What makes a woman beautiful?

I’ve been thinking a lot about appearance lately and questioning what it is that makes a woman beautiful. It began about a month ago when my Facebook news feed began to fill up with no make-up selfies, photos of fresh faced women without any make-up. Apparently, this was an offshoot of a campaign that originated in Britain in early March as a breast cancer awareness and fundraising endeavor. It quickly went viral. On this side of the pond, the breast cancer connection was lost and the movement became about women being comfortable in their own skin and embracing their natural beauty. Women were to post their no make-up photo then nominate other female friends to do the same. The response was interesting. Many posted their pictures proudly, others with disclaimers apologizing to those who had to see them, while still others refused to post at all.

I enjoyed the pictures but I was saddened by some of the responses. What is it about our culture that tells a woman that she needs to apologize for her natural appearance or worse yet, that she shouldn’t be seen publicly without being fully made up?

The answer is easy; the messages are all around us. Flip open any women’s magazine and you’re instantly inundated by air brushed images promising younger looking skin, flawless complexions, lusher lashes, smoother lips and glossy nails. How easy it is to forget that these are simply advertisements aimed at selling products. Instead, for many, they become the goal, the standard of beauty, and they go to great lengths to try to attain it.

The Bible has something very different to say about beauty.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4

Though this passage has often been misinterpreted, nowhere does the Bible say that a godly woman shouldn’t braid her hair, wear elaborate jewelry and fine clothes, or use make-up. It simply says that her true beauty shouldn’t depend on these things. It ought to come from inside.

That’s easy to say when you’re comfortable with what you see in the mirror, but what if you really aren’t? I’m waiting for surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from my parotid gland, the largest salivary gland on the left side of my face, and I have no idea what I’ll look like afterward. The best case scenario would leave me with nothing more than an S-shaped scar down the crease in front of my ear, under my ear lobe, and down onto the side of my neck. A change in hairstyle could easily camouflage that. The tumour is deep, however, and removal may require a much more complicated procedure. There’s no way of knowing this in advance, however, so I’ve already signed consent that would allow the surgeon to make a much larger incision and cut through and temporarily move my jawbone if necessary. This procedure would also require a temporary tracheotomy and, of course, the scarring would be much more extensive. In either case, this is very delicate surgery due to the close proximity to a major facial nerve. If possible, the nerve will be saved but there is no guarantee of that. If it cannot be, I will be left with significant drooping on that side of my face.

So, what will I look like when this is over? Will I be one of those people that little children stare at and whose embarrassed mothers hush when they innocently ask, “Why does that lady look so funny?” Will inner beauty shine through a lopsided face? Will I have the courage to wear my scars as a badge of survival?

Tomorrow, I’m going to be attending a Look Good, Feel Better workshop. The program, an initiative of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, is designed to boost the morale of women undergoing cancer treatment by empowering them to manage the effects that cancer and its treatment can have on their appearance. Perhaps I’ll learn something that will help me deal with my post surgery face, whatever it looks like.

Ultimately, however, make-up or not, scars and all, I just want the beauty of Christ to be seen in me.




9 thoughts on “What makes a woman beautiful?

  1. What influences my self worth? Good question my dear friend? Perhaps it is once again time for self reflection? I do know that my true beauty is that which comes from the Lord, but I also believe it is a reflection of those around me, and how they treat me, my husband for one, my sons and step daughter and her family (who always seem so happy) and of course my dearest friends of which you are.. My dear Elaine, I am looking forward to spending the day with you tomorrow! Thank you for shinning so bright, your courage amazes me!

    • What a great observation, Deb! I think it’s very true that our beauty and our courage are enhanced by those around us who love and support us through the good times and the bad. How fortunate I am to have you on my “team”!

  2. The most beautiful female face I’ve ever seen was the National Silver Cross mother about 25 years ago. It was before Afghanistan, and finding a mother of a person who had died in armed conflict was becoming difficult. I do not recall her name, but she had the most beautiful, kind eyes, that sparkled. Even with tears in her eyes as she placed the wreath on the National Cenotaph, all her 95-year-old wrinkles made her look like she was still smiling. She was just stunning.

    • Yes, that’s where our culture has it so wrong. We’re told that being beautiful is all about looking younger when some of the most beautiful faces are well-worn aged ones!

  3. Pingback: Look Good, Feel Better | Following Augustine

  4. Pingback: Aging beauty | Following Augustine

  5. Pingback: Beauty from the inside out | Following Augustine

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