I have been on a journey of discovering what “beauty” means to me, rather than mindlessly accepting the beauty standards of today’s society.
For so long, I’ve been brainwashed into believing what our culture tells us is beautiful. I accepted society’s impossible (and if you ask me – degrading and limiting) standards of beauty, and spent way too much time and brain space trying to “mold” myself to fit into this pre-defined standard.
Without even realizing it, I mindlessly ingested and internalized the message that one’s appearance adds to one’s worth (lie!). And in order to be “beautiful” in today’s society, I needed to look like one of those women in the magazines/advertisements, actresses on TV, or girls on the street rolling out of a Spin or yoga class with lean, toned bodies (again – another lie!).
I was convinced of the fact that I needed to “shape” or “control” what my body looked like. “Watch your figure, Rachael” was the message that constantly bombarded me. I (and we) are told to avoid getting (gasp!) “fat” at all costs – as though there is something inherently wrong with that kind of body shape/tissue.
Women in particular are impacted by this “thin ideal.” Not only are we told we should want to be thin – but we should try anything to achieve such “ideal.”
We’re also told that we need to go to whatever lengths humanly possible to maintain our appearance to avoid any signs of aging.
Fortunately or unfortunately (however one may choose to view it) – the beauty standards and “thin ideal” impressed upon us all personally took me on road to a dark place.
In an attempt to become the “best version of myself,” I fell into the trap of thinking that I needed to “better” my appearance to gain more social currency, worth, and value. I attempted to quiet that gnawing voice inside telling me that I “wasn’t enough, wasn’t wanted, was inferior, didn’t matter, was unimportant”… I listened to what it told me, buying into its lies that if I made certain changes…possibly I could be enough and gain the love and acceptance I so craved.
If you’re interested in hearing more about my story of anorexia and my road to recovery, you can find that here: My Undoing: Ruined for Redemption.
However, for purposes of this post, what I want to accomplish is to challenge you to start questioning the messages we are constantly told about beauty. Messages such as:
Youth + thinness = beauty.
Or perhaps what resonates with you is: youth + curvy in all the right places = beauty.
Or maybe you’ve bought into one of the latest trend: youth + physically fit = beauty.
Or any other given message impressed upon us, telling us we need to look (and act) a certain way in order to have worth and value.
Whatever message you believe, the result is still the same. We’re told that we are not enough, and in order to “be enough,” we need to meet certain external requirements. Because if we do so, it is then that we will be beautiful, valued, worthy, and loved.
I challenge that.
Beauty in Uniqueness
In my journey of exploring what beauty means to me, I’ve found that our uniqueness is what makes us most beautiful.
When I stop to think about what I respect and am drawn to in others around me, I can genuinely say that for me some of the other top attributes of beauty include: sacrificial love, gratitude, integrity, kindness, compassion, confidence (in who they are in God’s eyes), and humility.
It’s those who stand out and embrace who they are and were created to be; those who are proud of their unique God-given qualities and gifts; those who put others first; those who use their gifts and unique passions to bless and show love to those around them.
Those who are grateful; those who live out of a place of abundance instead of scarcity; those who are brave and try to fight injustices for those who are unable to fight for themselves; those who view others as friends, rather than enemies.
Those who dare to lead; those with integrity; those who speak light into the darkness; those who are willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others; those who encourage others; those who bravely challenge injustice.
Those who listen; those who support others in their time of need; those who are willing to say the “hard” thing in love; those who seek restoration in relationships and our world.
Those who walk through life embodying the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
Those who live not for personal gain, but are willing to give up their own comfort and convenience for others; those who display sacrificial love for others, going so far as to love those who are unable to return such love.
Those who do not seek comfort and merely consume the pleasures of this world; but those who want to bring lasting change, spread love, and break down barriers.
Those who see the marginalized as loved ones desperately in need of an embrace; those who seek to welcome in the outsider; those who put others first.
These things I find truly beautiful.
