Earlier this week, my kids amused themselves while I was making dinner by going into my closet and carrying all of my shoes into a pile in the living room, one at a time.  Their giggles went on and on the entire time I was cooking, until dinner was ready and there were no shoes left in the closet.  I didn’t look at the mountain they had made until they sat on top of the pile, triumphantly showing off their accomplishment.  It was an impressive heap.  And my stomach felt a little sick looking at the sheer number of mostly unworn shoes that I possess.

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My kids love to imitate Corey and me. They walk around in our shoes, dress up in our clothes, and pretend to put on my make-up. But that’s not all they imitate—my heart sank a little bit the first time Brooklynn stepped on the scale before she got into the shower. Monkey see, monkey do.  What are they learning as they play on mountains of our shoes, watch me criticize myself in the mirror, and stand in my closet looking for something I’ll feel good in?  I’ve been struggling lots lately with the feeling that my closet is full of clothes and nothing to wear. I am fully aware of the absurdity of the situation.

I used to think I loved to shop. Now I realize it’s just the buying part that’s got a hold on me.  I don’t actually enjoy the looking (especially with kids—now shopping equals elevated stress-hormone levels).  I just want to wear something new, something fresh, something that will make me feel beautiful and different than I did before I bought it. It’s like, if I can find just a couple more tops/the right pair of jeans/a necklace that goes with anything/the perfect thing, then I’ll be okay.  The problem is the process never actually ends.

It reminds me of the “culture of scarcity” defined by Brené Brown as the sense that we never have enough of anything.  We awake in the morning feeling like we didn’t get enough sleep, then go through our days where there is never enough time, never enough money, never enough of anything we think we need.  What a depressing way to live—yet I’m just as guilty as anyone of subscribing to the lie that more is more, materially and otherwise.  My dear husband works so hard to affirm me with his compliments, but he often feels defeated that no matter how much he tells me I’m attractive, I can never hear it enough or even believe what he’s saying is true.

This isn’t about materialism (at least, not only about materialism). This is about a deeper, real emotional need that is linked to the longing of women to feel beautiful—uniquely, deeply, universally beautiful.  The problem is I’m tempted to believe that beauty is something you put on, something that can be purchased, externalized, and controlled with regular attention.

I’ll be honest, there are good days, and there are bad days.  I’ll even go for a few weeks at a time feeling comfortable in my skin and satisfied with how I’m made, refusing to compare myself with the false standards of beauty that bombard us on every side.  But then I’ll miss a couple workouts in a row.  Or I’ll eat an extra treat before bed a few nights in the same week. Or I’ll go to an event with people I don’t feel comfortable around and insecurities about what to wear will rise to the surface.  Or I’ll just have a bad hair day.  Or feel bloated. Or get a zit. Or anything, really.

I’m becoming painfully aware of a deep seated unbelief in my own beauty. And I don’t think I’m alone—more and more women in my life say they resonate with the sense that beauty is something to attain, and they’re always just an outfit or two short. But we all know it’s not really about the clothes.

The strange thing is, how I perceive beauty in myself and how I see beauty in others are not the same. I can whole-heartedly appreciate the loveliness of someone else while simultaneously being blinded to it in myself.  I’m confronted with the reality that the truest, realest, most breathtaking beauty is not the same beauty I’m tempted to pursue.

Dear sisters of the world, we need each other!  We women need to speak life into one another and affirm the beauty we see.  We need to remind one another that beauty is not attainable—it is already within us. Our struggle with beauty is real, because we were created to reveal Beauty to the universe.  Yet we have been deceived to think we won’t have beauty to offer unless we carefully monitor our calories, exercise with discipline, wear flattering outfits, pretend that our bodies are not aging, and control or remove every potentially unattractive part of ourselves.

I want my daughter to know that there is a different beauty at work in her and in the world, a beauty that grows over time because she reflects the beauty of her Creator in a way that no one else in all of history can ever reveal.

Brooklynn, I want you to know that beauty is so much different than what the world is brainwashing us women to believe it is. I want you to know that you were fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the One who created all the most beautiful things in the world.  The One who made majestic waterfalls, colorful rainbows, magnificent sunsets, powerful thunderstorms, towering cliffs, snow-covered peaks, and everything that catches your breath and makes you pause in wonder—He made you, and He says you’re the best thing He’s ever made, the pinnacle of all creation.

I want you to know that your beauty is unconditional. It doesn’t depend on what you’re wearing, how much you weigh, what others think, and especially how you feel.  Your beauty will never fade, only grow as you become fully yourself—there is nothing more beautiful than someone who is fully alive.  No one can take your beauty away from you; the beauty of others is not something to be threatened by, but to celebrate because it is uniquely theirs, just as your beauty is uniquely yours.

You are beautiful because of who you are, not because of what you do. True beauty never fades, never ends—it flows from the inside out.  You can’t stop it, daughter, but you can miss it if you’re looking in the wrong places.  Real beauty causes you to worship the One who created it, not the one who is created. 

You, my sweet girl, are marvelously, perfectly, wonderfully made.  Your beauty is breathtaking.  May you believe your beauty is a gift given by the Most Beautiful One—may you cling to Him and not the lesser version of beauty that surrounds us.  You are beautiful and you are deeply loved.

* * *

These words are for my daughter, but she can’t read yet–so I’ll just have to read them for her, over and over and over until they become true not just in my mind, but in the deepest part of my heart.

They are a reminder to us all that beauty doesn’t come from having a closet or a home or a life full of beautiful things, but from having a beautiful life to offer the world.  

May we all know the security of being made in the image of true Beauty. May we surrender our idea of beauty in exchange for one that is real and will last.

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