you don't have to be beautiful

I've written before about beauty, and over time my thoughts have shifted, shadowed, the way thoughts do when the subject is very big, very old, and full of pain. Today's post started this morning when I watched a video about the power of self-portrait. It seemed a lovely and empowering message to girls - even when I realised it was made by Dove and therefore was, at its heart, a calculated piece of advertising.

But then I got to thinking. I did not remember the faces of the girls, I remembered only the grief in the eyes of one of them. The pain, the shame. I knew that the important issue for her was not how she looked but how she felt inside herself. It's just that she'd been made to think that the two things were equated, and all her problems could be solved if she only believed she was beautiful.

And this is why I dislike the Dove beauty campaigns. I don't think we should teach girls that they are beautiful no matter what, as if their looks are the most important thing about them.

Why must a girl always feel that she's beautiful in order to know she's okay as a human being? 

The way I see myself from the inside out is nothing like what the mirror shows me. I am, to put it kindly, plain. But within this body, I am a dreamer, and a fairytale princess, and a heroine. The fact my looks don't equate the cultural idea of beauty (or even my own idea of beauty) shouldn't matter. Or, at least, other things about me should matter to an equal degree: whatever character qualities I may have.

But everywhere I turn, women (and advertisers) are telling me to appreciate my beauty. What I'm hearing beneath their supposedly empowering words is that only beauty really matters. 

I think kindness matters more.

I think gentleness matters more.

I believe a whole bunch of things are at least as important as how someone looks.

I know that roses are beautiful and a delight to the eye, and also that ugly weeds can be medicinal.

I'm not deriding beauty. It has a powerful effect on our hearts. And we women know perfectly well how important it is in our culture. But it shouldn't be the only important thing. And we know this too! But as long as we tell each other that we're beautiful no matter what anyone else thinks of us, we're continuing to buy into the superiority of beauty.

I'd love to live in a world where a girl didn't secretly wish to be beautiful, but instead to be inventive, or compassionate, or brave. I'd love to live in a world where a woman didn't have to come to terms with her plain features and find small hope in the thought that she had nice eyes anyway, or elegant hands anyway, but instead knew that her graciousness, or her generosity, made her valuable and admired by other people, and a sought-after mate.

(By the way, I used Dove soap for years before I went chemical free. It was the best soap I could find for sensitive skin. Back in the day, they advertised their soap as "not drying your skin", so that's why I bought it, and I swore by it. Wonderful soap. I've since found a chemical-free soap that doesn't dry my skin, so I use that instead.)


  1. Or, as I read on another blog and adopted as my own: You don't owe it to the world to be decorative (just because you are female).

    Very important message here. Ultimate self confidence is not having to believe in your own beauty but simply finding it unimportant compared to other qualities. I usually say, I'm clean, there are no offensive bits hanging out = you (the world) have nothing to complain about.

  2. Very thoughtful, heartfelt and (dare I say it?) beautiful commentary, Sarah. I agree with your general distrust of corporate "benevolence," but would also like to posit that a person's kindness and gentleness form an enormous part of what makes them beautiful. I nannied for a woman who was physically very pretty, yet who was so harsh and cruel that her beauty was diminished.

    Conversely, I know people who grow more and more beautiful the more I know them. : )

    1. I like your interpretation of "beautiful". :-)

  3. It's really hard not to want beauty. I know it's somehow wrong, but I cannot imagine myself accepting that I'm not pretty. How do not want to be beautiful?! Maybe not beautiful the way society defines it, but how I define it. When I look at the mirror I don't like what I see. So sometimes I just create myself in front of the camera, or with makeup, or whatever. I look at those photos and do not really think it's "me", but I at least accept my look. I'm bored with myself and dream about being beautiful. About being "normal", about loving myself. My boyfriend tells me I'm a beauty all the time. But it just doesn't come to my mind.

  4. found on tumblr:

    Other compliments that do NOT focus on appearance:

    It’s so nice to hear your laugh.
    It’s good to see you.
    I’m glad you’re here.
    That was clever.
    Great idea.
    You’re so thoughtful.
    You’re hilarious.
    You make me laugh.
    I enjoy your company.
    You have a wonderful laugh.
    You smell lovely.
    You’re so capable.
    Well done.
    You always brighten my day.

    1. Hearing those would really make my day, expand my heart. "You look great", not so much, whether I believed it or not.

  5. I agree with my whole heart.
    I especially love those last two sentences.

    I was an unattractive child whose mother insisted that "pretty is as pretty does." She didn't lie to me and tell me that I was beautiful (physically, that is) She nurtured my character and my soul, and I never felt ugly. My childhood tormenters called me all sorts of mean names. I didn't believe them--I believed my mother. ♥

    1. You have a wonderful mother and a great strenght that you believed her, not the tormenters!

  6. Yes. I almost wrote my own post on this very topic. Over on FB, I had my news feed light up with friends sharing this "inspiring" video. I watched. I was insulted. I have 4 daughters. They will not know their worth because of their physical appearance. They will know their worth because of Him who died for them. That's it. That is our worth. And for my two cents, it is worth everything. We were made in the image and likeness of God. You can't take a "selfie" of that.