Those who inspire me – those with whom I personally want to surround myself – are those who fight against the temptation to fit into a standard mold or achieve beauty and success by the world’s standards.
When we fully embrace themselves and the innate truth that we are enough (just as we are), we are able to live out of a place of abundance and truth. When we are able to internalize the fact that we are fully accepted and loved by God, we are empowered to shine our own unique color of radiance on this world, living a life full of purpose and sacrificial love.
And then we are able to go a step farther.
Rather than settling for comfort and convenience, we are able to live with a sacrificial love, loving like there’s no tomorrow.
Live out of a Place of Abundance Rather Than Scarcity
Instead of living with a scarcity mindset (wherein we are all chasing after the same prize, needing to “get ahead” and come out on top), rather, we can choose to support one another and celebrate each other’s unique gifts and abilities. We can choose to see the beauty and worth in each person and the gifts, abilities, and beauty he/she brings to the world.
Each of us is one of a greater whole – each of us brings something unique to the table, and we all miss out when one’s uniqueness is dimmed by trying to fit into a predefined standard of being.
So many of us put an incredible weight on what our culture says is “beautiful” and “acceptable.” Often, we can be caught up in a constant race and battle demons daily in an attempt to meet the external expectations thrown upon us.
We are often quick to buy into these expectations without challenging whether they align with our core values and beliefs.
Reject the Lies, Embrace the Truth!
I accept the truth that I am a strong, intelligent, confident woman, surrounded by beautiful, amazing, intelligent, and powerful brothers and sisters.
I encourage you to free yourself from bondage and do the same.
We have so much strength individually (that we are often blinded to when our sights are set on trying to fit into “the mold”); but we are so much stronger as a whole.
We have so much beauty in each one of us; but due to the unrealistic pressures that press in on us each day, the negative messaging about how we never measure up and need to “better” ourselves in order to be worthy of existence, the constant lies that advertise that self-worth is something that can be seen externally rather than an inherent truth…we are stripped of the power of our uniqueness and instead often settle for something less-than ideal.
Why? Because we long to be accepted, loved, and valued…feel like we matter…like we have something to offer this world…like we belong. It’s something each of us needs and desires more than anything.
Over the past few years, I’ve been awakened to the fact that I, and so many of us, have been limited by the constraints of unrealistic expectations and measurements of “worth” set by our world. An insane “standard” has been set by our culture, against which we have been convinced we are required to measure ourselves in order to prove to ourselves and others that we matter; to make sure we’re on the right path to success, freedom, and happiness.
The paradox is that the standards set for us, and by which we have been conditioned to measure ourselves against to make sure we reach our full potential, actually end up limiting us and hindering us from experiencing the full potential of our own unique purpose and platform to bring about change in the world in a way that only each of us can accomplish in our own way.
I’ve decided I no longer want to be ruled and reigned in by the external standards set by today’s society or the expectations of others.
Determine Your Own Definition of “Beauty”
I want to make my own decision about what is beautiful.
I want to stop living my life imprisoned by the chase of reaching some ideal beauty standard I cannot possible ever meet. I choose to live out the truth that while beauty can be found in each of us and all around us, it has very little to do with one’s external state. I choose to live my life ruled by who God says I am.
He is the only one who can tell me who I am.
I choose to no longer strive to meet others’ unrealistic expectations or perform for others. I want to live a life that is in line with my faith, my core values, and my unique purpose.
I want to spend the remainder of my life enjoying and appreciating the present; seeing and seeking out the beauty in each day, no matter the circumstances I find myself in.
I don’t want to live each day striving for a “better tomorrow.” But rather, live in and embrace this very moment – soaking up all that this day has to offer with a heart of gratitude.
I also want to live life in a sacrificial way; not seeking self-contentment and comfort; but instead, using my gifts, giving my resources, embracing vulnerability, sharing my experiences, and living with purpose in an active attempt to help others see their incredible beauty in their own uniqueness.