a good thing he’s found.” 

Those might be cheesy lyrics that came dancing through the radio when my Mama was just six years old, but I promise you they are not just some fantasy. I know this because I have a Daddy who looked up toward God himself and said that he would never marry another woman if he didn’t marry my Mama. Once he met her, he was ruined; she was the only woman he could see. They’ve been married almost 30 years and he’s never taken his eyes off of her.

It’s out there and it’s good. I know we’ve all seen a lot of broken marriages, relationships, even friendships, but the real thing exists. Maybe I’m childish and crazy for believing it, but I promise you that I’ve lived on the hopeless side of not believing it and that didn’t make heartbreak any easier or protect me from any pain.

I’d rather live with this crazy notion that the right man is going to come knocking on my door at any minute than to sit around hoping that one day a guy I’ve been secretly pining for will finally decide, after months and years, he likes me and take me on a real date.

You deserve more. I know that as nice as those words are, they’re not always easy to hear (believe me, I’m well acquainted with that reality). I’ve been where you are and I know it’s hard to let go. I know that he probably makes you feel alive all the way to the tips of your fingers, but at the end of the day, those fingers of yours still aren’t laced with his and you can’t make that happen.

It doesn’t really matter if your hair is perfect or you are good at coloring the right one will pick you. He will choose you in a world full of a billion other possibilities. It may not even make sense, but he’ll set his sight on you and Tarzan lunch boxes and bad blue jeans won’t change his mind. But if he’s looking for another girl or telling you that you’re not the right one, you’ve got to start dreaming for better things. A good man will be up front and let you know how he feels; even seven year old boys eventually make their choice and make it known. You’ve got to start believing that it is worth waiting for someone who looks you right in your pretty little eyes and says, “This is it for me, it’s you or it’s nobody.”

I’m no expert, friend. I’m just a girl who still believes that she’ll get chosen without having to always convince him of all the good stuff. He’ll love me without me having to jump and wave my arms in front of his face, without me having to buy better blue jeans or discover hair taming products. It will be a mystery to me, but he’ll see someone worth bringing flowers to and someone worth adoring and I think I can wait a little longer for a man like that.

You’re worth that kind of love, sweet girl. I believe it is out there, but chances are you won’t find it waiting around in the friend zone.

Ashlin

Lovely Letters: When Hate Walks In

Of all the e-mails I’ve ever received, I haven’t had one hit me quite the way this one did. I’m grateful to be able to receive words like these and to have an open invitation to share my thoughts about them on this blog. Thanks to all my readers who are being so open and vulnerable. Your words change me in ways I can’t explain.

Somehow, it took a turn for the worst and he was yelling things at me that no one should hear. “You aren’t worth my time / I’m so stupid for being here / You aren’t worth anything / Just stop talking”   I had never felt so unsafe and violated as I did that night…. I ended the relationship and friendship all in one. It’s never easy walking away from someone you’ve known for a long time, but I had to do it.

 -Ann

Darling Ann,

Your words took me back to a day in my parents’ living room. Scrolling through e-mails, I opened one that I had been anxiously waiting for. And there, in Times New Roman font, sat three words that I never thought anyone (especially not someone who had been so close to me) would ever say.

…go to hell…

As plain as day, in black and white… those words just sat there sandwiched between a few other words and sentences that were equally as blunt and painful. Granted, people have said worse, but when words like that come out of a clear blue sky, it’s quite a kick to the gut.

The truth is, I don’t know much about what you believe about God or about His voice, but I heard Him speak clearly to me in that moment. Despite what you may think, I think the words I heard Him say are just as much for you as they were for me.

“It’s not your fault.”

Let that sink in. It’s not your fault. Nothing you said, or did, or didn’t do, could ever merit someone saying those words to you. I don’t care how much blame they can stack on your shoulders, it will never justify being told that you have no worth.

Darling Ann, I’m sorry he was that coldI know how that in that moment you didn’t recognize his face and that his voice must have sounded like a stranger. I know that feeling all to well, and I know that the way it leaves you limping.

You might need a crutch for a few weeks or months. You may need some shoulders to lean on. But don’t lay down in it, love; don’t you dare lay down in those words. Because you are made to lean into words like “you’ve always been enough / you are worth my affection / i’ll always come running / time with you is never wasted” 

You did exactly what you should have: you walked away. I did the same thing, once upon a time, on a rainy night at Starbucks. It started with some yelling, it ended with my eyes closed and the words “it’s okay and I forgive you” tumbling out of my mouth.

