Beyond Approval

A personal reflection on beauty standards

By: Brooke Reinink

In honour of Bell’s “Let’s Talk: Mental Health Awareness Week”, I’ve decided to write on the topic of body insecurity. If left unaddressed, this issue can lead to major mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. Recently, I wrote a letter to my closest family members and friends, expressing the misplaced emphasis on outward beauty among my inner circles. Growing up, there was a lot of pressure to be beautiful. I don’t mean that my loved ones and I were forced to brush our hair or wear nice clothes – but if we weren’t considered “beautiful”, we weren’t considered valuable. Or at least we were made to feel that way. Amongst the women on both sides of my family, there was a heavy competition to look better than the other. To be the smallest in waist size. To have the shiniest hair. To have the smoothest, clearest skin. To have perfectly applied makeup and to have the sexiest and classiest outfit. I am grateful to have a family who notices the shades of lipsticks, the spiciness of cologne, the fitting of dresses and the dyed colours of hair because it is delightful to have your appearance appreciated. The problem was that we noticed too much and appearances were approved rather than appreciated. 

My family and I aren’t the only ones who have been (well, are) beauty addicts; everyone has struggled with unhealthy beauty perceptions. We’ve all looked in the mirror, in the reflection of a window, into the camera of an iPhone and frowned at our asymmetrical faces, our frumpy bodies, or our stringy, frizzy hair. This delusion acts as a dark veil, obscuring the way we see ourselves. It was placed on us by our own mothers and fathers, just as everyone throughout history has inherited it. But how was this veil created? At the same time all terrible, twisted things were created — when sin entered the world and perverted the goodness of creation. Although there are many other ways sin has affected the world, we will focus on the veil because it makes us think, see and fret over nonexistent flaws in the design of ourselves and others. 

We are creatures who crave beauty. When we observe constellations in the sky, when we watch the sunset radiate rose and red, and when we gaze upon the brilliant lights of cities, we call that beauty. We can see the beauty of the mountains, the clouds, the beaches and do everything in our power to preserve it. Would you rid the mountains of their rough edges? What about the animals … would you cut off the koala’s large ears or trim the lion’s mane? But when we look at ourselves, we say ‘ugly’ and do everything to destroy our appearance. 

Toxic thoughts are exhausting and drive us into depression and into taking drastic measures. We begin to ‘fix’ our appearance by grooming, shaving, applying, plucking, lasering, injecting, cutting — we hate our appearance so much that we alter ourselves. But we dress this up as ‘enhancement’, saying that pinched, chemical, plastic, silicone, smeared bodies and faces are the best. We say that we need help to be beautiful and that pain is beauty. We are wrong. 

First, we do not need help to be beautiful, for we were beautiful the moment God created us in our mother’s womb; we were beautiful before the word came into existence. We are art. All art looks different. All of us are uniquely gorgeous! After all, we are made in the likeness of God! He is the ultimate source of beauty and He is the most beautiful. 

Second, pain is not beauty but this delusion of beauty is painful. It tells us to tear apart what God has created and this can only bring us misery. Of course, we are still called to care for ourselves, because our bodies are created to be temples of the Holy Spirit. Wear fancy clothes and do your hair and your makeup, not because you want to adjust your appearance, but because you want to express your love for art and creativity. Do it because you want to, not because you have to. Take care of yourself out of the love for our God. He has created us with care and tells you that you are beautiful.