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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I’ll Tell Him That He Didn’t Fight These Last Few Years Alone

The smell of stale coffee always reminds me of a man I met on a flight bound for Seattle.

He wore a navy blue hoodie and dark framed glasses. He crossed his chest in prayer before we lifted off and touched the ground.

When I saw him again three days later boarding the same flight as me I will never forget the same look of wonder and astonishment we shared. What were the chances that two complete strangers would book the exact same flights and sit so close together?

I wish that the story was more profound than it is. But mostly we just stuck close together out of familiarity and then kind of shook our heads in speechless amazement when we said goodbye at the gate.

But sometimes I think of him and I wonder how he is. I wonder if he still prays, if he still watches Oscar nominated pictures. I think about him because in that moment and time we were two humans who banded together out of what seemed to be a coincidence of circumstance. We knew each other more than we knew anyone else on that plane (which wasn’t saying much because we didn’t know each other at all). But it’s amazing that one previous encounter tied us to each other just a little bit, just enough to make us closer than an absolute stranger.

I still think about him when I’m in an airport or when I tell stories about weird things that have happened to me on planes. I think of him, I smile, and I pray for him. I can’t help but think about how crazy that is, that a chance encounter made him the object of another person’s prayers. I wonder about the people that I’ve bumped into at banks or met in the line at grocery stores…maybe sometimes they pray for me.

Maybe there’s a woman with big green eyes who met me at a cinema. Maybe she sometimes laughs at the girl with the southern accent and sends up a prayer for her when she smells buttered popcorn.

I’ve started to wonder about these kinds of people, the people that sometimes waft back through my memories. Maybe they’re the people that God puts in front of us because somewhere, in their corner of the universe, they’re fighting a battle and thinking that they have always been just a face in an airport that no one ever remembered.

Maybe the things we notice and the people we remember are branded on us for a reason that far extends the moment we know them or the amount of time we interact with them. Maybe the reason God gave us a memory was to fight the lies someone is believing that say there is nothing special about them, nothing that makes them stick around in a heart years after a plane landed.

We love in a movie when someone remembers what the other was wearing the first time they met. We love the little details, the little tokens someone held onto from a first date. But we don’t always value the memories we store for the people we might never see again.

Years ago I started realizing that there must be more to the impressions people make on our lives; because our mind’s ability to store these random memories has to be for a bigger purpose than just sitting inside of our heads.

Maybe it’s not just strangers, but maybe it’s the girl who sat next to us in third grade or the co-worker we had in high school. The people who were for a brief time in a world, but somehow still manage to come bouncing through our memory from time to time; the ones that give us this slightly inexplicable feeling that they’re tied to us as more than just a random person we once knew.

Someday I hope that I board a flight to Seattle and he’s there. It seems improbable, but I won’t say impossible because we managed to find the same plane twice in our lives. And if he is, and if we do, I’ll tell him that he didn’t fight these last few years alone. I’ll make a toast with stale airplane coffee to praying for strangers and knowing that God gave us a mind and a heart that stores things for greater and bigger purposes than we’ll probably ever fully know.

 

 

The Plans We Make + The People We Keep

It has now become public knowledge that I recently left my job. But this blog is not about that.

This post is also not about the number of mornings or evenings I’ve spent crying in my kitchen floor this week, although I could probably release a few full length novels on the subject.

It’s more about sitting in a parking lot on a Friday afternoon and venting through a telephone line to my sister. I can’t even remember the question she asked me, but I remember the tears that stung my eyes and that every single fiber of my being rose to the occasion to answer it.

Nothing is constant.

I remember God telling me that when I lived in Georgia and was in the middle of panicking over something that would soon be just a blip in the rearview mirror. “Nothing in this world is constant, love. You’ve got me. I’m always here, but everything else changes.”

Part of me wanted to despair at His words. It seems like an awful way to live, never being able to fully anticipate the future. But I felt a sort of freedom wash over me because it meant that few of my choices would be set in stone. These things that get me so tied up in knots wouldn’t and couldn’t ruin my life because they would never be a constant.

I never intended to take a job that I would quit in seven months.

I never intended to be left without a plan.

Believe me when I tell you I pretty much didn’t intend on anything that’s happened in the last week and a half.

And months later staring at a set of poorly trimmed hedges, I said something that I felt to be fiercely true: all we have are the people we choose to keep. Those words broke me when they came out of my mouth because they are the only thing that have been proven true in the instability of my life.

Plans change. Dreams change. Nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) ever turns out the way you intend. Jobs don’t work out. You fail classes. People die. Families get faced with unimaginable battles. You find in the midst of a world that seems so cruel and full of disappointment that the only thing you really have control over is today and the people you want to stand next to.

I am convinced that this is one of the million reasons Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow. Because tomorrow is not what you think it is, tomorrow always changes. Your emotions will be different tomorrow, your plans, your circumstances, and you cannot live your life based on those things. They are forever going to change and you cannot anticipate what they will look like.  When you live trying to plan for them, you will lose out on today.

