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Last week, my husband climbed into bed, looked at me sitting there, reading a book, and asked,
"What makes you feel pretty?"
I looked at him and felt perplexed.
I had no idea how to answer because I haven't thought about that in a long, long time.
The past year has hit me with the triple whammy of first pregnancy, becoming a stay at home mom, and living overseas in a country where temps can get above 110 for weeks on end.
Looking pretty does not normally fit into the decision making process of what I want to wear in the morning.
I'm much more concerned about what will keep me cool and allow me to nurse my son without being too revealing.
I've always struggled a bit with how to put myself together. My mouth is crooked, as well as my teeth (until I got braces in Thailand two years ago, hallelujah and praise Jesus). My make-up and hair routine was learned mostly from trial and error and YouTube tutorials. I hated spending money on expensive clothes and often went with seconds from the thrift store that weren't always the great deal I thought they were. And now, the hard water, constant sweat, and line-drying routine my clothes have been through in Cambodia have rendered many of them unworthy of being carted back to America.
Most people I see on a daily basis do not wear make-up every day. The old women wear sarongs wrapped around their thin waists with patterns of tropical flowers and birds. The younger ones wear neon colored skinny jeans, platform flip flops with toe socks, and long sleeved striped cardigans with slogans like "Honey Cute" or "Gaga Chanel", bought from the factory overstock of clothes unsurprisingly rejected for the American market. Cosmetics are saved for weddings and parties.
As I've thought about my appearance and perception of beauty, I've realized how much of the "beauty game" is about comparison. Living in Cambodia, I don't feel any worse about myself for not wearing make up or fashionable clothes. Why? Because I'm not seeing it on other people.
But you better believe that when I go back to America, I am assaulted by feelings of insecurity, unattractiveness, and cluelessness about American fashion.
Even going to Target and seeing women with styled hair, a full face of make-up (i.e. foundation and mascara and a bit of gloss) and clothes that fit their bodies instead of sagging, sun-bleached, off their hips makes me instantly begin examining my own reflection and agonizing about how I look in comparison.
I do not want to become a frumpy missionary mom. You know who I'm talking about - the moms who come home on furlough, with the 90's curly perm, large glasses, and collared sundresses and baggy jeans. But now I can understand why and how those women become like that. Living in a conservative culture in the tropics puts comfort far above looks, while also keeping skin covered up.
Another expat mom and I talked about this issue. We laughed when we discovered we'd thought the same thing about the other when we first met - how nice she looked and what great hair she had. We shared our insecurities about appearances and how out of balance it feels when we return home to our Western countries.
And we also realized, as cliche as it sounds, beauty isn't about your looks; it's about the kind of person you are.
And even more than who I am, my perception of personal beauty and worth is about who Jesus is. Because let's face it, I will always find another woman with better hair, whiter teeth, and smoother skin than me.
If I only measure my beauty by the person standing across from me, I will always lose.
It's only when I choose to believe the truth of the Gospel that I can let go of comparison and grasp the value that was bought for me by Jesus on the cross. I am loved and accepted and celebrated beyond my wildest imagination. I will always measure up. I will always be precious - to God the Father, through Christ.
And accepting that means I don't have to look at your appearance to feel good (or terrible) about myself. And you don't, either. No matter who we're standing next to, whether it's Beyonce or the geeky girl from Taylor Swift's music video, our value is measured by the cross.
So when I'm back in the States, remind of this, will you?
How do you handle the temptation to compare your looks with others? And of course (I have to ask), what makes you feel pretty?