I rounded the corner in the women’s department in search of something that would enhance my self-esteem. My eyes fell upon an attractive outfit that hung perfectly from a lifeless mannequin. Oh, my gosh! I must have that. I found the rack that held the promise of physical salvation. When I found the shirt and pants in my size, elation filled my heart. I stood with grateful expectation before the dressing room mirror, sliding the fabric over my head, ready to see the magic happen. Ta-da! But my heart fell at the sight of myself. My body was too imperfect for the miracle outfit. The fabric clung to my imperfections and revealed what I had hoped to hide.
Waves of humiliation and self-loathing trickled into my soul. You’re hideous. You’re so fat…the queen of cottage cheese. Approaching the mirror for a closer look, my entire body seemed to yell at me. Eye wrinkles, blemishes, and the beginnings of gray hairs all stared back at me, accusingly. And your teeth aren’t white enough. You’re too short. Your belly is too big. The weight of the world pressed down on my head, squeezing tears from my eyes. Placing the garments back on their hangers, I found it easier to forgive them for failing me than to forgive myself for my inadequacies.
Surely I am not the only woman in the world who has experienced such moments. And certainly there are millions of women who beat themselves up on a daily basis, forcing their bodies to conform to an acceptable image. We go to great measures before we dare step outside of our homes, into the world that seemingly waits to judge. But does the world even recognize true beauty? And if it did, would we be enough to gain its attention?
As I drove home from the department store, my thoughts of punishing myself with insane diets and exercise were interrupted by a news report that came on the radio. While I had been loathing myself for not being good enough, thousands of people were dying, buried underneath the rubble of an earthquake. Desperate family members were digging through rock and soil, hoping for the miracle of finding a loved one alive. My mind turned to those who face death on a daily basis. To them, beauty is simply seeing the face of someone still breathing. For some, the ability to walk to a place where food can be found…that is beauty. A man or a woman who presses through their exhaustion to provide sustenance and shelter for their family…that is beauty.
I know these things. Yet I forget. There is great irony in the way that comfort and provision taken for granted tend to blind our eyes to true loveliness. We can have our basic needs met and still find lack. We can have more than enough, yet we still strive to attain more. Commercials, magazines, and billboards hover over us, convincing us that we must be more, do more, and have more. More and better. Always “new and improved.” We can temporarily enhance our bodies in some way, but it won’t last. Eventually, more is required. Women lock themselves in the prison of trying to be enough.
There is an escape, however, that is found in letting go of condemning ourselves. I realized that by hating my body, I was making it an enemy. In reality, my body is a wonderful friend that carries me where I want to go. It allows me to feel the touch of someone who loves me. My body allows me to see joy and hear the things that lift my soul. It lets me taste goodness and communicate with others. This beautiful dust that once lay motionless, now pulsing with the breath of God Himself…its ability to inhale and exhale the breath of life. This is beauty.
True beauty goes beyond the physical form. What makes you beautiful comes from the inside, and is often found within your story. Perhaps your journey has been far from desirable. Maybe it is dark and hideous. But even the darkness enhances the brightness of the stars in the sky. The black backdrop may seem frightening, yet it only serves to make our beauty more visible. Our imperfections tell a story that, with the right perspective, brings life and paints the environment with loveliness. Your story has the power to define what true beauty is to a world that is desperate to find it.
As a teenager and young adult, I used to cringe at the sight of old people. Wrinkles, age spots, and gray hair…not to mention the unfashionable choice of Velcro shoes. Hunched backs leaning over walkers, slowly scooting across the floor. It all seemed greatly repulsive until I grew mature enough to recognize the beauty that was before me.
It was in a nursing home where my father-in-law’s body diminished over the last year of his life, where I learned to see the beauty that sat around me in unattractive bodies. There was something about gazing into eyes that still held an occasional flicker of light as they recalled stories of their past that began to change my vision. As I listened, their wrinkles morphed into beautiful grooves that carried great wisdom, courage and perseverance. Creases in the skin became admirable and filled with charm…even elegance. It was in those moments that I experienced the magic of emaciated bodies revealing something so beautiful that made me want to touch it. To feel the hand that fed babies, endured unbelievable hardship and reached out for a dream…that is true beauty.
So the next time I visit the department store and I despise what looks back at me from the mirror, I will remind myself that true beauty goes far deeper than the eyes can see. Maybe when I look at my imperfect face, I will ask myself, “What’s your story?” Because, surely, every story contains great beauty. Each blemish, crease, and unwanted gray hair will be a reminder of where I have been, who I’ve become, and who I really am. And may it be a reminder of who you truly are: a beloved, beautiful daughter of the most creative Beauty Maker. Love yourself. Love your body, and it will love you back for letting it be part of your story. You are more beautiful than you know.
Wife, mother, former home educator, pastor’s wife, writer, dancer, and former restaurateur. Those are just some of the costumes that Traci Vanderbush has worn. Through each role, her passion to inspire others to dream big and believe for the impossible has always remained. Currently, she spends time dabbling in small, self-publishing ventures that can be found at www.tracivanderbush.wix.com/