Beauty can at once empower or defeat a woman. But when considered for its deeper, spiritual meaning, it has a lasting, blessing influence.
The Dove Real Beauty sketches that went viral this year paint an eye-opening portrait of women and how critically they often view themselves.
Surprisingly, only 4 percent of women in the world consider themselves beautiful, according to Dove's research. And with a culture that connects beauty with self-confidence, society has its work to do to undo historically narrow definitions of beauty.
One woman who took part in the Dove sketches acknowledged that a woman's self-confidence " . . . is tied to the friends we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children--it affects everything and it has everything to do with our happiness," she said. And that includes a woman's physical and mental health-- from body image issues, to eating disorders and obsessive behaviors.
The Dove experiment revealed that others have a far more compassionate and realistic view of us than we do of ourselves. The take-away? You are more beautiful than you think. Perhaps turning off the inner-critic is what's needed most.
Every woman possesses the stuff that makes her truly beautiful -- joy, compassion, intelligence, creativity. Think about how gorgeous a smile is, a tender hug, a witty comment. These are all qualities our Creator gave us to share freely so that we can inspire others to do the same.
Oscar winner and Hollywood newcomer Lupita Nyong'o stood out from the crowd in a fresh way at this year's awards ceremony. More than her glowing face, crowned head and pale blue flowing Cinderella gown stole the night.
Nyong'o's speech about accepting herself as a woman of color for "Essence -- Black Women in Hollywood" sheds light on the depth to which she's thought about the topic of beauty as a young black girl growing up in Kenya. Her mother taught her that "you can't eat beauty." Lupita explains, "You can't rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you."
Speaking to the young girls and women who look no further than the cinematic screen or the pages of fashion magazines for their models of beauty, her words carry the kind of influence that her Oscar gown could never convey.
"I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you on a similar journey," she said. "That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty."
Loving and accepting ourselves for our spiritual nature can contribute to undoing the cultural myths associated with beauty. My friend Anne shared that there isn't a day she isn't grateful for what some friends at her church did for her "to begin to walk the journey of seeing and loving the beauty I express and then seeing that same beauty in everyone."
Anne said it was a nurturing Mother-love that she felt as she threw old clothes away and gradually found new ones. Now when she gets ready each day she thinks about reflecting "the charms of [God's] goodness in expression, form, outline, and color." As the Psalmist said, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us."
"This has made all the difference in my life," Anne told me.
A changed perspective like Anne's helps us to be more gracious first to ourselves and then to others. We're quicker to reject the ugly thoughts. We stop comparing ourselves unfairly or sizing up the competition. We readily give a compliment and flash a brilliant smile. We're kinder. Those expressions start with a thought and end with a beautiful outward expression.
When we get to work on what's inside we radiate on the outside, too -- and then perhaps the 4 percent of women who currently count themselves beautiful can expand into a healthier segment of the population, reflecting what beauty really is.