What Makes You Beautiful

I don’t remember the exact age at which I started to feel self conscious about my body, but I know I was twelve when I began to feel that how I was wasn’t just different, but not good enough. All through highschool I yearned to look different, to look and feel like the thinner, casually pretty with hair up in a messy bun and the ever present eyeliner girls in my school. And yeah, high school is an awkward time and who doesn’t feel self conscious and long to fit in better during that time–men and women? But for women, why does this doubt and inadequacy so often center on appearance?

I’ll say now that I have a heap of questions on this topic, and few answers. What I’m most interested in is hearing your thoughts and responses to these questions.

I feel that my story is like that of so many (all?) women. My teenage years held a lot of angst and deep feelings of unworthiness because of how I looked, but I grew past much of that. I accept and appreciate myself and my body far more than I did when I was 16. So why are these feelings of unworthiness and doubt so easy to dredge up? Why are my feelings about my body so deeply tied to my mood, and vice versa?

I think we women try to tell ourselves that caring about our appearance is purely natural, that it’s just vanity, that it’s shallow. And yeah, sometimes that’s a part of it, sometimes even a big part. But I don’t think that that’s nearly all of it and the deep seated sense of not being “good enough” in women seems intrinsically tied to our appearance. (The prevalence of eating disorders is a testament to this.) How we judge our appearance and feel about our bodies directly affects how we feel about ourselves as people… and vice versa: how we feel about ourselves as people determines how we feel about our bodies.

And so my big question is, what does it take for YOU to feel beautiful? And I don’t just mean liking how you look, but feeling truly and deeply good enough?

As much as I want it to be the answer, this sense of enoughness doesn’t come from others. I have many supportive and affirmative people in my life and an awesome and aware husband who loves and regularly compliments me, so why do those affirmations feel so needed each time? Shouldn’t I know by now that my husband thinks I’m absurdly beautiful? Shouldn’t I know that I am wanted and loved and appreciated as I am?

I have thought before that because women are created to be beautiful, when we don’t feel beautiful we on some level feel like we’re failing at being true women. At least I think that’s how I’ve felt at times–as though I’m letting down the cosmic feminine standard. I’m not [blank] enough to be a true woman. Is this vanity? A mind-game from the hells–something to distract me from the source of true beauty?

I do know that I feel the most confident and comfortable in my own skin, the most beautiful, when I feel like I am doing something with my life that is of worth. When I let the Lord into my life through being active and useful I feel alive, and I feel good enough, and that makes me feel beautiful. But even that isn’t a quick or one time fix, at least not yet. As a nursing mom my body is more tangibly useful than ever before, and there is a power I feel in nourishing this tiny person who came from my body. But there’s also the fact that having children in some ways makes your body even less your own, and pregnancy and motherhood leave irreclaimable physical changes. I am still far happier in my body now than I was as a teenager, but I was surprised that I had to grieve my pre-baby body too. Shouldn’t the clearly higher use have outweighed any sense of loss? Isn’t raising a small person a tangible and powerful enough use that any doubts should be blown out of the water? Shouldn’t I never have to doubt again?

I wonder too if this a dilemma of youth. Will I grow past this as my aging body forces me to redefine beauty and accept myself on new levels? Do I just have to reach a different stage of humility? Must I reach a truer understanding that I of myself, without the Lord, truly am NOT enough so I need to stop trying to be?

I don’t have an answer, but I would love to hear yours. What is your experience with the use, beauty, self-value equation? What makes you feel beautiful? What makes you feel like you are enough?

About Tania Alden

Tania is a wife, mother and watercolour painter (when she has the time and brain space). She currently lives in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania but holds a special place in her heart for Westville, South Africa where she grew up. She and husband Micah are delighted and exhausted parents to three young children. As the daughter of a minister, married to the son of a minister, New Church ideas have always formed a central and important part of Tania’s family life, but now as a mother, finding ways to communicate and teach these values to young children has given them a new meaning and power. And it is exciting, and daunting, to know that the journey of spiritual understanding is just barely beginning!