Truly, I did forgive him. And somehow, after that, I knew I’d never again carry the weight of those words he tried to paint me with. Since that day, I haven’t been angry or bitter. I haven’t carted around loads of underlying rageHonestly, I haven’t thought of him much at all. Since that day, we haven’t spoken and most likely, we never will. Because he is just a person I used to know, who said some things that, for about five minutes, actually mattered. If I saw him at the grocery store tomorrow, I’d smile at him (like I do every passing stranger) and I would keep looking at the cereals or yogurt and that would be that.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some good times. We had some fun car rides, laughter that would make your belly hurt. He wasn’t always so cruel, we had some golden days. But I let all of that go, soon after I read those three words in that e-mail. Not because I didn’t value the good times we had, but because they became only stories when he brought hate to the party.

And I’m not willing to sit next to hate for a few good stories and some sweeter e-mails I saved in their own little folder.

Love and I just kindly smiled to one another and decided to get our groove on elsewhere.  I think that’s what you’re needing too. It’s okay to decide to leave the party and head back home. Have a few nights spent wrapped in a big comfy sweater, buy yourself some yellow tulips, sit down with a mug of Tazo Zen tea (that’s the best kind), and soak in some peace and quiet. It’s okay to take some time for yourself. Take some time, Darling Ann, because you’ve just been through a battle. You’re coming out swinging, and you my dear, are looking mighty fine with your arms raised in victory. But even so, I want you to sit and take a breath. Steep in the truth of who you are and who you’ll always be.

You’ll always be the girl who is worth good words, and the love of a steady man who doesn’t kick you after backing you into a corner.

I’m proud of you for knowing that you had to walk away, for being strong enough to actually do it, and not just sitting around wishing you could. You, precious girl, are the envy of many women who have walked in your shoes. There have been countless women who have prayed for the strength to get up off the ground, slam the door and start over again.

You’re doing it, you are plowing new fields, finding new skies, and I’m so proud of you that I could burstYou make that eighteen-year old version of me cheer loudly because me and you, we are a force and we are fierce and we are not going to be made small. 

You remind me, even years later, that a girl has got to fight for her right to leave the dang party.

You and I, we left the party when hate came in the room and that’s more than most people ever dream of doing. While they sit quietly, afraid to make a move (afraid of what they’ll do next if they lose something or someone) we are dancing, jiving, moonwalking out that door and it’s a beautiful sight.

The ones who know when it’s time to go home and to get the heck out of here… they are the ones who keep the light in their eyes.

So while you’re dancing home tonight, know that you’re shining brighter than the street lights hanging above you. You are absolutely stunning, Darling Ann, with the way that you’re twirling in that dress and waltzing with the moon.

I’m proud of you. Not just for the way you walked away, but for knowing that you’re better because of it. You are my brand of brave, you’re pure gold, you are a girl after my own heart. You never even needed any of these words to know that you’re going to be just fine, but nonetheless they are yours.

Here’s to you, and to me, and to my absolute certainty that the girls like us will always keep dancing in the street!

Love, Ashlin

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I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Lovely Letters is a series that happens every Wednesday! I’ve gotten such an amazing e-mail response from many of my readers and I try to respond to as many as I can directly; and some of them have inspired me to share thoughts and ideas on my blog. You guys seriously inspire me and what you’re going through is universal and I think other people need to hear that they’re not alone.

So… if you’re interested in inspiring the next Lovely Letters post, send me an e-mail and let me know what’s going on in your life. I absolutely love hearing from all of you!

E-mail:  ashlinkayh@gmail.com

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A Letter to The Ledge

“I refuse to be another stepping stone.”

I believed her.

“Why am I the last step before someone finds their greatest adventure? Here I am, just a stone to be stepped on.”

It was easy for me to stay quiet. To sip my latte and just listen because I know that ache. I’ve felt that kind of frustration coil itself around my muscles. Time passes and it just ties and tightens those knots of disappointment.

I didn’t have words that would wrap her wounds with the kind of healing they were begging for.

But I think I have some things to say now. I think I’ve got a letter to write to the ones out there just like her.

Darling, You are not simply a step. You are a ledge.

Oh, and when they step off your steady ground, they are left free falling and it seems like the time of their lives. Breath rushing to their lungs, the world full of possibility. Everything feels so free.

But they always come crashing–down, down, down. Just know they will hit the water every single time.

After that, it’s nothing but work. Swimming and holding their breath. Strokes of effort over and over again trying to find the dry land they once knew. It doesn’t take them long to remember you. Steady ground’s beauty starts flooding their memory as they choke on the waves of the unreliable waters they left you for.

You are a steady, strong, awe-inspiring ledge. You are exciting. You bring a sense of adventure, but you’re solid and dependable and you are where people climb great and far distances to stand.

But there are going to be few who climb to your great heights.

From where I’m standing, reaching a peak like you is a long way to travel. Only the brave and strong will go that far. But there are going to be those who make it and who still leave you for the sake of plummeting into the waters below. Because the dive seems like the climax of their journey.

