Turn away from the social onslaught of what women should look like to recapture an authentic feminine beauty.
The little girl, eyes soft and brown, nose frecked, age maybe 7, stares into the camera.
“Here it comes,” promises the music playing in the background. “Here it comes.”
Then, it comes. The young girl’s face disappears, replaced by image after of half-dressed women – modeling lingerie, selling tires, spaying cologne. Then more women, women holding bottles of creams, gels and lotions, promising firmer, softer, younger-looking skin.
Then even more women, injecting themselves, augmenting themselves, starving themselves into perfection… or at least, the going notion of perfection on any given day.
Words flash across the screen. “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.” The little girl reappears and stares back into the camera.
More than just an advertisement, “Onslaught,” the lastest video in Dove’s Campaing for Real Beauty, is a one-minute slice of the world through a woman’s eyes.
Turn on the television, scan the magazine rack at the grocery store, take a walk through the mall. Wherever yoou go, wherever you look, you’ll see the same thing: Beautiful women telling other women that their worth is in their body, that their value can be measured with a bathroom scale. The right clothes, the right creams, the right hair, they promise, will bring happiness. Unless men find you desirable, they warn, you’re nothing, no one, and you will end up alone.
Unfortunately, women are listening.
Depression, anxiety, self-mutilation, immodesty, promiscuity, eating disorders – all are run-of-the-mill problems in schools and homes across the country. And all, at least in part, are the consequences of current cultural conceptions of feminine beauty, conceptions that define woman as a sexual object and limit beauty to a singular and rare type of physical traits.
Those conceptions are fed by the multibillion dollare fashion, beauty and diet industries. And they are exacerbated b the breakdown of the traditional family – absent fathers and mothers unable or unwilling to give their daughters the time, attention and effection they need.
Tholse conceptions also harm more than just women and their self-esteem.
Ultimately, they lead both men and women away from God and each other. By playing on the lower instincts of the one, the insecurities of the other, the onstant barrage of images incarnating those conecptions become occasions of sin and despair for both sexes.
They are nothing less than cultural poison.
In God’s image
For Catholic women, living, working and raising children in today’s culture, the question is not only how do they protect themselves and their daughters from that poison, but how do they help the culture ind an antidote? How do they conteract the effects of the culture’s conceptions of feminine beauty and help both men and women recover a correct understanding of the dignity and vocation of women?
The answer is to become the antidote.
Catholic women must come to understand what real beauty is and persue it. They must become the living embodiment of true beauty.
By doing so, not only can they learn to protect themselves from negative cultural messages about beauty, but they can help others so do as well. That task falls to woman as part of her feminine vocation, as one of her essential responsiblilities as the female image of God.
Ever since Eve first stunned Adam in the Garden, women and beauty have walked hand in hand.
In Scripture, woman is the beloved, the one sought efter, the one who draws man away from his father and mother so that he might become one flesh with her. In history, she is the muse, the inspiration of the world’s greatest poetry, painting and song.
In the culture, she is the one who civilizes children and men, who cultivates beauty in the city and the home. And in the family, she is the giver and nurturer of life, whose face is the first sight a child learns to see with delight.
Through her body and through her soul, woman makes visible the invisable beauty of God. Through her actions and through her interests, she images her Creator, the author and source of all beauty.
It is for this very reason that the devil has a vested interest in attacking beauty.
Warp woman’s spiritual beauty with vanity and insecurity, warp woman’s physical beauty iwth dangerous diets, unflattering fashions and mindless surgeries, warp woman;s understanding of her true worth and dignity and you’ve warped the lving image of the beauty of God.
Warp men’s perception of feminine beauty, and you’ve sealed the deal, shattering the capacity of both sexes to image the Trinity in a holy, life-giving communion.
But just as the devil has his interests vested in attacking feminine beauty, so should Catholic women have their interests vested in recovering a true understanding of that beauty, in passing it on to their daughters, and in living as witnesses to that beauty in the culture.
That recovery is not easy matters. It requires what work of men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. It involves prayers, conversion and sacraments. It demands living counter-culturally, reassessing the littlest details of daily-life, from clothes and entertainment to conversation and friends.
But the recovery of a correct understanding of feminine beauty doesn’t begin with any of those things. Inspired by Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body, it begins with four simple principles.
One: The source of a woman’s worth and dignity is not her sexual desirability. Her dignity comes from God, who created her, loves her and desires to be with her.
Two: From her relationship with God flows all that makes her beautiful in his eyes – a prayerful soul, a humble spirit, a selfless heart. Without that kind of beauty, true beauty is impossible.
Three: In the words of Pope John Paul II, “The body expresses the person.” In other words, whatever is on the inside eventually shows up on the outside. No matter what the billboard models say about beauty, in the long run, the surest way for a woman to mak er herself unattractive to both God and men is to have a soul infested by vanity, immodesty, vulgarity and promiscuity.
Conversely, a beautiful spirit will always make itself known through a smile, a laugh, a body that moves with grace or a voice that speaks with intelligence. All those things and a thousand more influence how attractive people think a woman is. Beauty is more than the sum of one’s parts.
Four: Chucking soap and donning burkas are not appropriate responses to the culture’s wrong-headed notions of feminine beauty. It’s OK for women to want to look lovely. Again, the body expresses the person. It’s entirely fitting for a woman’s body to reveal the beauty of her soul. But that doesn’t mean kowtowing to the culture’s standard of beauty. It means looking truly lovely – graceful, well-dressed, put together, healthy, confident, eschewing both immodesty and slovenliness.
It means caring for the face and body with which God graced her. And it means rejoicing in her own unique loveliness with both gratitude and humility.
Those four principles lay the foundation for a recovery of authentic feminine beauty: a beauty that gegins in the soul and is manifested in the body, that is feminine, not sexless, self-for-grateful, not self-absorbed, graceful, not sexy.
This is a beauty every woman can possess, and those who do give the lie to the culture’s current conception of beauty. Their beauty never goes out of style, never fades with age, never loses its charm. Their beauty always points beyond itself, to its source. Their beauty becomes the window through with others encounter God.
The culture’s lies about feminine beauty do do very much damage to women because they play on every woman’s deepest desire to be who she was made to be – the beautiful, desired, beloved bride. Only by becoming that in Christ can women escape the onslaught of lies coming at them every day.
And only by being beautiful – truly, wholly, in body and soul, mind and spirit beautiful – can Catholic women help the culture recover that it has lost – the truth about the dignity and vocation of women and a window into the inexhaustible loveliness of God.