by Joy Martin, Set Me Free Ministries Co-founder
Yesterday morning, my five-year-old daughter and I were in my room getting ready for the day. While I had my back turned, Julie made an announcement. "I know who I'm going to marry."
Needless to say, her comment took me by surprise. "Oh really?" I asked. "And who's that?"
Very matter-of-factly, Julie said, "Him," and pointed to the male model on a package of underwear that my husband had recently purchased.
"And why do you want to marry him?" I prodded.
"Because he's handsome," Julie replied.
I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have told that story in the past twenty-four hours. It gave me and several friends and family members a good chuckle.
But as I reflected on this incident today, something struck me. I'll get there, I promise. You'll just have to stick with me through my twisty logic.
Julie is five. She doesn't know much about life, but she does recognize beauty when she sees it. She sees the beauty in the world around her, whether it's in the form of a flower or the sunset or an attractive person. And while she also understands honesty and kindness and gentleness and other desirable traits, sometimes all she sees is beauty. Because she's five.
We often have discussions about princesses, dresses, jewelry, and makeup. Don't get me wrong. We also talk about playing in the mud, running through the rain, and farting, because Julie is just as much rough-and-tumble tomboy as she is girly girl, but Julie truly does love all things beautiful.
In fact, just yesterday Julie asked me if she could wear lipstick. I told her no and explained that I can wear lipstick because I'm a grown-up and that it's not appropriate for a five-year-old to wear makeup. Her response kind of floored me: "But it's not fair that you're the prettiest one in the house."
I immediately told her she was beautiful and asked what would make her say such a thing. She answered: "You're the prettiest because you're wearing the most makeup."
I've got to say that hearing her say that broke my heart a little.
You should know that it's not often that I wear lipstick at all. My daily makeup routine is to wear only eyeliner, nothing else. I don't spend a tremendous amount of time on my hair, the only jewelry I wear most days is my wedding ring, and my wardrobe consists mostly of jeans and T-shirts.
And yet, I'm somehow raising a little girl who loves dresses and pretty shoes and things that sparkle. And I am finding that despite the example that I think I'm setting for her that beauty is not dependent on what we wear or how we alter our appearance, she still has that tendency. Honestly, I'm not sure if it's part of her genetic makeup or if it's the fact that she's surrounded by images of beauty that include those superficial things. More likely than not, it's a combination of both.
Whatever the case, I've realized this weekend more than ever that as her mom, it's my job to remind her on a regular basis that her beauty is not dependent on what she wears or how she looks. Her beauty is something much deeper than that. Her beauty–and the beauty of those around her–should be found within.
I want her to know that it's not her blue eyes and blonde hair that make her beautiful; it's her big heart and her sharp mind. I want her to know that there is no fancy dress or makeup required for others to notice her; it's her sense of humor and her zest for life that will draw them in.
I want her to know that just because a person is "beautiful" on the outside by the world's standards, that doesn't make that person worthy of her love. And I want her to know that just because others may not see a person as physically "beautiful," that doesn't make that person ugly.
Every time I think about what the world teaches us about beauty, I think of the story in 1 Samuel where God sends Samuel out to anoint the next king of Israel.
Upon his arrival, Samuel was immediately drawn to someone who looked to him to be the next king. I imagine he was a rather strapping young man. God, however, had other plans.
1 Samuel 16:6-7 tells us: "So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, 'Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!' But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'"
God then led Samuel to anoint David, the youngest of Jesse's sons, as the next king of Israel.
"The Lord looks at the heart." That's good to know, isn't it?
Unfortunately, this is not what the world teaches us. The world teaches us, and our children, that makeup and the right clothes and the latest and greatest gadgets make you beautiful and worthy. It is our job, not just as parents but as adults, to combat that by reinforcing the importance of positive character traits and of love and acceptance.
As I raise Julie, I will continue to let her play dress-up and accessorize and enjoy pretty shoes, because those are things she enjoys. But I will also make sure she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that those things don't define her. I will continue to tell her she is beautiful. But I will also be sure she knows she's just as beautiful dressed as a princess as when she's in her brother's hand-me-down shorts and T-shirt while covered in dirt. And I'll be sure she knows the beauty I see in her heart is the most valuable beauty of all.
I will also teach her that to find beauty in others–true beauty–she will have to look beyond the outward appearance. Because just like God looks at the heart, that's where we should look too.
And if I succeed, and if you and others join me, perhaps we'll change the next generation's definition of beauty. And that would be a thing of beauty in itself.