THE SURPRISING REASON WE ACTUALLY NEED BEAUTY
If you follow my art, you know that I’m a woman that draws women in an act of reclaiming the body — our stories, our unique beauty, and our feminine strength. Because there’s nothing else on earth like it.
But, this week has been an especially wild one.
I’m preparing for an art show, starting tonight, and was challenged to create landscapes — mountains, trees, rivers. At first, I didn’t even know where to begin. In fact, I was frustrated.Why?
What do mountains and trees and rivers have to do with me?
The woman’s body is self-explanatory…
But what story can an inanimate object tell us?
As I worked through paper after paper and pencil after pencil did I finally take a step back and look at a completed piece.
I wonder if this is what heaven might look like.
And right then, I realized the story had begun to tell itself.
There’s an incredible poet named Mary Oliver (you’ve probably seen her quotes dancing around social media for a while). One of them, in particular, has stuck with me:
“We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.”
Since I had first come across this line, I believed she was speaking about beauty in the traditional sense. Regardless of your background, your culture, your age, your beliefs, I know what thing about you to be true: You love being called beautiful.
And that’s good — it’s how God made us. He made us to crave beauty, to seek it out, to hold it closely, and to create it. As women (and forgive me; I know I’m making a generalization here, but stick with me), it shows up in our lives through the way we dress, the way we style our hair, and do our makeup. It shows up in the way we present ourselves on Instagram, at brunch on Saturday, and on a first — or 100th — date.
But my having to interpret landscape this week for this show revealed to me that beauty — the kind we ache for, at the depths of who we are — is not the kind that can be applied (or wiped off at the end of the day). It’s the kind that speaks to something greater than us…
…and that lasts longer than we do.
At around 12 or 13 years old, sitting on the edge of my grandma’s bathtub, I was watching her get ready for the day — a final comb-through of her hair, a spritz of the perfume that will forever remind me of her (“Hollywood”), and her routine punctuated with the final swipe of a soft pink lipstick.
“Oh you beautiful thing, don’t you ever die,” she told herself in the mirror while smacking her lips and puckering them into her own reflection.
I promise you, I laughed so. hard. it’s a wonder I ever stopped laughing at all.
“Grandma, what did you just say?”
And she repeated it, just as boldly the first time: “Oh, you beautiful thing,” pointing to herself, “don’t you ever die.” As if this is what people did during their morning routines, like brushing their teeth or combing their hair.
The funniest thing about this was that my grandma is not a woman who spends her time idly primping and pampering (my mom took her to get her eyebrows waxed for the first time around 73). She’s far too busy; a woman of smarts and of strength and of service, she has a heart so for others that it’s a wonder she has time to put on pants in the morning.
This week, that memory kept making its way to the front of my mind. Was I just thinking about beauty a lot because I need a haircut? Or because God was trying to say something to me? (probably both, tbh.)
All joking aside, it was absolutely the latter. The beauty that my grandma exudes is, of course, in the natural — she’s the woman you hope to look like as you age, full of grace and elegance and life — but extends far past the reflection in the mirror.
And I think this is what we all want. What we ache for is a beauty that withstands the test of time — that doesn’t end when we end. We ache for a beautiful legacy, a life of abundant friendship, deep relationship, having done something that was really worth the suffering of Jesus.
The Bible reminds us of this time and again (“charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting,” in Proverbs, and “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” in Ecclesiastes) about the kind of beauty we first think of (especially if we’ve been scrolling Instagram). God loves to make beautiful things — He made the Rocky Mountains, He made the oceans, He made aspen trees that turn gold in the fall. And He made women. He made you.
But, He didn’t make you to be beautiful for the sole purpose of taking a great photo or commanding attention when you walk into a room. He made you, too, for a greater beauty…
The kind that shows up in the way that you speak to people, the way that you go out of your way to wish a friend “happy birthday,” the way that you hold yourself to high standards at work, the start of a book you’ve been wanting to write, the way that you eat healthy food because you care about longevity of life and not just your weight.
Sister, this is my challenge for you today: Spend a couple minutes thinking about beauty a little bit differently. In what way, today, can you be beautiful that doesn’t involve your appearance? In what way can you leave a lasting impression on somebody that beautifies their day?
And then, here’s the bonus challenge: Go on and tell yourself, out loud, in the mirror: “Oh you beautiful thing, don’t you ever die.” Because it’ll be true — you’ll have done something beautiful that doesn’t have an expiration date.
I know this can get awkward. Trust me. I know awkward — but I’m challenging myself to do the same, because it matters. Another wonderful writer, Ann Voskamp, says, “This world has enough women that know how to do their hair. It needs women that know how to do hard and holy things.”
In what way is your beauty, today, going to show up after you’re gone?
That, my friend, is a kind of beauty that we crave to be worthy of — the kind that this world is aching for.
P.S. If you need a little help with body love today, I got you, sister. Sometimes we need help seeing past our own reflection. Click here to get my free guide, “5 Steps to Breaking Through Body Image Barriers.”
Image by my dear friend Bethany, taken in my apartment-turned-art studio this week.