15 thoughts on “What Makes You Beautiful

  1. Some great thoughts here Tania. I can’t say I have it down, but a couple things come to mind. One, is the idea of preciousness. I am precious because the Lord made me. Period. Valuing that the Lord created me and being grateful for this body which enables me to move, to serve, to enjoy life helps me appreciate it. I need to take care of it and feed and nourish it, but also accept is a just a house for my soul. Learning to believe that has helped me a lot. When I stay in that mindset I am much more able to appreciate the image I see in the mirror. And there are good days and bad days!
    Great topic!

    1. Preciousness is a great word! Thinking of seeing ourselves through the Lord’s eyes and as His creation–I love that. So simple but when I stop to really think about what that means it is so profound, and fills me up. Thank you for sharing, Gwenda.

      1. Add to that the thought that you are the only one who will ever look out through your eyes. When the Lord made you, He purposefully made you unique because He has a role for you that nobody else can fill. You came out of the bucket already having enormous worth!

  2. Thanks, Tania. Motherhood and marriage helped a lot to quash feelings of inadequacy because, like you said, my body performs tangible uses. I’m also busier, so I don’t have as much time to agonize/compare. There’s a number in the Heavenly Doctrines about use acting as a fence for the mind, keeping evils and falsities out. I also have a daughter old enough to understand and absorb negative self-talk. Modeling healthy behavior–not just regarding my body–has become a way to serve my small neighbors. I’m not just in it for myself anymore, which is sobering.

    1. Mmmmh, yes, thinking of what messages I want to send to my children/how I will talk about body image and beauty to my daughter really does put it in a different perspective! Picturing it can feel like a daunting task, but also an empowered way to drive out the hells that are just nagging on me or attacking my vanity. A zealous warmth to protect my daughter from a negative self image rises up very quickly… and to go back to Gwenda’s comment, if I view myself as the Lord’s creation, His child, I can maybe feel that zeal and desire to protect myself as His perfect creation too?

      And I love that idea of use as a fence! I know the concept, but don’t think I’ve heard it put just that way before and that’s a powerful image. You don’t happen to know the passage, do you?

      Thanks for sharing, Taryn.

  3. This equation is such a quandary for me too! I agree that my feeling truly beautiful is inextricably connected to my feeling useful, particularly in uses that exceed or differ from the normal daily uses I serve like cleaning the kitchen, nursing the baby, navigating nap time, making dinner, etc. It’s the “above and beyond” uses that leave me feeling great in my life and in my body. When I actually manage to exercise or work on a creative project (both things I neglect far too much), I can feel myself glow and suddenly I feel radiant. It’s strange and unfortunate that the day to day things don’t seem to have that effect. They probably should.

    1. Thank you, Justine. And ha ha– YES, if only the mundane did feel more truly useful! I think that’s maybe one of the biggest challenges of being a stay at home mom? I wonder too how much this is a form of pride, a need for my use to look and feel exciting (like Naaman wishing for something more grand than to wash in the Jordan), and how much it’s just the reality that we can’t always be in a heightened place of joy and use because then we wouldn’t appreciate it, or because we wouldn’t work to seek it out?

      Maybe it is only the “bigger” uses that give us this feeling of beauty because it is only when we seek to do more and reach out of our rhythm (sometimes rut) that we actually remember to invite the Lord in to be a part of it? Would the mundane feel more inspiring and beautifying if we tried to invite the Lord in to it consciously? I’m curious to try…

  4. Taryn, was it this number? It’s one that helps me.

    ‘Man was created for use, because use is the containent of good and truth, from the marriage of which proceeds creation.. While… a man is in any employment and business, or in any use, in such case his mind is limited and circumscribed as in a circle, within which it is successively arranged into a form truly human’ (Conjugial Love 249)

  5. Some food for thought: someone directed me to ML/CL 330-331 which talks about how men focus on pride and virility for their external validation and women on beauty. So of course beauty and feeling beautiful is such an issue for us women, because it’s one of the key ways we feel validated… and also one of the key areas in which the hells attack us.

    The hells attack us by making us feel bad about our bodies, and by making us believe that success/happiness/being good enough depend on being beautiful by someone else’s standards (rather than the Lord’s). And since our world has such a skewed view of what beauty really looks like and especially the non-physical virtues of women that make us beautiful, it’s even more easy to get caught in the web of: if I’m not perfect, if I’m not glamorous, if I’m not like her… I’m not beautiful, and so I’m not good enough. To me there’s a very fine line between vulnerability and vanity in this issue. And of course the hells attack us on both fronts. They find something that we feel insecure about, something that is tender, and they feed that insecurity so that we don’t allow ourselves to see that what we are is beautiful, beautiful as the Lord’s creation, as a moral person. And I know for myself there is definitely pride and vanity mixed in with the fear and vulnerability.

