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Choosing Beauty Over Vanity

This is part of the Love Yourself Linkup—an ongoing series by women around the web focusing on self image and body image. In our posts, we will talk about our thoughts on these subjects, tell stories of our personal experience, share what has inspired us, challenged us, and more. The following post is an article I wrote in the fall, which was published in Issue No. 1 of Darling Magazine. I hope it serves to encourage and inspire you!

I’ve spent the last eight or so years of my life digging deeper and deeper into this paradox: beauty exists without vanity. It’s complicated in my mind because I’ve been raised in a culture that equates the two, encouraging women to be vain and offering no alternative. But the truth is, they are opposites.

Vanity is defined as “inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance.” Beauty, on the other hand, is “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”

We live in a time where most women who are considered beautiful are so completely (and simultaneously) consumed with both self-obsession and self-hatred, that they utterly lack the ability to demonstrate the real beauty God intended for them to have from the start—the kind that radiates from the inside out: kindness, joy, love, compassion, generosity and authentic confidence.

The vain woman gets noticed in the street and is gazed at during the parties. She’s what so many men want, and so many women want to be. She catches every glimpse in the mirror that she can, though she likely doesn’t approve of what she sees because she elevates the value of her appearance to the highest level. She will never be satisfied. Physically attractive as she may be, she is empty.

The beautiful woman, however, isn’t preoccupied with being the center of attention. She’s engrossed with her appearance like the vain woman, as she understands that life is about so much more than that. She is radiant for reasons others can’t quite put their finger on. Her hair is sometimes messy or if her outfit is put together properly, and her makeup is likely minimal. She is filled up because she knows her value is not connected to her looks, and others enjoy her presence because she lives an outward-focused life.

Though most of us would agree that idealistically we’d rather be the beautiful woman, we are tempted to turn to the strange comfort of vanity. In many ways, it’s easier than pursuing and embracing true beauty, which requires self-assurance, self-confidence, and time to cultivate strong character.

Case in point: earlier this year (and one week before my friend’s wedding), I looked in the mirror to see not only that my chronic dry skin had spread to my eyelids, but also that I had a bright red rash under my right eye. My career is based on helping women embrace real and lasting beauty, yet I confess that my vanity stepped in right away: Lucky me. Just days before I’m about to meet new people and take tons of photos, I look like a red-eyed mess. How embarrassing! Maybe I’ll pretend I’m sick so I can avoid it altogether.

Those thoughts actually ran through my head! I was so quick to become prideful in my appearance that I actually considered missing my friend’s wedding to avoid the embarrassment of looking less than my best. Vanity, in its finest moment.

Thankfully, my heart eventually turned. After sitting in my vain disappointment for a while, I remembered this truth: Physical appearance can be one small part of beauty, but in no way does it comprise the entirety of it. Beauty is an aggregation of things that are unique to every woman.

Vanity is obsession. Beauty is radiance.

I decided no matter what my eyes looked like, I would go to that wedding and walk with my head held high. I’d shed tears of joy as the bride walked down the aisle, toast to the beautiful couple, and hug them goodbye as they left for their honeymoon. I would skip my makeup and wear my glasses if I needed to, because beauty is more than skin deep.

Choosing beauty in a vain world is no small task. It requires awareness, intentionality, and a strong will to make the right decisions on a day-to-day basis. We can either obsess over our lip-gloss, or we can use our mouth to speak words of encouragement to a friend. We can stare at ourselves obsessively in the mirror, or look for character qualities in other women that make them shine bright. We can feel insecure about our perceived shortcomings, or we can have confidence that we each have a unique combination of beautiful traits that make the world a better place. We can be vain, or pursue real, lasting beauty. We have the choice.

Ready to choose radiance over narcissism? Here are some practical ways to end the self-centered vanity cycle and start promoting real beauty today…

Take a break from the mirror.
Instead of focusing on what we look like, let’s take the time to recognize and celebrate the function that each of our body parts bring to our life. Rather than criticize our thighs for being too big, we can choose to appreciate the way they get us from one place to another; Instead of longing for more toned arms, let’s delight in how they let us pick up groceries and hug our loved ones.

Show your face.
One thing is for sure: true beauties are comfortable in their own skin (whether they think it looks good or not!) We need to set ourselves free from the bondage makeup can put us in—making us feel like we need to hide behind a pretty mask instead of be who we are. By taking regular breaks from our makeup routine, or cutting back on the amount we wear on a daily basis, we can start to see the God-given beauty that is inherent to being female.

Minimize toxic media.
If watching certain shows or reading certain magazines trigger our minds to believe that being pretty is what it’s all about, we need to stop exposing ourselves to them. The more we see and hear lies, the more we believe them. Let’s fill our eyes, ears, and minds with information and images that contribute to us living a full, healthy, beautiful life free of self-obsessed vanity.

Get positive.
What we say reflects what we believe—whether it be about others or ourselves. Let’s eliminate the bad habit of negative body talk, and instead celebrate the non-physical qualities that make us (and the women around us) beautiful. As we retrain our words and thoughts, we’ll reshape our minds to not only recognize a wider variety of shapes and sizes as attractive, but also see what makes us and others truly beautiful.

Be the example.
If we want to see real beauty, we have to be the ones to demonstrate it. Instead of wasting time obsessing over our appearance, let’s choose to be kind, compassionate, generous, and joyful. Before we know it, our communities will be bursting at the seams with women who radiate beauty in its purest form, a force powerful enough to change the world.

Have you struggled with vanity like I have? In what ways do you (or are you trying to) choose radiance over narcissism in your life? Let’s discuss…

Photo by Elizabeth Messina for Darling Magazine

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