MaryAngela, my second daughter, was joyful and excited about life from the womb. She too was a feminine beauty. On my last pregnancy check up, the day before she was born, the midwife gave me a wide-eyed look of shock and laughter as she completed the exam. I had felt the baby move, but I had no idea what just transpired within me. The midwife explained that while this little one had no intention of arriving that day, the baby pushed her head into the midwife’s hand with a greeting-like movement, seeming to say “hello!” and then retreated back securely in my womb. She had a jovial personality from the beginning. As much Anna loved to wear dresses to twirl while she danced, MaryAngela loved dresses for their parachute value as she jumped from the highest places she could climb. Both of my daughters exuded confidence and delight as they grew into their individual sense of beauty.
As my son and daughters grew, our backyard was transformed into forts and castles, pirate ships and jungles filled with wild animals and rivers to cross in makeshift boats. There were vintage dress-up clothes, hostages to free, new territories to explore and families to protect from the elements as they acted out the Little House on the Prairie series we read with them in the early years. The battles against the elements gave way to battles between good and evil as we read the Chronicles of Narnia series. In their play and in their personalities, my son and daughters masculine and feminine gifts complimented each other and helped them identify their own strength and beauty.
My youngest child, Johanna, enlarged our hearts and our understanding of beauty and strength as she endured numerous brain surgeries in her first year of life. The deep purple scars that lined her head in rainbow arches and tracks, were slowly covered by whispy hair that grew in patches in her second year of life. Johanna quickly earned the stature of queen in the children’s play, a throne serving as a way to include her in their playtime, and to offer her stability before she took her first steps at two and a half. Homeschooling afforded us precious time for imaginative play. I look back on those days with great joy.
Recently, I have been reminded of these intrinsic masculine and feminine gifts as I lead a book study on feminine beauty. Far from being a sexist rant on traditional roles of men and women, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge, challenges preconceived notions while still acknowledging and highlighting the masculine and feminine qualities of strength and beauty. The authors propose and defend that God created us male and female with different questions to answer inherent within our gender. Men long to know “Do I have what it takes?” as much as women long to answer the question “Am I beautiful?” You have to read the book to understand. But trust me, I’ve read numerous books by these two authors and read Captivating three times. They are far from preachy and verbose. The concepts are fascinating and well-demonstrated in our human experience.
The past few weeks in this women’s group we have been discussing what beauty means and how we unveil it in our hearts, in our relationships and in the world. It has been such an enriching study to share in a small group and to reflect on in my daily life. At the same time as I have been reflecting on my own views and desires for beauty, there have been some truly enriching videos on social media. Here’s one example.
These videos challenge the plastic stereotypical measures of beauty which emerged from our Photoshopped and pornographic culture. Beauty, particularly in women, has been overexposed and exploited largely through these modalities.
Along the same lines of these encouraging videos which support true beauty, I recently discovered a project called, “Raw Beauty NYC.” The group’s mission, according to itswebsite: “Raw Beauty NYC is an innovative visual arts project designed to inspire the public to create new perceptions, transform stereotypes and breakthrough personal obstacles by expanding awareness of women with physical challenges.” The project will be unveiled in September. Visit their website for the details.
Canine Companions for Independence, was asked to participate as a “Raw Beauty” model.Emily Sciarretta, a friend I met through
Emily has many health challenges and diseases and now is in a bedazzled wheelchair.
“Without my sparkly ride I would be bedridden and not an active member of society,” she says. “I’m thankful to have my chair. It’s a life-changing device.”
Emily’s beautiful life expresses purpose, as she explains, “I will continue to strive to be the inspiration that people tell me I am, by not giving up and continuing to trust in God to get me through. I will show the disabled and able-bodied alike to not lose hope, and that things do turn around. You CAN truly do anything you want to do, whether you roll or walk.”
In her brokenness, Emily reveals a depth of beauty that others long to grasp. She is comfortable and attractive in her own skin. That’s real beauty.
One of my favorite scriptures regarding beauty is from 1 Peter 3:3-4:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it comes from the hidden character of the heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
The heart is where true beauty lies. Whether on the outside is a bedazzled wheelchair or battle scars of medical interventions or invisible scars of cognitive impairment, it’s the heart that matters. How we love and endure, how we cherish and respect others, therein lies true beauty, in the hidden character of the heart.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.