Lately I have been thinking about beauty. Who would you say is the most beautiful woman in the world? Scarlett Johansson? Beyoncè? Any of the Victoria Secret models? What makes them beautiful? Flawless skin? Flowing locks? Shapely curves? In what ways do you consider yourself beautiful? Your best physical attributes? The things you would keep when you look in the mirror? The cute outfit that makes you feel extra confident?
As women, we are inundated with what the world says is beautiful. We would like to think that we are deep and not subject to the superficial, but the truth is we spend about $100 BILLION a year in beauty products trying to look pretty and stay young. That astronomical number pales in comparison to the amount of money we spend on anything involving weight loss. When a cream says it will take away my fine lines and repair my blemished skin, I am feeling I need that magic cream. In the face of fundraisers for worthy causes, I am more likely to update my wardrobe from the sale rack at J.Crew, reasoning that it was an extra 40% off. Despite considering myself as practical and secure in who I am, I can still be a total sucker in my pursuit of beauty.
“This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Ecclesiastes 2:26; 4:4; 4:16; 6:9
Within the daily barrage of images about what is “beautiful” according to media, there are the quieter, less obvious pictures of real beauty I get the privilege of seeing when my eyes are graciously opened. It takes some reprogramming. We are programmed to think that gray hair, wrinkles, no makeup, and no accessories are worse than the opposite. Thankfully, my mom has not bought into that thought or does not care to indulge it. Most Korean adults start dying their hair black as soon as any white threatens their crown. Even with others calling her grandma well before she officially became one, she let her early white hairs alone. She rarely wears any make up. The only jewelry she puts on is her wedding ring. I never learned to groom myself from her (it took college girlfriends my senior year to educate me on eyebrow maintenance). While my dad had said that he would be ok if I wanted eyelid surgery, my mom quickly and firmly responded with the nicer equivalent of a “He-e-e-e-e-ll, no!!” Even though I would have loved bigger eyes (that the world tells me is more beautiful than my small Asian ones), I never gave it a serious thought after her response.
Even now as age attempts to hide her natural beauty, my 71 year-old mom is one of the most beautiful women I know. Her white hair represents her wisdom, and her wrinkles are a result of her years of industry. Her plain, makeup-less face has been the countenance of compassion to the sick she has visited and fed. Her unseen accessories are the faithful prayers she offers each week with her prayer team. Her disregard for the worldly standards of beauty ironically confirms her actual accomplishment of that ideal.
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30
In the same way, the other most beautiful woman I know is my friend Grace. It is not because she could make it on the cover of Vanity Fair right now. It is because despite her bald head and taut face she exudes beauty to any who has the privilege of being in her presence. The last eighteen months of courageously fighting pancreatic cancer have brought the worst physical torture, mental stress, emotional agony, and spiritual struggle. In the world’s eyes, this disease has robbed my friend of her natural beauty. But in actuality, it has revealed the wellspring of incomparable beauty she has within her.
With dry mouth and limited energy, Grace told me that she is thankful His love for her allowed this cancer to come into her life to bring her from a dark place spiritually to this newfound joy of true abiding. Let me just make it clear that before cancer she was like most of us: serving God, worrying about finances, trying to lose weight, relaxing with adult beverages, stressing about preschool for her son, and working the daily grind. He has brought her to such a pure place spiritually that she considers that past of worldly concerns as “dark” and in need of His merciful intervention. What is so beautiful about her is her constant testimony to His goodness in the face of extreme hardship. What is so beautiful is her desire to let the world know as much as possible that He has been her strength, that in her life-shattering difficulty she is not without mistakes or sin but with Him she is able to endure. This is a time when many would rather spit in God’s face. Yet she chooses to praise Him. What is more beautiful than that? Not supermodels, not losing 100 pounds, not having the smoothest complexion. All the nonsense of the world fades away to nothing when I am in the aura of my friend’s beauty.
The minute I leave her I look at a picture and see my wrinkled forehead, my disappearing eyes, and my flat chest. It is so hard to maintain seeing beauty in its truth when human nature and all of the world around us battles against it. But I am determined to be reprogrammed. I am determined to remember that women like my mom and Grace are really THE most beautiful. I am thankful for their example. May my efforts and investments be towards the more worthy pursuit of this true beauty.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18