“Beauty is about the One who handcrafted women in his own image. Beauty is who we are, by design.”
I grew up in the conservative subculture of Midwestern evangelicalism where good girls didn’t wear bikinis. About my growing, changing body I heard, “Bad, cover it up, no one wants to see that at the church picnic.” I heard, “shame, shame, shame.”
No one said those words, but as a young, awkward girl, over-aware of how people viewed me, that’s what I received. I was back in the garden with Eve, naked and ashamed, only I was fully clothed and ashamed.
The message I heard wasn’t about modesty and honoring, or about beauty. It was about upholding an image of a ‘good’ girl, it was about the shame of a woman’s body. I learned the lesson well, hid my shape, and didn’t feel beautiful for years.
Now, I live in a fascinating swirl of three cultures: American, French, and Djiboutian. Now, I am not a young girl being told what is appropriate or not. Instead, I have two daughters. What am I going to tell them, show them? They watch the world of skin and fabric spin around them in Djibouti. They see French women in strappy tanks, Somali women with their faces veiled, American women in linen pants or peasant skirts. They watch their mother glance in the mirror. What do they see? What do they hear?
They see stretch marks and a Caesarean scar. They see those funny red dots that come with getting older. They see the effects of marathoning and P90X. May they never hear or see or sense that mom needs to hide that scar and those red dots, that mom is ashamed of her stretch marks, that mom needs the muscle tone to feel beautiful.
These stretch marks are proof of life, twins carried to full term. This scar is the result of victory over a sudden, would-be in utero death. The red dots are a mystery (anyone know?) and the muscle tone is because I love to run, not because I am chasing beauty. May they never hear me say I need to hide this life-bearing, scarred, powerful body. Honor it, respect it as a gift, yes. But not hide it, not as a shame.
I want my girls to know about modesty. I want them to know about honoring themselves and the opposite sex. But even more, I want them to know about beauty and that beauty isn’t in a shape or a size. Beauty isn’t something they can earn by wearing a low-cut shirt. Beauty isn’t something they can earn by wearing a turtleneck sweater. Beauty is not something attained or painted on or comparable to others. Beauty is not the presence of muscle tone or the absence of stretch marks. Beauty is not something bestowed on girls in youth group by older women who approve of their swimsuit choices. Beauty is not stolen by those women if they disapprove. Beauty is not even in the eye of the beholder.
Beauty is in the fact that my daughters, that I, have been created in the image of a beautiful God. Beauty isn’t about our swimsuits or about our bodies. It isn’t about what someone else says of us. There is as much beauty in the concealed as there is in the revealed, because beauty isn’t about the body in a bikini or the body beneath a burka. Beauty is about the One who handcrafted women in his own image. Beauty is who we are, by design.
How do you bravely, defiantly, unashamedly, teach your daughters about beauty?