Am I Beautiful?
We love to take the word "beauty" or "beautiful" and smear it all over the place.
We often associate it with how a person expresses themselves, or the work they do, or an artifact we see, or an event we participate in, or an act we observe.
Taylor Swift says, "Unique and different is the new beautiful." What does that mean?
It associates beauty with "me," and my uniqueness and how I express that uniqueness.
And though I agree with Taylor on the fact that we do find uniqueness echoing in the beautiful, I think I part ways with her on the expression part.
Long ago, if you asked an artist the goal of his or her work, he or she would have responded with, "Beauty."
Today, beauty is not the goal of art. Self-expression is. A sad reality.
The old painters and musicians reached for a goal outside of themselves. Beauty was something out there, in the beyond. Something "other."
In our culture beauty has turned inward. It looks at the self.
Some scholars and poets go even further. The poet Rilke, for example, says we live as if beauty doesn’t exist.
Last week I spoke with my friend Jessica Honegger about beauty. She works in the world of fashion. She believes our culture has redefined beauty. What then does this redefinition means for people?
What does it mean to be beautiful?
Our image saturated society inundates us with its definition of what a beautiful person looks like.
For women, it looks like a certain body type. Television, movies, the Internet all tell women beauty equals Heidi Klum. An unreachable visual goal.
Beauty looks nearly perfect for a woman’s body. But that’s not reality. And so beauty, for women, becomes a false hope.
For men, it looks like carved abs, a chiseled chest, and the mystique of a hero. It looks like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
But don’t we see what’s happening?
Such a visual emphasis on the outward appearance leads us to live comparative lives. We see so-in-so on Instagram, or Kim Kardashian on a magazine cover, and we compare our selves to their perfect curated selves.
Comparison leads to discontent.
We judge ourselves and do our best to look like, somebody else.
But we are human beings. And though we possess physical bodies, our physicalness is only a portion of who we are as people.
People like to say, beauty comes from within. And that’s partially true. I don’t think it’s helpful to limit beauty to the inwardness of a person and throw out physical beauty. Attractive people do exist. Physical bodies possess symmetry and harmony. Heidi Klum is Heidi Klum for a reason.
We can’t fault her and Brad Pitt because we live and partake in an idolatrous culture that pours images of fake perfect people at us (and when I say fake, I mean air-brushed and doctored up to look a certain way on our screens).
In our fallen world, the Devil bastardizes everything. He twists beauty and limits it to a person’s looks. He spins half-truths.
But the Christian man and woman, they’ve been armed with heaven. And the sight of the divine. They can see through flesh and blood.
They see each person on this planet for who they really are: divinely crafted in the likeness of God himself.
They see what C.S. Lewis and Thomas Aquinas saw: that God made us to yearn for heaven, to yearn for our home, to yearn for acceptance in God’s light.
They see that yearning as the manifestation of worth.
They see gold and know that it looks beautiful. But they know the real value of gold comes from its weight, it’s substance, it’s material goodness, its unblemished essence.
They see every person on this planet not as black, white, Asian, Hispanic, poor, rich, ugly, or pretty.
They see each person as gold. Heavy under the weight of its substance.
They see immeasurable value because they know each person was forged in the fires of a limitless perfect God.
They see divine fingerprints all over each person. They see the heavenly hammer blows that shaped each of us into mini-gods—no mere mortals (thank you Lewis!).
They see children, yet unborn or cast aside or abandoned or hurt or abused, they see them as the arrows of God himself—the purest gold and they run to collect these arrows, they live to shape these arrows into spears, the weapons of God in a world oppressed by the shadow swords of Satan.
They see life and know it to be the by-product of Beauty itself—that urge we feel when we see the unlimited in the limited and we run to reproduce it; this is life begetting life, the surest sign Beauty is at work.
They see the act of reproduction as an act of Beauty; our desire to possess beauty, to climb inside of it (thank you Lewis!).
They see the question, “Am I beautiful?”
They see it in the air—words lingering in a world wrapped in the veil of wonder and they shout at the question:
“Yes, God yes!”
“You the immeasurable. You the unlimited. You the fire formed. You the heaven hammered. You the blessed light of light.
“You are not a transaction. You are not a number. You are not forgotten. You are not alone. You are not the sum of your imperfections.
“You are the scar made new. You are the blessing about to bloom. You are the need in my life. You are the whole of my heart. You are meaning to me.
“You are beautiful.”