God made both Truth and Beauty, yet we humans have managed to confuse these two so that they’re not always clear cut and easy to spot.
Before I was Catholic I wasn’t even sure there was such a thing as objective Truth. I was more of a subjective Truth-seeker. If it seems true to you, then it must be true to you. If it seems true to me (even if my truth is different from yours) then it must be true to me. After all, who are we to claim Divine knowledge and say that we alone have the Truth, and others who are trying to follow God have mistakenly interpreted the scriptures and they only “think” their interpretations are True? But, since there can’t be multiple “Truths” and Truth can’t contradict Truth, there must be one Truth, which means other interpretations are wrong.
But that’s not really what I wanted to write about today. What I wanted to write about today is much more down-to-earth, with only a hint of philosophical edge to it. I want to write about Beauty.
God’s creation is beautiful. He has written beauty into the framework of His creation: from the celestial bodies that we view on a clear summer’s night, to the microscopic designs of a DNA strand; from the fragrant smell of lilacs on a warm spring day to the cool and soothing sounds of a waterfall splashing in a forest glade. Who doesn’t love puppies? Or babies? God’s creation is evident in new life and most of us delight in watching young puppies romp in the pet store window or children blowing soap bubbles. I doubt if we would find much disagreement among people that these things are beautiful.
But I have a problem with beauty when it is dictated by popular culture; specifically when it refers to girls and women and how we should look. Despite 50 years or more of “women’s liberation,” beauty pageants and fashion shows are still popular ways of stereotyping women’s beauty. Perhaps it’s because I’m now approaching 50 myself that I’m finally comfortable enough with my own skin to go on record as opposing these objectifications of women. Yet part of me is still imprisoned by society’s dictations. I still want to lose 20 pounds. I still wear make-up and “do” my hair. I still spend more time mulling over “how I look” than my husband does.
Some programs are trying to make inroads into this issue. Groups like Pure Fashion started out with a noble objective: Help young girls see that true beauty comes from within and that our choices in clothing should reflect that inner beauty. But I’m troubled by the amount of money these girls are asked to invest in their accessories, hair and make-up for these modesty fashion shows. I’m also distressed when I see most of the girls who are chosen to model look very similar to the girls you’d see in a typical teen fashion magazine. Once again, a program whose goal was to transform the idea of beauty reinforces the stereotypical idea of beauty. If that wasn’t enough, the spokeswoman for Pure Fashion herself is drop-dead gorgeous. Tall (5’9”), blonde, size 8 (yes, I read her comps on her website). She’s not just a former fashion model, she IS a fashion model who is married to a model and has three model kids. (Yes, I found that on her website as well).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s bad to be drop-dead gorgeous. Personally, I’d love to look like her. But that’s the problem. I want my girls to be beautiful from the inside out and not spend inordinate amounts of time or money on making a beautiful façade for the world’s pleasure. I want them to spend inordinate amounts of time making their inner-selves beautiful for God’s pleasure.
I don’t know if women will ever be able to dispose of our preoccupation with outward so-called beauty. We instinctively want to please men (and perhaps prove to other women we’re not homely). Yet, there are hopeful signs. There are young orders of women religious who shun fashionable attire, make-up and hair-dos and don simple habits that somehow transform them all into radiant beauties.
I’m still trying to figure out what true Beauty is. I know it when I see it in creation, but I’m still trying to figure out how to apply that to my life as a woman who wants to look like a 20-something fashion model even into her 50’s and beyond. I fear I may be focusing on the wrong aspect of Beauty. My husband tells me I’m beautiful…even on those days when I don’t feel very beautiful at all. He’ll even tell me I’m beautiful when I wake up in the morning and my hair is wonked up and my eyes are puffy. Maybe he sees something in me that we all need to see within ourselves.
There you have it: the convoluted ramblings of a woman who wants to look like a fashion model but doesn’t want to want to look like a fashion model or have her daughters aspire to look like fashion models.