I was on cloud nine after having just returned from exploring South Sudan: the future site for my start-up company’s first production facility. While there I witnessed what it means to be a refugee. I laughed with precious kids who drank water from the Nile and had no clue when their next meal would be. I ate with men who lost numerous loved ones to war, corruption and poverty. I talked with women who were bright eyed and hopeful for their future; who spent their days helping others less fortunate than them with what little they themselves had. I was simultaneously heartbroken and elated; filled with passion, motivation and sheer excitement at the opportunity to be a small part in empowering these incredible people.
I shared all of that and more in a caption of a photo I posted on instagram, a photo that I was hardly in. A well meaning friend read that, they read my passion, my hopes and dreams, I shared what makes me cry and what makes me get out of bed in the morning, and then they commented saying, “you’re so pretty!”
As I ingested those three little words my heart very quickly descended from cloud nine. When did we become so focused on beauty?
I was not disappointed at the comment, I appreciate being told I’m beautiful just as much as the next girl. I was disappointed at the fact that in light of my hard work, ambition, determination and passion, she felt the most important thing to compliment was my appearance. The appearance that will fade away with the coming of age and of lines.
We live in a world where people get paid because they’re pretty; a world where people become famous because they’re attractive; a world that uses ads to subtly tell little girls that the only way they will ever amount to something truly great is if they’re beautiful. There are multi-billion dollar industries that make their success selling products that will seemingly make us prettier. Smart, intelligent, overqualified people do not get hired because they don’t look a certain way. We are told that the most important thing we have to offer is our appearance.
Because all that really matters is that our facial features are symmetrical, that our skin tone is even, that our eyes are big but not too big; what matters is that we’re curvy and still thin, but not too thin and fit, but not bulky; that we’re not too tall and not too short, that we’re naturally tan in December and that our hair lies perfectly according to whatever is perfect that year. Right?
But most of us would read that and say, well no, that’s not all that matters; after all, true beauty is on the inside.
And perhaps that statement best represents our world’s pathetic obsession with beauty. Don’t you see? The idea that true beauty comes from within is still focused on beauty.
Some people are funny and others aren’t, but those lacking wit don’t lose sleep over it. They don’t take comedy classes or buy certain creams and clothes in hopes of becoming funnier. There are no poetic quotes devoted to reminding us all that hilarity comes from within.
Yet we willingly continue to spends thousands of dollars a year on clothes, creams and programs in hopes of becoming prettier.
Quite frankly, I’ve had enough.
I refuse to allow my appearance to affect my self-perception and I will no longer encourage you to do so. Our value and worth isn’t based on what we look like. Our value and worth is based on who Jesus is and what He did on the cross.
Dear friends, acquaintances, strangers, future children and cherished relatives, I will not tell you that you’re beautiful.
I will tell you that you are passionate. You know, the world is far too full of pretty, yet half-hearted people, infirm of purpose, perfunctorily living, working and existing. I will encourage you to not allow your passion to dwindle, day by irreplaceable day in the dismal haze of the almost but not-yet. Our world needs your fearless pursuit of that which inspires you.
I will tell you that you are kind, praising your ability to speak thoughtful words into the lives of those around you.
I will appreciate your hard-working spirit; your fearless pursuit to accomplish whatever lies before you.
I will applaud your humility; your kind and gentle spirit that willingly and eagerly serves without any thought of praise or reward, so selflessly loving others who have nothing to offer.
I will tell you that you are able; able to speak out for what you believe in, even if that means yours is the only voice. When you feel under qualified, I will remind you that the Lord is in the business of taking stutters and using them to address Pharaohs; He takes shepherd boys and uses them to save nations; He takes dead guys and brings them back to life. He’s a God who calls under-qualified people and qualifies them. Not only is He more than capable of using even you, He delights in it.
I will acknowledge your intelligence, highlighting your drive to learn, your constant wonder, your continual fascination.
I will tell you that you are confident; that you do not allow others to dictate your morale, but instead are aware of who you are and Who’s you are.
I will admire your hopeful spirit; your ability to see the good in every situation and remain optimistic when the horrors of the world crush your heart.
I will esteem your love; how freely you give it out without any regard to a person’s ability to likewise return it. Your ability to love a person, a friend, a spouse, a stranger not in absence of their flaws, but in spite of them.
I will speak of your trustworthiness; admiring your commitment to upholding promises, keeping secrets and avoiding gossip.
I will tell you that you are generous; complimenting your willingness to give freely of yourself, your time and your money.
These characteristics will not disappear when you grow old, when your skin sags and your fitness fades. I will tell you all of this and so much more, but I will not tell you that you’re beautiful.
When we truly value such characteristics as these as much, or even more, than we value beauty, our world may be a happier, richer, fuller, more interesting place. We might even see racism evaporate, discrimination perish and shallowness cease.