A beautiful woman walked by me in church last week, hair a shining fan of honey, figure stitched by the best. For a moment, I wanted to be her, this lady who had been sculpted by humanity. She catches many eyes, men and women, and we all pause to see this vision, different than she was a month ago. She pretended not to notice and put some pride in her strut. Something about that strut is wrong but I still feel a bit faded with my wash-and-go hair and years-old blouse.
We come to this holy place to worship the Maker, King of all Kings, Creator of mankind, sculptor of hook noses and romans noses, thin lips, full lips, frizzy hair and various ranks of waistlines. We are walking temples, yet we have bowed to the church of man. Even in the midst of Halleluiahs and salvation tears, our insecurities walk like shadows across our eyes. They weave in and out of the chairs, drawing out attention from God to the woman/man with a better _______ than mine. Who do we put in all this effort for? Not God, for like any parent, He must think His children are beautiful. Of course He does, He made us. Could there be a greater purpose for my ghostly pale skin?
What claws at our insides so sharply that we need to fill in the gashes with another’s approval? No matter how much we love exterior beauty, this is starting to feel like an inspection before the slaughter.
It reminds me of Katniss Everdeen, when she considers the deception of appearances in The Hunger Games: “After dinner, we watch the replay in the sitting room. I seem frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling in my dress, although the others assure me I am charming. Peeta actually is charming and then utterly winning as the boy in love. And there I am, blushing and confused, made beautiful by Cinna’s hands, desirable by Peeta’s confession, tragic by circumstance, and by all accounts unforgettable.”
What really gets me is how the devil slithers into church, in holy camouflage. He works hard. Really hard, I mean, if I can obsess over my ghostly skin and how I can get a tan like so-and-so’s, then I have completely missed what God was trying to tell me in that moment. I have given God the proverbial slap in the face when I decided to take control over my appearance because what He gave me doesn’t work. Wait – work for what?
Doesn’t He count every hair on my head? Hasn’t He called me uniquely and wonderfully made? Such attention much be for a greater plan than mine.
My imperfections keep me humble. I accepted my pale skin when too many doses of sunshine burned it into cancer. I had that sucker cut out and thanked God for the skin that was still healthy. What’s tan skin when I can find joy in being healthy?
Katniss was forced to look beautiful to increase her odds of survival. No one would sponsor an ugly woman.
But they would still throw her to the wolves.
All the waxing and makeup and designer clothes did indeed help her. Because of it, she captured the interest of sponsers. But those gifts from man’s approval are not what stirred a nation to hope. Not what ultimately led to her victory. It was her inner gifts, those things that have become too cliché to mention because people still want it wrapped in a beautiful package.
Clever plan for a devil. And we take credit for it. We glorify his work in magazines, in movies, in the permission we give others to criticize our appearance to death.
A few people who know my history with skin cancer still tell me I need a tan. Thanks a lot. I don’t need your approval and certainly won’t risk my life for your viewing pleasure. Would you?
Katniss and Peeta became a symbol of hope. Not for their looks, not for the acts they put on to earn sponsors, but for the hope they gave a nation. Isn’t that what we all hunger for anyway? Hope?
In the words of my friend and fellow writer Nikki Hahn, “God doesn’t make ugly.”