But just know, they missed it all if they missed you. The dive may have lasted for a minute, but the view they had from standing with you will burn itself into the deepest parts of who they are. 

Oh, they’ll be carrying you around for years to come.

Even if they’re far too proud to admit it.

But baby, they’re probably not going to climb all the way back to you. Because very few can take the kind of journey it takes to win a heart like yours twice. But, that’s okay. Other climbers are coming and one of them just won’t be able to leave that horizon that they see from the firm earth below their feet.

You were never a stepping stone. You were a ledge that led to the free fall of the ones who were never meant to hold your heart.

But you are a thing of beauty to the brave ones. You are a glorious destination to the traveler who knows the value of the view versus the temporary excitement of the jump.

You’re a firm ledge, darling. You’re a perfectly lovely piece of this breathtaking earth. And you are worth the climb and worth the one who builds a home where you are.

You will never be just another stepping stone.

You’re Not a “Plan B” Kind of Girl

You deserve better than someone who is afraid to commit to you. It may seem like enough for now. You’re just taking things slow. Oh, how I know those little phrases of “one day” and we just need time.

You believe them.
And I’ve believed them.

But you’re not a “Plan B” kind of girl.

You need to know that you’re not the invisible one standing in the back who gets chosen last.

You’re the girl who the team captain will be frantically hoping doesn’t get picked by someone else before he gets a turn. You’re a first-pick kind of girl, and no one worth having sits back and lets those girls wait around. Because every good man knows that the good ones get gone fast.

He should be jumping out of his skin in anticipation to call out your name and say “I pick you.”

But he’s scared…and I’ve got commitment issues…and we don’t like labels.

And.  And.  And.

Like a fool, I’ve stood there picking at the fabric of my sweater and spinning excuses. I’ve heard them all. I’ve used them all.

He’s been hurt. He’s busy. He’s in school. He doesn’t have a good car. He has Momma issues. His Dad left. His Great Aunt’s second cousin’s puppy just died.

You’re not the kind of girl who needs to make excuses for him.

Good girls shouldn’t and don’t have to finish last.

Honey, you must be at the wrong game and with the wrong players, because you’re not a substitute, average, or second string.

You’re a catch. You are beautiful and funny and fabulous. Rooms light up when you walk in. Heads turn when you giggle and the earth itself adores the kiss of your feet.

You are worthy to be chosen, pursued, adored, loved, respected and informed. This whole “Do we really have to define this thing?” is almost always a delicate way of asking “Will you fill this lonely spot until I decide nothing better is coming along?”

Stop being afraid that you are not worthy enough to be claimed. Stop thinking “I’ll take what I can get. Maybe I will be enough for him one day. Maybe he will be enough for me.”

Don’t even consider the lie that says I can’t set my standards too high, because if I do, I might end up alone.”

Better to be alone than taken for granted. Better to be alone than to be a placeholder.

The one that loves you isn’t afraid to say it. If he cares about you, he won’t even blink because the idea of giving another man the chance to swoop in is just unacceptable.

He will fight and use labels or poems or the Goodyear blimp to show you that you’re just the right fit for that open place in his heart, that no other piece will do.

You should be nobody’s second choice.

He will lose his pride to tell you that you make him nervous and he will spend his heart to find what makes you laugh. He will tell you that you’re worth words and flowers and promises.

And you will believe him, because you’ll see it in the way he watches you walk across a room. You won’t have to question it by analyzing a text message or deciphering the tone of an e-mail. He will drive over on a Tuesday to bring you coffee and you’ll see it in his face and hear it in the way he asks about your day.

Your answer will lie in the memories of nervous beginnings and awkward introductions. You’ll know because the questions didn’t take long to fade. Because he said what he meant and meant what he said. And even when he messed up, he made up.

You’re not his back pocket plan, fill-in girl, or multiple choice answer. You are fierce and a force to be reckoned with and the kind of girl whose beauty calls for hand-written notes, words like “wow” and car rides to the ocean.

Take nothing else and be nothing less.

Be the kind of girl who deserves him and treats him with kindness. Who laughs at his jokes and thanks him when he opens your door. Leave the head games behind you. Encourage him and wear the kinds of dresses that make him respect you. Be the kind of girl who gasps at his surprises and hugs him for his compliments. Be worthy of the kind of man that you deserve and & the man that he was born to be.

Stop waiting for the guy who isn’t sure you’re enough and respect yourself enough to wait for the one that knows you are.


Hey, there’s more!

After a lot of awesome feedback, I’ve written a second article that kind of follows up to this one and is really the reverse side. This article Men Are Not Made For Cages is an encouragement for men. Check it out!