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Beauty in You

According to Merriam-Webster, beauty is “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” Spiritually, I would suggest that it is more. When we see beauty, we see God.

 It’s too bad that our definition of beauty has gotten stuck on looks. Clearly, we've been programmed by society to believe that beauty IS skin deep. It is an aesthetic quality that we’d all like to have. And so we spend our time, our money, and our soul’s precious energy chasing the dream.

 Let’s look at the statistics that support this. Did you know that the United States has the highest number of plastic surgeons in the world?

Here are some of the statistics on plastic surgery in US in 2021

  • 491K liposuction (up 55% since 2019)
  • 365K breast augmentation (up 38% since 2019)
  • 242K tummy tuck (up 57% since 2019)

And, of course, the most common cosmetic procedure worldwide is breast augmentation.

The beauty industry worldwide was valued at $511 billion in 2021. And, on average, women in the US spend roughly $313 per month on beauty products.

This all brings us to body image statistics:

  • Research has shown that around 50% of young 13-year-old American girls reported being unhappy with their body. This number grew to nearly 80% by the time girls reached 17 years of age
  • around 25% of male children/adolescents were concerned about their muscularity and leanness
  • 91% of women are unhappy about their bodies
  • only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media
  • 45% of men are unhappy about their bodies
  • 13% of adults have suicidal thoughts because of concerns about body image

Historically, the church hasn’t helped us be any more positive about our bodies. For so many years the church insisted that we were born sinful, a concept known as original sin concocted in the 5th century by Augustine. The church has been clear that our bodies are sinful, especially when it comes to the matter of being sexual beings. The church made Mary out to be a virgin, because the sinful act of intercourse could not have produced the (supposedly) divine Jesus. Then in 1954, the church declared that Mary herself must have also been born without sin! And heaven forbid you enjoy sex without intending to have a child, or be anything but heterosexual. Plus the church supported corporeal punishment by parents and schools. As if it could ever be ok to hit a child. All this is crazy-making. 

Anyway, after society and church get done with us, is it any wonder that it is hard to believe that we are beautiful - inside and out?  And, yet that is exactly what I’m here to tell you. We are beautiful because beauty IS more than skin deep. As John O’Donohue says, “beauty is our essence.” It is the Divine presence within us and it radiates outward in our character and actions. Beauty is a look and a touch, it is a word and a song. Beauty is a light shining from deep within and spilling forth with love, joy, compassion, kindness, grace.

That beautiful light is within each of us, but we need to be careful that we don’t decide to love the light and hate our bodies, because the two are melded together in this life. We are mind-body-spirit people. Hating part of ourselves causes a horrible inner division and conflict.

The Psalmist uses poetic language to remind us of the amazing mystery and wonder that is the human body.

You created my inmost being and stitched me together in my mother’s womb. For all these mysteries I thank you – for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works – my soul knows it well. ~Psalm 139:13-14

Here is my proposition, and it isn’t going to be easy, but I firmly believe that we need to regain that wonder in order to learn to love our bodies and appreciate their beauty. This is what we’ve never been taught.

I’m not trying to sound trite, so let me give you an example. Take a moment and look at your hand. Move your fingers. Made of 27 bones, 34 muscles, tendons, nerves and skin. Think about all the things your hand has done for you over the years – the hands it has held, the games it has played, the help it gives you every day eating and getting dressed, things you have created – music, art, food, gardens, homes. Consider how amazing the hand is to heal itself when it gets cut or broken. Consider how amazing our skin is in being washable, in keeping disease out and blood and muscles in! And I don’t know how many times my fingernails have kept me from cutting my fingers, or been used to pry tape off the roll, or pull out a sliver. Our hands are beautiful. We take them for granted, but truly, we need to love them for all that they have done for us and all they do for us on a daily basis. Even if our hands are a bit stiff some days or arthritic, they keep working for us, doing the best they can for us. We need to love them for that, not be angry or negative. If we extend love to our hands we care for them, we protect them when we work outside, we keep them warm in the winter, we put lotion on them when they are dry, we clean and care for our nails and we are grateful.

We could have this same discussion about every part of our body… we are a wonder, absolutely amazing and beautifully designed. And these beautiful bodies deserve to be loved and cared for as sacred vessels carrying us through this lifetime. I feel like if we love our bodies and are grateful for them, we won't say hateful things to ourselves, we will feed them well, exercise, get regular physicals and do things that will keep them as healthy as possible.

Let me come back to beauty in our souls and in our actions by sharing a story.

Storyteller, Megan McKenna, tells the story of a photographer who was once working on a book of black and white photographs of people caught in large world catastrophes and war, starvation, ethnic cleansing and misery. He found himself in Ecuador in the late 1980s. It was a terrible time for the people who were struggling and poor. Then there was a cholera epidemic of huge proportions. And then there were torrential rainfalls and land and mudslides that destroyed crops and brought devastation to whole villages and cities. The United Nations and Catholic Relief Services responded by bringing plane loads and truck loads of food into the devastated areas.

The photographer took up a position on a main street crowded with refugees and people wandering about, lost, tired, injured, sick and hungry. They had lost their homes, their possessions, even, in some cases, relatives and entire families. He was struck by one young girl, about nine or ten… she was thin and scraggly, hair matted, and clothes torn. She waited in line along with hundreds of others for food. While she waited patiently in line, she seemed to be looking out for three younger children huddled under a large bush that gave them some slight protection from the hot son. Two boys, about five and seven, held between them a little girl of about three. 

The photographer then noticed something very dismaying… they were running out of food. The aid workers were becoming visibly distraught and anxious because the line was endless, and the supplies were not. But the young girl hadn’t noticed. She only watched her charges.

After hours in the sun, the young girl finally got to the front of the line. All she was given was a banana. One banana. But her reaction stunned him and paralyzed him and brought him to tears. First her face lit up in a beautiful smile. She took the banana and bowed to the aid worker. Then she ran to the three children under the bushes and ever so carefully peeled the banana, split it evenly into three pieces and, almost reverently, put one piece into the palm of each child. Together they bowed their heads and said a blessing! They ate their pieces of banana, chewing slowly, while she sucked on the peel.

Weeping uncontrollably, the photographer forgot all about his cameras and what he was there for. He watched the girl and said later that in that moment he saw the face of God, shining. He had been given a glimpse of the kin-dom of heaven in the face and actions of a poor street child rich in love, care for others, generosity, and such beauty in spite of poverty, hunger, international exploitation, the politics of greed and profit and human indifference. He never did take a picture of the young girl or the other children, but her face and her smile are etched forever in his memory and his soul. 

This is only one story out of millions that could be told. Beauty is in our bodies, but it is also in our actions, our words, and the way we live our lives. Believe you are beautiful and then live that way as a reflection of the Divine in this world.

Love & Light!