The Beauty Paradox

As promised, I’ve gathered my notes and tried to type up a summary of the fireside I recently taught (for both women and young women) called “The Beauty Paradox: The Surprising Relationship between Righteousness, Self-Image and Power.”  The links to my quotes, references and study materials are all listed at the bottom of this post.  Sorry, but there was no way to do this briefly and do it justice.  Grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for a while.

There is opposition in all things.

For everything good and powerful and designed to bring happiness, Satan creates a counterfeit.  He sets easy traps, and when we fall into them, we cannot enjoy what we wanted in the first place . . . the real deal.

Even when it comes to beauty.

People have many different opinions about beauty and modesty and self-image.  Even among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve found that some take modesty standards more seriously than others.  Some think that standards must be more closely followed and enforced, and some think that we should just teach general doctrines about the body and divine nature and stay away from specific standards.  Some think that women and young women should not be held responsible for what men think about their clothing choices, and others would argue that females should be taught to dress themselves modestly with a better understanding of the inner workings of the male psyche.  All these (and other) different approaches have valid points, but they make it quite difficult to teach principles of beauty and modesty without some serious inspiration.  Luckily, my inspiration came one morning during my daily devotional time, otherwise known as a shower.  After many weeks of study, the previous evening I had studied a talk by Sister Elaine Dalton where she taught about the principle of “deep beauty.”  The ideas began to flow, and I literally wrote them with my finger on the foggy shower door in hopes of not forgetting them.  When I finished, I wrote it all down as quickly as I could.  This is what came into my mind that helped me organize all the principles I had been reading and pondering:

I know it looks crazy, but it truly gave me the direction I was seeking.  I’ll start at the top, then left column, then right column.

Dictionary.com defines Beauty as:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from [1] sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), [2] a meaningful design or pattern, or [3] something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

The first of the three defined sources of beauty-satisfaction is what makes up SURFACE beauty.  The last two fit more meaningfully in the category of DEEP beauty.  Surface beauty is the element of beauty that Satan has latched onto and the world-at-large has bought into.  Deep beauty is what God sees as beautiful and wants us to strive for.

Surface beauty is measured by outward appearances: usually by clothing, body, and makeup/hair.  These are the elements of beauty most embraced by our media culture and most flaunted by those who try to copy it.

Clothing: (It’s important to distinguish that from here on out, any advice to young woman can and should apply to adult women as well, and vice versa.)

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke to mothers about their daughters and asked them to teach the following:

“Our daughters as well as your sons are coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual, and thoughtless promiscuity. Immodest, unchaste women are glamorized and all too often celebrated and emulated. While there are steps that we can take in our homes and families to minimize our exposure to these unsavory elements of contemporary living, your daughters cannot entirely avoid the blatant sexual messages and enticements that surround them. You need to have frequent, open discussions during which you teach your daughters the truth about these issues.

For example, they need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”

Notice that he talked about sending the wrong message to young men.  A Catholic blogger recently wrote an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which he lamented the prevailing trend to abandon “pretty” in favor of “hot.”

“Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence.  I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is.  But some things were different in the back then.  First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue.  And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact.  That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different.  When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend.  Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity.  Its value is temporary and must be used.  It is a consumable.”

I remember talking to some young men that I taught in seminary and asking them if it was hard to fulfill and focus on their priesthood duties at the sacrament table if there were women and young women in the congregation that were immodestly/provocatively dressed.  They vigorously nodded their heads to the affirmative, and the young women in the room were surprised by their answer. Now, some may be on different sides of the argument about how responsible a woman should be for the way a man views her.  Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I think we can probably agree on a few simple principles as outlined in the Proclamation on the Family.  When the Lord sets forth the divine roles of women and men with regards to families, he proclaims that men are to “provide” and to “protect.”  I think it’s very interesting that these same concepts are mentioned by the blogger as being naturally inspired by the virtuous and modest appearance of women.  The proclamation also states that within our divinely appointed gender roles and interactions with one another, husbands and wives — and I think it’s safe to extend it to men and women in general — “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”  We can, and should, help one another to be our very best selves and to fulfill our divine roles as outlined in the Proclamation.  While acknowledging that men are ultimately accountable for their thoughts and attitudes toward women, we can promote respect by showing respect for them and for ourselves. Modesty in dress is one way we can do that. Continue reading

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Just keep swimming…

I pretty much overbooked myself the last couple days, and I survived, and it’s all good.  I’ve discovered I can handle high-stress days in small increments (like maybe 2-3 days max), but not over a sustained period of time.  It’s nice when it passes and you can sit back and breathe again.

