There was a time when I obsessed about the distance between my thighs like it was the only road map to beauty. I would stand bare-legged in the mirror every day, staring at my spindly two legs, wishing they would work harder and become leaner.
I treated my body like a machine instead of a masterpiece. I fed it merely to keep it from stopping. I exercised to exert my control over it.
Aren’t we all hungry for beauty though?
I thought it was something I had to earn through working hard, disciplining my body and soul, and exerting copious amounts of self-control. There were other women, of course, who were simply gifted with beauty from birth. Not me.
As it turns out, my pursuit of beauty was a brutal, unending race. An exercise in futility. A literal treadmill for me on many days.
My innocent hunger for beauty had transformed to deadly starvation because all I knew to do was run for it; I had never learned how to receive it.
I could never think to rest or stop or quiet myself long enough to listen to God’s whispered words.
I equated beauty with sweat, striving, and exhaustion at the end of the day. I only wanted to hear the pacing of my heartbeat, not the peaceful rhythms of His.
Sitting felt like a swear word, I found comfort in the chase. But then there were the days when all I could do was sit curled up by a heater and warm my malnourished body. In those moments, when I sat down, the silence crept over me like a blanket I didn’t want. My idols shivered; their death was near.
Looking back now, I realize it was God’s embrace sneaking up on me. He was offering me His love, wanting to care fore me with a feast of hearty, delicious food for my soul and body.
But I pushed myself away from the table every time. I denied His invitations to the platters piled high with His goodness.
How could I find beauty in this partaking of rest and nourishment and intimacy with Him?
It seemed the more I refused, the more He pursued. Slowly, I began to peek through the curtains of my control and fear, daring to see what was on the other side. The beauty there allured and invited me, as true beauty should, it was a flourishing garden, not the gruesome fight I had known.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26, ESV)
I know now that I can never conjure up beauty through chalking up the miles or setting up strict religious rules for myself. I watch the birds who dart and dance about in the limbs and through their playground in the sky with contagious joy. I observe the flowers quietly rooting themselves in the darkness with faith and promise. Then they patiently stretch and break and burst forth with color and elegance that takes our breath away.
As I look across the garden, beauty takes the shape of being. And this is not a static thing, but an ever-unfolding freedom to discover ourselves as the treasured one of God.
Stasi Eldredge writes, “A woman of true beauty is a woman who in the depths of her soul is at rest, trusting God because she has come to know him to be worthy of her trust. She exudes a sense of calm, a sense of rest, and invites those around her to rest as well…. A woman of true beauty offers others the grace to be and the room to become.”
This is where I wish the story would end. I am a woman resting in her true beauty forever. The end.
But it’s not.
These days I’m only at the beginning and I’m not afraid to admit that anymore.
Multiple times a week, I’m still triggered to enter the hunt for beauty. I think it’s out there, waiting for me to catch with my strategies and know-how. My imperfections, other women’s accomplishments, success, or shapely bodies and vibrant personalities whisper to me that I still have work to do.
I panic and revert to my old habits and regimens.
I run from the woman I see in the mirror. She isn’t beautiful without foundation on her skin, less food, and more exercise.
I press her to perform like a machine not a masterpiece.
Beauty becomes a competition. Perhaps my posture looks poised to some, but it’s tight, controlled, closed. I forget beauty is grown through openness and vulnerability with God.
In her book, Captivating, Eldredge reminds us that true beauty comes through years of living well, listening to the voice of God, and spending precious time alone with Him.
This way can still feels backwards to me. I’m still learning how to sing my song in the sky like a bird and root myself confidently, like a tulip, stretching deep into what feels hidden and dark.
But I’m determined to stay here in the garden of His grace, where beauty cannot be measured, only received as I am myself with Him, naked and unashamed, instead of racing after it with sweaty palms and collapsing in starvation in search of it.