The Essential Element of Beauty

While we most often learn to think of beauty as an outward condition, at its core beauty is a condition of the heart. When you have a beautiful heart, your outward appearance becomes inconsequential. Your beauty doesn't rely on how good your hair looks that day, or how much you weigh, or how "flawless" your skin is.

I was leading a women's group last year and we were all discussing this idea of beauty, trying to figure out what qualities really make a woman beautiful. Most of us came to the conclusion that feeling comfortable with oneself and having confidence were big factors in beauty, and then one of the girls in the group who rarely spoke up shared that she felt like kindness was a true indicator of beauty. We all had one of those dumbfounded moments of, "why hadn't I thought of that?" She gave the example of a girl who is physically pretty, but treats her waiter like crap. You don't really think of her as being beautiful, right? We all immediately recognized the truth in what she had shared. Kindness is an essential element of true and lasting beauty.

Kindness has a lot to do with sensitivity for what other people are going through. Empathy, if you will. It's hard to be kind if you don't empathize with what other people are going through. It makes me think of this quote:
Recognizing that other people are struggling is an important part of kindness, and one that I personally have a difficult time remembering sometimes. I'm not a natural empath, so I have more of a tendency towards being judgemental. I'm working at it though. For example, if someone is driving like an idiot (my first reaction), I stop to think that maybe they are tailgating me because they're super late for work, or need to get to the airport, instead of thinking that they're just a jerk. Or if your barista isn't super friendly, instead of thinking he or she is rude or mean, maybe they're having a bad day, or their boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with them the night before, or they could just be shy! We can't read minds and know what people are going through, so it's best to err on the side of sensitivity. We'd want people to treat us with sensitivity when we're going through rough times, so we should do our best to give people that same benefit of the doubt.

And speaking of going through rough times, I can think of many women who are actually more beautiful for having gone through hardships. This is probably why the beauty of older women seems to be of a different caliber than the beauty of young women. Younger women may be beautiful and kindhearted, but there's a lack of enduring strength that comes with age and experience. It's a shame that our culture tells us that wrinkles and scars are ugly and must be covered up or staved off for as long as possible. I've always viewed wrinkles and scars as evidence of life having been lived. Yet, we're taught that as soon as a wrinkle shows up, we must do everything within our power to eliminate it. Just one look at the blog Advanced Style immediately shows that beauty and age are not mutually exclusive, and that wrinkles aren't the end of the world. When I see people using cosmetic surgery to erase wrinkles and lines, it almost seems to me like their erasing their lives. Our bodies are a sort of book with our lives and experiences written in our skin. I have a scar on my face from when a dog bit me at the age of 18 months. I don't remember any of that actually happening, but I actually enjoy the fact that I have that scar. If I had a twin or clone with the exact same genetic material as myself, we'd still have different stories told on our bodies through our scars, bruises, and wrinkles. I think that is beautiful.

I once heard my grandmother, who is 90 years old, say that mentally she feels the same as she did when she was 25. While our bodies may age, our spirits remain youthful and bright, so how can we say that beauty is only something which exists in our appearance? If we take that to be a truth, that beauty is something that is tied to our spirits or souls or hearts (however you see it), beauty must be evidenced by kindness. A spirit which is unkind simply cannot be beautiful. Unkindness is always ugly. If kindness was something every person strove after every day, the world would be fundamentally transformed.