On Being “Captivating”, or Why I No Longer Believe My Deepest Desire is to Be Beautiful

“For we are what he has made us…” Ephesians 2:10 NRSV

I was addicted to the book “Captivating”, by John and Stasi Eldredge for my high school and beginning college years. I believed this book had unlocked the deepest desire of my soul, had cracked the codes of womanhood, and was the foundation to becoming a godly woman.

Honestly, I don’t even know where my copy of Captivating is anymore.

I think this book is important for many reasons, and I do not want to discredit the hard, generous work the authors put into creating the book. It is important in many ways. However, as time has progressed, I have found myself disagreeing with the primary message of the book: mainly, that the “question” which lurks in the depths of women’s hearts is “Am I beautiful?”

The word “beauty” is fraught with plasticized and fictionalized ideals pushed onto women from both culture at large, and the sub-culture within the Christian church. The media tells us beauty looks one way and fits one way, and the church has done a pretty good job of prescribing a similar recipe for “godly” beauty (we just cloak it with bible verses to help women feel extra guilty when they don’t measure up). We strive and fall and hate ourselves for culturally and spiritually falling short. John and Stasi Eldredge argue that women present their question of beauty to their fathers, their significant others, and to (wait for it) Jesus. Jesus is the only one who can answer our question of “am I beautiful?” with a resounding yes. And from there we can go be perfect Christian women with flat stomachs who know to keep silent in church, because Proverbs 31 is a to-do list on how to achieve that “inner beauty” Christians seem to be so fanatical about (but please, Lord, make my husband have baby-blue eyes and abs I could wash my dirty socks on).

For years, I  felt less than beautiful.  When I wore my prom dress, I felt like an elaborate joke (mostly because damn , those things were designed to inflict pain and discomfort on the wearer. Also having the back of your knees sweat due to 20 layers of tulle between you and the outside world definitely does not contribute to feeling beautiful). I had braces from sixth grade until my sophomore year of high school, and my hair rarely cooperates. I have a silver slit of a scar running diagonally across my chin from surgery I had as a child. I laugh loud and hard and occasionally snort. I drool when I sleep, and when I focus too hard on one thing. I swear like a sailor.  And I prayed and prayed that God would make me “beautiful”, make me like my size four friends who knew how to get a boyfriend where as I seemed to have the gift of scaring boys away with my supernatural ability to burp louder than any man I’ve ever known. I prayed that God would answer my question: “Am I beautiful?” with a cosmic YES. But it never came.

 What came instead was the realization that  I do not need confirmation of the sociocultural ideal of my beauty by man or woman or supernatural deity to determine my significance as a human being. I am much more than my beauty.  I am more than a to-do list. I am poetry. I am not a metaphor for a godly woman. I am a beloved warrior. I have helped bring children into this world, and I have cleaned the vomit out of a meth addict’s hair. I have prayed with the dying, I have laughed with the living.

I have stopped asking “Am I beautiful?”. I’ve begun living my identity as beloved warrior, Jesus feminist. Disciple. I proclaim my love for Jesus loudly, and I let the words of Scripture read me as I declare them as the word of the Lord over my community.

Women are so much more than “captivating”. Women are so much more than beauty. Women, men, humanity- we are poetry. And I would argue that the deepest question lurking in the depth of my soul is not “am I beautiful?”. I believe the question that trails the heels of women and men globally is the question: “is there a place for me in this world?”. In Christ, the rhythms of our poetic souls find a narrative, a common story line to guide our wanderings. And the answer to this question is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Amen.

Alright friends. That was a lot of theological ranting. But you know I never leave you without a video of some sort for your transition from the blogosphere to real life. So here’s a beautiful piece of spoken word by Katie Makkai called “Pretty” (like most spoken word I appreciate, it’s real and gritty and has some colorful words.)

Later Days,

Jess

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2 thoughts on “On Being “Captivating”, or Why I No Longer Believe My Deepest Desire is to Be Beautiful

  1. Wow, that is ( please excuse the term) ‘pretty’ powerful! And at this point I want to break into song from West Side Story…
    I love you and am so humbled by the power you put into your writing. God has given you great strength, you are just getting started! Look out world! Here comes my baby!

  2. As always, powerful words sister. I do believe the question am I beautiful is only part of the equation. Women question their own beauty, because it has been twisted into the question “am I worthy to be loved? Is there something in me worth loving, worth fighting for?” God not only calls us beautiful, because he make us beautiful, but even better he calls us his daughter. We are beautiful because we have the light of God shining out of us, not because of how clear our skin is, or how good our hair looks on a particular day.

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