I’ve missed a lot of really good todays worrying about tomorrow.

Today there are things and people in front of you that are there for today and that’s what you know. That will be consistent as long as you have today. I’m convinced that the only way to make a decision is to realize the fragility and beauty in that.

My job has ended, but the relationships with the people are what I will choose to keep. Just like when I moved away from Georgia, from home, from other jobs and places.

Because during a bad diagnosis, a failed dream, a deep loss, or a huge success, what you’ll be sitting shoulder to shoulder with are not the plans you made, but the people you chose to keep.

Last night I got in my car and drove to my best friend’s house. I came inside and we covered up with blankets and just let all of the pain and frustration from the week come out. In the moment of being my best and worst version all I could think about was that line from earlier in the afternoon: all we have are the people we choose to keep.

Our friendship has been one of distance, miles, phone calls, meeting in the middle, but it has been one of the best decisions of our lives. When it all starts falling apart, my job isn’t the place that offers me a warm bed, a cup of coffee, and a place to clear my head. My failed or passed class doesn’t sit with me in my pain, anger, uncertainty, or lack of clarity. The poster of dreams I drew up five years ago won’t look me in the eye and remind me that I’m going to be okay, and that I’m not going to get stuck, there’s just no way God would let that happen. The friend we chose to keep in the inconvenience of circumstances, uncertainty of plans, and instability of emotions is the person who sat with us last night and reminded us that no matter what plans we make or change, we’re not alone.

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from one of those now former co-workers and she offered me a sort of invitation that stopped me in my tracks. She simply invited me to be a person she can choose to keep.

Even though my job changed. The circumstances are different. The constants I had planned fell through. I heard that sweet reminder again: all we have is Jesus, the people we choose to keep, and the people who offer us an invitation to be the same.

 

My Birthday, Jack Bauer, and Fighting Back

My 24th year of life was somewhat similar to the tv show 24. Ironically enough, it was also the year in which I watched all eight seasons of the show and fell in love with Jack Bauer and also Tony Almeida. But not Sherry Palmer, she was legit the craziest person television has ever seen (except for Deb from One Tree Hill).

Anyway, my 24th year of life was like that show in that it was a lot of sleepless nights feeling like I had to save America. Except I am not Jack Bauer and I failed us because Marco Rubio is not President. I tried, but my methods of coercion are a lot less persuasive than Jack’s.

But as I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I’ve found that it was a year of fighting back. It was about finding some stability, standing back up and dusting myself off. It was one of letting go, grabbing back on, and letting go all over again.

Fighting back came in the form of moving to a town where no one knew my name, my face, my history. We didn’t have strings, years of history swimming between us. It came in the form of solitude, getting rid of the voices that told me who I was supposed to be. It took getting alone in a city of strangers to find out who I really am, who I always was, and who I am free to be.

I had to find my footing again. My voice. I had to hear God on my own, without the temptation of distraction. I had to find him in the silence, in the stillness between my own four walls. I had to learn how to stop being afraid of the darkness. I had to learn how to ask questions that ripped my heart to pieces. I had to weigh costs that and decisions that felt impossible to make. I had to learn how to open my doors to my home, to my heart, and risk that it may only be for a season. I had to believe it would still be worth it.

I had to learn how to make speeches that have been stirring in me for years. I was finally able to let go of the pain and regret of unsaid words. I prayed and I still pray that I learn from that pain and I don’t spend so much time in fear. I pray I’ve become the person to take chances and say the things that are worth saying to the people worth saying them to.

I had to learn to laugh. To make plans. To finally plan a birthday that didn’t make me cry, to no longer feel obligated to make that one day a day of redemption and atonement for everything that goes wrong the other 364. I had to learn that boundaries are good and beautiful, that you must embrace and often welcome pain when it comes, but you don’t necessarily have to invite it.

I had to choose to see that holding yourself and others to unrealistically high expectations is rooted in pain and a fear of disappointment. Disappointment is not nearly as bad as your fear of it. The anticipation of everything is always so much worse than the actual thing itself. Worry and dread are the enemy. The results you can live with, it’s the turmoil of inaction that will nearly kill you.

Here at the beginning of 25 I realize that there is still so much I don’t have figured out, there are so many opportunities that sit in front of me and the ever present temptation to be overwhelmed by the options and possible outcomes. But if 24 taught me anything it’s that taking chances is worth it. Nothing ever turns out the way you imagine or anticipate, but it often gives you a gift that far exceeds your expectation. Life and God have a funny way of presenting the right people and places at exactly the right time, and so when you find yourself wanting to dive in, it’s usually got something worth offering to you.

Dive in. Sit in the silence. Weigh the cost. Fight back. Say the thing you need to say. Life is a gift, the opportunities and people in front of you are the best part and every time you let yourself grab onto them, you always find something worth holding onto.