A friend sent me a great video clip this week of a professional model named Cameron Russell, talking truth about her job and what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be considered beautiful. It’s really got me thinking about beauty and self image, and about confidence and insecurity. And I have to say, I feel very fortunate here. Not because I was blessed with super-model good looks, but because I was blessed with contentment in this area.
Although I’ve certainly had moments of insecurity, on the whole I feel good about the way that I look, and I’m not overly concerned if others don’t agree. And somehow I’ve pretty-much always felt this way, even during the worst of those awkward teen and college years (a time when I was making most of my own clothes by the way!). I recognize fully what a gift this is in a world that places crushing pressure on women to look and dress a certain way. It is truly a blessing from God and from my parents, my mom especially.
When I became a mom to daughters, I resolved to try to pass on this gift to them. It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly it was in my upbringing that cemented my confidence in this area, but a few things do stand out in my mind. If you’re wondering how you can help the young girls in your life to grow into beautifully confident women, here’s a good start:
1. Let them experience deep joy. There are certain things in life that bring what I think of as “deep” joy. I mean a kind of rich joy that isn’t flashy, but is totally addicting once you get a taste for it. This type of joy comes from things like hard work and creative expression; times when you are fruitfully using the gifts that God gave you. Growing up on a farm, I learned about hard work early on, from personal experience and by seeing it modeled and valued by those around me. I felt a special kind of satisfaction that comes from working hard at something, whether its picking pears, playing the piano, or formulating business strategy. Girls need to know what that feels like, because frankly, it feels good to feel pretty. There’s no real way around that, and there’s nothing particularly terrible about it either. But it’s a flashy, fleeting kind of good feeling. If you know what deep joy feels like, it’s much easier to keep small pleasures in perspective. I’ve tried to do this for my girls, and really for all my kids, by encouraging them to use the gifts that God gave them, and by celebrating their efforts when they do.
2. Acknowledge beauty as God created it. There is amazing variety in God’s creation, and just as many expressions of beauty. I tell my girls that they are outwardly beautiful, and we encourage them to have healthy habits and to treat their bodies well. But as a family, we focus a lot more on the beauty of helping children in Guatemala (Annie), or of serving at the Navigators conference center (Rose). Generosity is beautiful. Joy is beautiful. Service and sacrifice are beautiful. Girls need to hear that and to see it reinforced.
3. Notice less about how people look. How often do you start a conversation with a comment about the other person’s appearance? “You look great!” “Have you lost weight?” “I love your earrings!” We all do it to some extent. But could it be hurting more than it’s helping? When I think about my parents and my family growing up, the truth is, they just didn’t talk all that much about the way that anybody looked. It wasn’t a very relevant detail in our lives or in the conversations we had. In contrast, I know people today who never talk about anyone without at least mentioning something about their physical appearance, whether good or bad.
4. Model confidence. We learn what we see. You can say all of the “right” things to girls about beauty, but none of it will sink in if they watch you change your clothes twelve times before leaving the house, or hear you constantly complaining about or apologizing for how you (or they) look. This is one of those times as an adult when you need to fake it, even if you don’t feel it in the moment. Chris and I mindfully don’t obsess over our looks and we spend little time or money shopping for clothes or beauty items. We do put effort and resources into things like exercise, eating healthy, and getting sleep, and I hope that our actions impact the kids.
No matter what your upbringing or your experience, the one thing we can all do to improve our view of beauty is to meditate on truth. Nothing can make more of an impact on the young girls or women in your life than if you believe with all your heart that you are perfectly made, exactly the way that God wanted you. The world will tell you differently about a million times a day, but the more you immerse yourself in truth, the more it will spill over into those you care about.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14).
What did your upbringing teach you about beauty? What kind of legacy do you want to pass to those you love?