What is true beauty?
I had a very interesting experience at a retreat I went to one year. I went to confession and confessed that I felt like I was worrying a lot about my appearance. I was starting to get older and I was thinking about it too much and what others thought about the way I looked. I know I am not the only one who only puts the best picture on my Instagram or Facebook pages, right? Love those filters! WELL, instead of the usual 1 Our Father and 3 Hail Mary’s that I had been accustomed to since entering the church as a former Protestant in 2001, I was told to not wear makeup for a month as my penance.
I started laughing hysterically and a bit uncomfortably. I said “Father, I can’t do that!” He started laughing and said, “You have to do that. I just gave it to you for penance!” I said, “No! I cannot!”, laughing again. He said, still laughing, “Oh, I have found it! Thank you, Lord! You are definitely bothered by this, so this must be something God wants you to work on.” I was dumbfounded! “What?!” I said, “Walk around without makeup for the rest of the retreat? I look tired and awful from being up with the baby! Look at these circles!”
I wasn’t even one who wore makeup every day. I stay at home with the kids and even sometimes go to the store without makeup. But, I definitely take my sunglasses and can slip them on if I run into someone I know. And, of course, you know that always happens when you go out without make up in your sweatpants and ponytail. Father said “Oh, you poor women, you have been so brainwashed! Look at the sisters! They don’t wear makeup! Do they look bad?” I thought about it. “No, Father, they look great!" I thought about that for a moment and realized that being in love with Jesus and full of the Holy Spirit also probably helps you to not look so tired. The sisters actually do have a glow about them. Not just the young ones either. Perhaps prayer should be the new anti-aging beauty secret!
I was getting to be familiar with sacrifices or giving up things. As a former Protestant that was not something I had heard of. I was familiar with fasting. That was something I understood. To fast and “give up” food as a prayer. I guess this could be a “fast”, a fast from makeup as a prayer. A prayer, to help me grow in holiness and to also pray for others. So the next day I didn’t wear makeup. I couldn’t even look anyone in the eye at the retreat. Wow! My vanity had been worse than I thought! I was too embarrassed to look at anyone and avoided people. I went up to the priest and told him this. He said, “When you look at someone offer it up for their soul.” This truly helped. The next person I saw, I humbly looked them directly in the eye and offered my humility and vanity up for them.” I continued to do this for the rest of the day. But, then I told the priest, “Father, it will be Easter on Sunday and we always get dressed in our Sunday best, I also have a wedding to go to this week and my husband’s big 40th surprise birthday party is coming up! I can’t go without makeup to these events!” He said, “Well, go without makeup for the rest of the week, and then talk to your husband about it. If he agrees that you can wear makeup then you can wear it to the other events.”
What?! Put my husband in charge of this! Let him decide? What? Oh, I realized, listening to my husband as the head over me…hmm, pride was rearing its head again. Oh dear. Ha! I talked to my husband, who also laughed and thought it was hysterical that he could tell me to not wear makeup to a wedding! Ha! Evil! Then he got down to earth and said, “Well, if Father thinks it will be good for you, then maybe you should try it.” But, he said, “I will leave it up to you”. Ahh! Such a good man I married, I thought! So kind! But, I still felt like maybe this was a good thing. Maybe it was a necessary fast for me. So that week I kept going without makeup…to church, to a friend’s house and it got easier to look people in the eye. Even at the store and dropping my kids off at friends, I didn’t avoid people’s eyes anymore. Then came the wedding. Do you know what? I went without makeup! I took a picture and even and posted on Facebook! Close up! No makeup! But, perhaps a small bit of a filter! HA! So then came the 40th birthday, and I went without makeup! This whole experience made me realize that I have been brainwashed on what true beauty is, we have all been taught by the media that our value is only skin deep, that our beauty determines our worth. Love only comes to the beautiful. It is all false! All lies!
I started to recall how this had been impressed on me from an early age. Especially through movies, TV and magazines. I even remember my mother always being overly concerned about her appearance in front of others. But, I did learn something very important from her when she got sick with cancer. Here she was this once, very fashionable, very beautiful woman at age 49 dying of cancer. She had shriveled up to nothing, had tumors bulging from her head and eyes. We sat together in a very deep conversation, knowing she didn’t have much time left. She sat wrapped in a fur leopard (her favorite) blanket at a beach house in February. It was 2 months before she died. We sat on the porch and she said, “You know, I have finally realized why my friends all look so much younger than me.” She said they all had confessed to her that they had been doing botox for years. She also said she was concerned that my younger brother was starting to worry too much about what he looked like and what brand of clothes he wore. She confessed that for many years she had also been overly concerned about these things. She had always dressed very trendy as well. She was a cheerleader in high school and voted best dressed. She said, “God has made it very clear to me now, in these last few weeks of my life, that all that matters is our soul. Yes, we must keep ourselves clean and presentable. But, that is it. We should not worry so much about our outwardly appearance.”
I tried to soak in this wisdom that God had given her. I definitely had not been all about fashion growing up, often wearing just jeans and t-shirts to school, and I only had a 5 minute beauty routine of some blush and lip gloss in the car on the way to school. But, definitely, as I had gotten older, blush and lip gloss didn’t seem to be cutting it. As my body changed after children, I also tried to pay more attention to fashion to enhance my beauty. When she died a couple of months later, we put lots of big pictures of her up at the funeral. My husband, on his own, commented that she looked so much prettier at 49 then she did at age 20. Her wrinkles were beautiful! He was so right! God’s masterpiece! I am so glad she skipped the botox. I even thought of my grandmother. I of course loved those old black and white photos of her when she was younger, but the ones of Granny with all of those wrinkles. Ahh! Those laugh lines! Those were proof and evidence of the extraordinary life she lived. History, wisdom, and more. I loved that wrinkly face. It was pure love when she looked at me. I again paused and tried to soak this in and remember it. All of this had happened before that confession at Holy Week. So I still had not learned enough, since I couldn’t even look at people without concealer under my eyes.
I do realize that of course it is good to look presentable, and it is ok to dress fashionably, albeit modestly. I definitely enjoy doing this, especially on a nice date with my husband. We must take care of ourselves and still look attractive to our husbands. I even keep in mind that when I am out and about in town with my 7 children in tow, that looking nice can attract people to the beauty of a large family. If I always look like I just rolled out of bed and totally disheveled, people might think, “Wow! That poor lady! All those kids! She is exhausted!” Of course, sometimes I am exhausted, but that is life even with one kid! So, yes, dressing up and putting on makeup is not a sin or bad. But, we must be careful to not be too attached to it.
I hold onto these truths that I learned from these experiences even more now, and quite often I go out without makeup and I make sure to look people in the eyes. Not only as a prayer/fast for them, but to burn off more of my vanity, so that one day, God willing I can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with a “beautiful” soul. I try to think of Our Lady and how she would have been. I am sure she took care of herself to be clean and presentable and I am sure she even had a favorite veil. But, we mustn’t make beauty an idol. Her beauty lay in her love for our Lord, her kindness and humility. That made her beautiful to St. Joseph and everyone around her. I hold onto this Bible verse as well. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30
Amy is a Catholic homeschooling mom of 6 children and a Fertility Care Practitioner for the Creighton Model System. She and her family are Lay Members of the Home of the Mother and live in Jacksonville, Fl.