Much like you Ella, I was a care-free girl growing up. I loved playing outside, singing to the radio, and eating big bowls of ice-cream late at night. For a long time, I wasn’t bothered by what people said or thought about me. I was me. I was Ella. And then things changed when I neared my teenage years—as they do for many girls. I became aware of what it means to be “pretty” in our society. I grew up in a wonderful home—I never heard my mom complain about her body around me and she never said anything discouraging about mine. But it is our culture. Lets face it, we all want to be “pretty” and we’re fed content which tries to define what “pretty” looks like. In our teen years, we see glossy magazines screaming the same message at us. Pretty girls are popular. Pretty girls are skinny with perfect abs. Pretty girls get dates. Pretty girls get the attention, love, and security we all crave.
Among my memories of playful teenage adventures, I remember hours of standing in front of the mirror wishing I looked a certain way—I wished my body was thiner and curvier, my eyes were less huge, and I could grow a few more inches. I remember conversations with friends revolving around our desire for "beauty" and how we could physically attain it. We were selective about which pictures of us got posted on social media, and we made sure we only got tagged in ones where we looked our very best. It was life and we were embracing our culture.
Ella, let me clarify here. Beauty is not a bad thing. It is a gift. Your beautiful eyes, hair, and skin are a lovely masterpiece. Our culture has commodified beauty though—to something that can be bought or sold. Just as other people enjoy when you laugh and smile—don’t stop sharing your beauty because culture is trying to turn it into something trivial.
Ella, embrace a broad definition of beauty. Our society tends to idealize an exclusive image of what “pretty” means. If a woman has a genetic inheritance close to that ideal, she is ideal, she is envied. Other women, less fortunate, are taught to wear clothing and make-up that draws attention to or de-emphasizes their “best” and “worst” traits. They learn to compensate. Our societies narrow definition of beauty takes individuality out of us. Each of us are so individual in our physical appearance, interests, and mannerisms—it is wrong and nearly impossible to not embrace a broader definition of “pretty”. But culture tries to force a narrow one upon us. Never look down upon someone because they are different than you—instead appreciate their unique gift of beauty, see the individuality, and admire the masterpiece that God created in them.
In college I surrounded myself with beautiful people—people of diverse interests, intellect, and deepness of thought. In my mind these people were the pretty people of the world. For them—their beauty came from experiences and love for the world. I hope you choose friends like these Ella. They will build you up. They will edify and challenge you. They will remind you that life is so much more the way you look. Don’t ever confuse beauty with value.
Ella, I chose to write this to you after my second week of work in my new job. I was still living with your family at that time. Coming home to you I saw pure love for and wonder for life. You were beautifully curious about everything surrounding you. You would spin in your flowy dresses some nights and run around, chasing chickens in old shorts other nights. The endless amounts of laughter that you brought to the end of my long days made your physical beauty seem so insignificant compared to the joy radiating out of you. At work, I started eating my packed lunch at a table of girls who worked in different departments at our building. I felt young there—21, hardly out of college, living with your family—not quite on my own, and slightly blind to the world of pop culture, among girls well into their adult career. One thing that immediately caught me off guard though was their constant, daily conversation around body image. Not one of the girls sitting around our table was “fat”, but there was always a new diet. Someone was always counting their calories. And someone was always commenting on how much weight she had gained or lost. One time I tried to tell someone they looked great the way they were and a girl made a snarky comment on how skinny I was. There was no win and it was shocking.
I sat their one day—eating about twice as much as anyone their shamelessly and diverted the conversation to talking about good restaurants in the area. The girls perked up and started talking about the cool taco bars, the best places for ice cream, and hipster cafes. It hit me—non of these girls really hate their life, food, or their bodies. They are simply a product of a culture which shoves a narrow message of the ideal “pretty” down their throat. We went out to eat today—and we all ate tacos until our stomachs exploded. We laughed and told stories about high school. No one cared that they had eaten twice as many calories than they would normally eat, that they had salsa on their blouses, or cilantro stuck in their teeth. We were having fun and I felt like I was with truly fun, intelligent, and beautiful people. To me—they were all prettier then, than I had ever see them. Ella, remember this and never skip the cake at the party.
When I look at you Ella, I see a pretty girl, but I also see a girl who is intelligent, curious, loving, and full of joy . Never forget that. The greatest beauty to be found in life is not what the world sees when it looks at you, but what you see when you look at the world.
The Other Ella