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.

 

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.

Lovely Letters: Stay In It

Dear Lovely One,

Yes, you. Do you know how rightly those words fit you? Like a chunky knit sweater, they were made to wrap around you and shield you from the cold.

And it gets cold, doesn’t it?

Life gets cold when¬†loneliness comes around, after the day’s laughter has faded. We are left with our thoughts about what is, what could have been, what is likely to never be.¬†And life gets painstakingly, teeth rattling cold.

But you, you are lovely and so worth loving and the world is better and brighter because you’re in it.

Stay in it. 

Those are the words I want to bundle you up in: stay in it.

Keep fighting. Because your bones are stronger than you give them credit for. Your heart is more durable than you’ve been made to believe.¬†Whoever told you that you’re too weak to walk this thing out, that you don’t have any fight left in you:¬†they lied.

Because I know that your fierce footsteps could change the world. You’ve got to keep walking.

It’s hard and we’re always bandaging scars, old ones that get re-opened and new ones that are just starting to form. It sometimes seems like we’re being put through a never-ending process of running to get bandaids and gauze: we’re looking for anything to stop the bleeding.

Let love and hope stop your bleeding.

There’s more here than what we’re seeing. There are things bigger and better than what tattered hearts and broken¬†minds can imagine. I don’t always believe it, but in my gut, I’m¬†certain that it’s true.

Because if things like sunsets, road trips, loud music, oceans, good friends and pints of ice cream exist, then there’s someone who made those things and He has even better up His sleeve.¬†We haven’t seen anything yet. The best is yet to come.

But we’ve got to keep walking, keep fighting, keep grabbing for hope and love, knowing that¬†it will all be¬†worth it. Even on the days when we’ve hit rock bottom and are seemingly at our worst, holding onto hope and love¬†will be worth it

You are lovely. In the simplest and truest way, you are lovely. And the world needs your light, your laughter, your dancing, for you to start dreaming again. You deserve to dream, to ask for better things for yourself.

You’re not alone.¬†I’m here curled up on my couch with books and blankets, tear-stained face, all to tell you that¬†we all feel the cold and that you’re not alone in that.¬†Keep holding on. There is always light, always hope, always something beautiful to be made out of the mess. If you can’t believe that yet, then let’s make a deal: you believe for me & I’ll believe for you.

Us holding these¬†broken hearts is not the end of the story. Maybe we’re just at the part where the sad songs are playing and it seems like everything we wanted went slipping through our hands. But stay tuned, because¬†there’s something good coming:¬†I can promise you that.¬†There are good things waiting for us,¬†this whole thing isn’t over yet.

Stay in it and watch what happens…we are¬†not going to be disappointed.

Lovely One: that’s who you are. Wear those words and own them, they are yours on any and every cold day that comes.

These hard times are just a brief breeze that will soon pass by.

Bundle up tight in love, and don’t let the pain¬†steal your strength.¬†Just a little further, and you’ll see that there’s so much better ahead than anything you’ve yet to¬†see.

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

I Won’t Take These Words Back

I think you’ve got to ask yourself. “Where does this pain come from?”

I think it’s okay to ask yourself where the hurt all started, and when you figure it out,¬†let’s kick it to the curb.

You’re not afraid to let people see the tidy parts of who you are, but you’re terrified of the unfinished pieces. You keep quiet because you can’t entertain the thought of letting it all spill out.¬†

Baby, let it all spill out.¬†Let it pour, let it¬†splatter¬†and run down the wood. Try not to go grasping for towels and mops anymore. Can you just let it drip, and gather in the corners? Let it settle into the cracks and crevices. I’m asking you to let it get a little messy.

Live a little, you know?¬†And let other people see you for where you are. They’ll like what they see.

I know because I like what I see in you.

And I’m not going to be afraid to look you in the eye. No, I choose¬†to see you.¬†I’m learning to not be so quick to turn my head at this generational¬†awkwardness of acknowledging another human being. I want to show you that you are worth my gaze, you are enough to make someone look your way. I choose to hold your eyes as long as you’ll let me because you’ve got a lot to offer.

