Vanity

I got Elle in the mail this week. Bemused, I looked at it twice to make sure it had my name on it. Yes, that was me. It took me a few minutes to realize I mistakenly thought I ordered Elle Décor (which I love), not Elle. Good thing it was only $5 for the year. There’s a reason I usually don’t buy fashion magazines. I stopped doing it back in college when I realized that I always felt depressed and discontent after reading them. I would see all the beautiful people that I wanted to be and things I wanted to possess and I finally realized, This is not worth it.

But its arrival came on the heels of a week where I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty; a recent message from our pastor was on “True Beauty,” and I’ve been thinking about what that means.

And then last month I felt convicted about it, in a funny-now but not-so-funny-then kind of way. Sunday is pretty much the one day a week I actually try to look good. Not that I won’t shower or do my hair other days, but for church on Sundays – in addition to hearing the message, of course – I get to see all my friends and chat with them about kids and life. For a SAHM, it is one of those things that keeps me sane.

So imagine my surprise last month when my smug I’m-not-vain bubble was burst. I had a little extra time one Sunday morning, so I ran through the Caribou drive-thru on my way to church, juggled kids and coffee on my way inside, and headed back to the nursery, where I was volunteering for the second service. It was a typical morning – lots of kids, occasional crying, snotty noses, a few snuggles – and an hour later, I breezed back through the hallways of church without a care in the world.

My husband and I had just gotten our two daughters to the car and started buckling them in when he looked over at me quizzically.

“What’s on your nose?” he asked, forehead wrinkling and eyes squinting to make it out.

“I don’t know, what do you mean?” I responded, bending down to Noelle’s back-of-the-seat mirror to peer at my face.

Oh. My. Goodness. Brown spot – right on my nose! It was big. Huge! It covered the entire end of my nose. I quickly rubbed at it.

“Coffee,” I told Tim. And then I wondered – How long has this been on my face? And why did no one tell me?! It looked like dirt, or maybe a weird gross zit. Or – good Lord, I worked in the nursery – maybe even poo!

Imagine my chagrin: Here I had spent the morning blithely sauntering through church, chatting amiably with friends and strangers alike, with a huge brown spot on my nose. I was so embarrassed.

In the moment, it was mortifying. Now, it’s just a reminder of how much we magnify the small things in life that really don’t matter.

And I’m convicted because I know better. I know that my worth isn’t measured by the style of my hair or the color of my eyes or the symmetry of my features. And it’s not measured by the clothes that I have or the jewelry I add or the overall image I project. I know it, and yet I don’t always live it.

And I remembered years past when my sister had to shave her head because her hair was falling out from chemo treatments. She sat calmly in the chair while large swaths of her beautiful hair were removed, until nothing remained. And I remembered how, one day as it was growing back in, she removed her wig and whispered to me – “Do I look like a boy?” The anxiety in her eyes, the secret desperation, made me pause to catch my breath and swallow the lump in my throat before I could tell her, “Of course not; you look beautiful.” And it was true. I always thought of my sister as being so beautiful that, even in the midst of her pain and sickness, even when doctors gave us grim words and her hospital stays increased in frequency, I still thought – She. Is. So. Beautiful.

And she was. She radiated beauty.

But as a woman I understand that insecurity, that impulse to question ourselves, that feeling that our appearance is never quite good enough. And for someone struggling to overcome cancer, it must be an even greater burden – even when you no longer have breasts, you still want the comfort of feeling like yourself, like a beautiful woman.

And I’m ashamed. I’m frustrated that despite my deliberate lack of magazines, I’ve still fallen into the mentality that says that beauty = worth. That’s why I love this quote from author Sam Levenson:

“For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”

That is the kind of woman I want to be. Brown spot or not.

About the Author: Kristin is a wife and mother who has had news, business, and feature stories published in the St. Cloud Times, ROI Business Magazine, and USA Today. In addition to being an editorial assistant for an academic journal, Kristin has led church groups and managed a social network site for mothers. She’s also currently working on her master’s degree in English. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and traveling. Read more from Kristin at http://theruthexperience.blogspot.com.