It feels a little indulgent, but several of you have asked about the notes from the fireside I taught last night, so I’ll work on a blog post in the next few days (after I breathe).  I saw one young woman recording the whole thing on her iPhone, so I wish I would have just asked her for a copy of it, but oh well.  Despite the nerves and the self-induced pressure to just get it right, I felt like it went well.  I’m satisfied when I can walk away from a teaching opportunity and say, “Well, that’s the very best I could do.”  You just hope it’s enough.  For those of you who expressed curiosity, this is what I wore.  (I know it was silly of me to post about that, and I really knew the right answer — which you were all so kind to share–, but you have to admit you’d feel the same way if you were going to stand up in front of a group of people as some kind of “beauty” expert.  Ha!  Even typing that made me laugh.)  Anyway, voila:

I know, I know.  “[Insert name of real beauty expert* here.], eat your heart out.”

*I couldn’t think of one since I’m so in touch with the fashion world and all.

In the meantime, if any of you are dying to study some great reference material about beauty, modesty, self-image and virtue, here’s a link to a list of things I studied in preparation for the talk.  There’s a lot of great direction available to us.  It made me realize that our leaders have given us a lot of clear direction, so it’s surprising that there’s still so much confusion.  I guess Satan does a good job of scrambling signals.

In other news, after several failed attempts to communicate to Clark my complete dissatisfaction with finding his recently-washed clothing back in his dirty clothes basket instead of put away, I finally decided to take a more practical approach.  I informed him on Sunday that he is now in charge of the laundry for a while.  I’ve spent the last couple of days teaching him the system.  They’ve always sorted their dirty clothes and put away their clean clothes (in theory), but I decided to let him actually wash them all, switch loads, dry them all, fold them all, etc.  This photo I took tonight shows you how happy he is about the new arrangement:

Well, that’s about it.  I’ll finish up with one of my favorite quotes I found while preparing for the fireside (thank you to my friend Velda for making it look pretty for me):

 

The problem with princesses

Natalie put on her leotard and admired her ballerina self in the mirror.  She twisted a little to watch the fancy sway of her sheer skirt.  She looked at the flower barette in her hair and grinned at herself.  I saw her grab her sleeves and tug on them.  First one side, then the other.  She was trying to make the neckline stretch out over her shoulders.  She would uncover one side and the other side would snap back into place, so she tried with both hands to make the neckline wider and more revealing.

“What are you doing?,” I asked.  She shrugged.

Then a lightbulb went off. “Are you trying to look like Belle?”

Natalie smiled and nodded, a little embarrassed that I had discovered her thoughts.

“Oh,” I said, understandingly, “Belle is very pretty, isn’t she?  But Belle’s dress is not very modest.  We know we shouldn’t show our bodies, right?”

She nodded yes, remembering and understanding, and pulled her cute little sleeves back into place.  After admiring herself for another few seconds, she pranced off to play.  I was surprised by how impressionable these little ones are, in ways I hadn’t quite expected.  Just a few days ago, I thought this was adorable:

Now I’m feeling a tiny bit cautious.

Ezra Taft Benson said to young women around the world:

“Remember who you really are and the divine heritage that is yours. You are literally the royal daughters of our Heavenly Father. . . . You have been born at this time for a sacred and glorious purpose. It is not by chance that you have been reserved to come to earth in this last dispensation of the fulness of times. Your birth at this particular time was foreordained in the eternities. You are to be royal daughters of the Lord in the last days. You are the youth of the noble birthright.”

Silva H. Allred gave these great reminders:

The Lord has commanded us to teach our children important truths, and teaching modesty and virtue is one of our most vital responsibilities.

Some of the important concepts we should highlight in our teaching include the following:

  • You are a child of God.
  • Your body is a temple. It is a gift from God.
  • Modesty in dress, thought, attitude, and behavior invites the companionship of the Holy Ghost and reflects your personal commitment to the gospel.
  • The way you dress and behave sends messages to others about your attitudes and how you feel about yourself.
  • You can be attractive without being immodest.

As parents, we need to speak frankly about these natural tendencies but also about the importance and value of self-discipline that Heavenly Father requires us to learn as we overcome the “natural man” (see Mosiah 3:19). In this case, that refers to dressing and acting in a modest manner.

I realize that the infraction is small, but it got me thinking.  I just wish that, even in the cartoon world, princesses understood that with royalty comes responsibility.