You are¬†worth untangling.¬†You are worth time spent and meals shared. You are worth hearing words that are meant and not just spoken. You are worth being forgiven, even though you’re a master of breaking hearts and bruising dreams.¬†You are worth being heard.¬†I wish you really believed these words. I wish you’d soak them in, even when they are hard to hear. Even when you want to throw them in the trash along with your trust and all the times that people took these kinds of words back.¬†I¬†won’t take these words back.

So, I’m learning¬†how to turn the car around and do the things that scare the heck out of me.

Because¬†you are worth that,¬†though I don’t really know all that much about you.¬†But I know the way you’ve taught yourself to steer clear of the disappointment. I know how you require yourself to always have the upper hand.¬†I know it¬†seems¬†easier to recover from your own failures than it is from those who you¬†fail you.

They tell me you’re the hard nose, the stiff neck, the one who just can’t seem to smile, but I won’t believe it.¬†You’re entirely knit together of hope and heart.¬†I don’t care how much you iron that plaid shirt,¬†I refuse to believe you’re made of stone.

So, stand there and act like you don’t care if you’re noticed. Go on and keep pretending like you’re not worried that nobody seems to be watching. I see the way you wait for them to cross the room and come to you. I see the way your eyes follow the laughter, the way you’re looking for someone to say it…

to say, ‚Äúyou’re enough‚ÄĚ.

Well, I’m saying it. Over and over I will shout it from the rooftops if that’s what it takes for you.¬†If it takes me dancing down the highway and making pit stops at every McDonald’s along the way, I’ll keep packing these bags. I’ll come and buy you a cup of coffee and let you¬†wade through what it takes to let another heart love you.¬†You were made for love, for being loved, for learning how to live in it and from it.

It’s not because I’m so brave, but mostly because that’s what this whole living thing is really about. And I think we’ve got to learn to live a little. To stretch ourselves, to do what’s different. I think we’ve got to go places that never seemed exciting and dig in the dirt to find the treasure. Few will go far to find it, but as for me, I love a good adventure. You’re a destination where I’m choosing to stop, a beautiful sight that I’m aching to see. So, let me tell you that you’re quite enough. You’ve got something that makes me want to see what some people seem to have missed.

So this is a letter to you, the most misunderstood one in the room. I’m here to say you’ve met your match. I’m ready to kick these buckets over and have it all spill out. I’m quite certain we can paint a portion of the world with a beautiful mess like you.¬†

 

The Tightropes of Transparency

“DON’T LET THEM PAINT YOU RED.”

She reminded me of when the cards told Alice that the white roses were a mistake. I pulled pain from the cracks of my heart as I thought about how many times I had let them make me feel that way. I let my mind replay all the times they hurried to paint me red before I caused problems.

Somewhere between buying coffee in Blacksburg and chasing the sunshine along Charlotte’s horizon, I realized that it was time to surrender.

I started to understand that it wasn’t about needing stability. What I really needed was to love some strangers and to throw tangerines at trees that stood in line along the lake. I needed to sit in a crowded parking lot, five hours from home, and tell God that I was nervous and rattled; that my hands seemed to small to hold everything He’s been handing me.

I’ve got words to say and I know that you do too. I can see it in the way you pause in conversation, it always seems like you are holding your breath and waiting for the right moment. But I wish we’d just say them.¬†I wish we would stop being afraid of greatness and of the price you have to pay to hold it.¬†Because we were always meant for it, but we’re all too cheap to really go after it. The price seems to high; the price¬†to be the people that do the hard things, say the uncomfortable things, stand in the awkward gaps.

I want my hands to cramp from writing letters to strangers. I want to stay up late and fill pages with words that say you’re holding a promise that will probably change the world.¬†I want to know what it means to be unafraid of the absurdity that comes with really living.

Because they’re trying to paint all of us red.¬†They’re trying to change us, shame us and tell us that we were never good enough to knock knees and bump elbows with those who are believed to be the most important people in the room.

But we’re enough.¬†We have always been enough and I want to love you enough to tell you that.¬†I want to¬†be foolish enough to make you look me in the eyes and hear it. I want to grab your hands when we’re face to face and soak you with the kind of affirmation that unnerves the lies you’ve believed. I want to love you enough to say the words that send your insecurities running out the door. I want to make you forget all the ways your heart has been steeped in pain and show you that there are still a few people left who aren’t afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve for you, because you’re worthy of that.