    I guess that doesn’t make it any easier if you really don’t feel good about your physical appearance, but at least it is perhaps a shift in focus? A kind of mindfulness that raises you out of the concern with physical beauty and allows the Lord to fill you with a sense of internal beauty, no matter how you feel about your body? And from that space, I think it’s also a lot easier to focus on taking care of your physical body for the use it serves, and feeling beautiful and powerful from that, no matter if you look like what the world defines as “beautiful.” Lots to ponder!

  6. I love all of these questions! I think you are so right that many women feel the ways you have described, I know that I have/do. For me as I have grow older I feel more confident about my appearance but I think that is largely because I think I look better now than I did when I was younger haha! I was just thinking the other day that I am going to have to continue loving my body when I get older and it looks less “beautiful” and honestly the thought of that kind of scares me. But I feel good about being scared because it means I am confrubting those feelings.
    I love what you said about women seeing their beauty as a corollary of their self-worth. It’s tough because the Writings emphasize feminine beauty and I think their is something powerful about feminine beauty, but that doesn’t mean it is the best or only feminine thing. I guess we all have to become more comfortable living in the middle of that diadactic because the answer is usually both things! Hope this makes sense, thanks for the insightful post.

    1. It seems like whenever the Writings mention how beautiful women are they fairly promptly define that beauty as Not what this world thinks of. Or at least the sections discussing the nature of that beauty swiftly move away from beauty-as–external-quality. It took me a long time to see that. And I still evaluate myself externally. And am unlikely to walk free of that till I’m in heaven, though age and perspective have made me better friends with my physical appearance.

      1. Yes, I think it will take a lifetime maybe to really truly accept that. I guess that goes back to the humility idea–as we grow older and see that our physical bodies just don’t match up with what beauty means to us, we’re forced to consider the deeper beauty we are (hopefully) cultivating in our hearts.

        I love that you have always spoken of how much life gets better with age. It has helped me to never be afraid of aging, even if some of the physical realities will be hard to accept.

    2. I hear you, Ray! And I think you’re right that the best and most feminine things aren’t actually external beauty at all, it’s rather that external beauty is a reflection of the truly feminine which is internal qualities. But the world sure doesn’t make us feel like that is what is valued.

      We can be scared together. And remind each other to see the deeper and truer femininity and beauty in each other (along with the external beauty, which I think is a wonderful thing to celebrate too)!

  7. Wow Tania, thank you so much for sharing. I needed to read this and you have touched me deeply. In actual fact initially I hadn’t got to reading it when it landed in my inbox (crazy busy new Mom) but my husband sent it onto me again, giving me a nudge to have a read.

    I have honestly been struggling a lot lately with how much my body has changed since giving birth to our perfect little Noah…and I really resonate with your statement “I had to grieve my pre-baby body”. I was not able to articulate what it was but I think this is exactly it, I am grieving my old body. Yes I could get back to a similar weight to before…but ultimately I know my “shape” has changed for good.

    To give my opinion as to when I felt most beautiful and enough (most definitely not while I was pregnant) but…I absolutely LOVE my body and felt invincible whilst in labor with our boy…like I was some kind of super human bring life into this world through joyful pain and moments with my husband that I will NEVER forget. I felt not only enough but PLENTY!

    So thank you for sharing, truly a wonderful piece of writing and so very relevant to what I am feeling right now.

    1. I love this, Kate! Thanks for your response. I hadn’t thought of it before, but feeling beautiful while in labour is such a perfect expression of true feminine beauty. And it’s while preforming what is perhaps the highest use we are capable of (bringing a new human in to the world) so it is very fitting. When I remember that my body actually did that I do feel pretty proud and definitely like I am enough!

      I so hear you on the struggles though. Something that has helped me is to think of how my little one sees me: as truly the most wonderful being to have ever existed. That’s a little gift from the Lord, I think, and a good reminder to try and see myself through the use I am performing as a mom. I am sure your little Noah (and your husband) feel exactly the same way about you! Good luck!

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