I want to love others with such force that I am out of control, reckless and downright dangerous in my prayers for them. That I’m so affected by the footprints they’re making on the world that I’ll move mountains and lead armies to see them win their wars.¬†That I’ll find myself fighting for them on the carpet of my closet, my knees forming imprints and my tears making altars.

I really want to stop being too intimated to paint the room with the light that’s been put inside of me.

I want to stop thinking that I’m far too weak to ever really fill in the lines of future history books.

It’s going to be the irrational, senseless, outrageous way that we sing 90’s songs at the top of our lungs, and make facial expressions that cause the Starbucks barista to explode in laughter. It’s the little ways that we’ll learn to love people. It’s going to happen when we stain the the kitchen table with overflowing bowls of ice cream. It’s going to be brief moments that turn into hours that are laced with words like “you’ve got what it takes”¬†¬†“i’m proud of you”¬†and I’ve got your back.”

It’s not always going to be the big things that take us to the heights. Most of the time, it’s the smaller steps we take that are going to teach us how to trust when walking on the tightropes of transparency and relationship. We’re learning how to love and it’s going to be our love that changes things.

It Really Is Okay To Walk Away

Your bones were made to bear the weight of the hearts you hold.

Though they seem to be crushing you and you feel absolutely broken. Though sometimes you feel as though you’ve always been unworthy to hold them–you were made to hold the big things, things like hearts, hands & history.

I know you keep looking back at those closed doors. You keep asking if there’s more you could have done.

You’ve been so weighed down by the words they said, the words you didn’t say, and by the words you so desperately needed to hear.

Life is funny that way, the most pain usually comes from the words that were never said.

And I’m sorry to say it, but you might never hear them.

If I am being honest, they’re probably never going to knock on your door in Nicholas Sparks fashion and say all those delicately strung together apologies and promises.

I need you to be okay with that.

Because it’s time that you realize deeply in your core,¬†that sometimes, it really is okay to walk away.

It doesn’t make you weak. It does not mean you don’t love them with¬†all of your heart & all the way down to your toes.

It simply means that you gave that person their freedom.

It means that you realize you can’t hold on to someone who refuses to be held.

It also means that you decided you don’t have to live by that list of¬†rules. That you get to cut all those little strings¬†that were attached to you.

And you know what else? All the things that they did to completely rip your heart out, all those little phrases they taunted you with to make you feel inferior? Well, all of that says more about them than it does about you.

People¬†can make their assumptions, they can have their beliefs about you & the path you’re on.

These are hard times for dreamers.

You know? The ones who draw outside the lines. The world changers. The people who refuse anything less than a life that brands itself on this earth.

As for you? You’re going to be a legend.

And it’s NOT because you’re better than them and not because they couldn’t be. But because you learned a long time ago that you CAN walk away. Because you realized that your happiness, your future, your dreams, your laughter doesn’t depend on another human being.

You’re going to make the history books because you’re not too busy clenching all the small things, all the little worries & arguments. You put down your fists down a long time ago.¬†

So throw off the weights. Untangle the strings.

I know they told you that you weren’t enough.

I know someone came in and tried to poison those dreams in your heart. Using their words and glances to make you feel like all of your worst fears about yourself are actually true.

They found all the right buttons to push. They made you believe in the worst version of yourself.

But they were dead wrong. 

I know how you found your knees on the kitchen floor and your face buried in your hands. All those prayers you prayed, those sobs that were drowned out by the sound of your music screaming from your speakers. I know all the drives on back roads, silence seeming to be your only companion.

But life is more than what people do to you, more than what they take from you, more than the words they use to tie you up and box you in.

It’s a chance for you to take all of that, all of those little things that have tried to gut you, and use them for greatness. It’s a chance for you to take the words I¬†love you and wear them out on people who will¬†never say them back.¬†Because you can bear that kind of weight.¬†You can love and love and love until you’re ruined and wrecked.¬†

Because the brave ones were born to love until they’re empty. Because the idea of never loving in the first place is far worse than being crushed. They know¬†the ache of heartbreak is much better than the agony of solitude.

So, get up. Dust yourself off. Pour yourself a cup of coffee (with peppermint mocha creamer). Take a shower. Breathe. Open the windows.

Decide to love them anyway.

But walk on.