A friend recently texted me from a local beauty salon where she waited in the lobby for her turn in the chair. She was there for a haircut and color, but found herself browsing the shelves of products stacked artfully among pictures of beautiful women hanging on the walls.
“I feel like this is one of the most oppressive places in the world,” she told me.
Seriously?, I thought. In the whole wide world?
So now I’m standing here in the middle of the beauty aisle at my local corner pharmacy chain, and I think I agree with her.
Words have power. In fact, people often forget just how powerful words can be. The words on display in this aisle have a particularly deep power.
A little girl sits on the floor a few concealer displays down from her mother who is browsing the 42 varieties of mascara. At maybe 6 years old, she is fascinated by the vibrant wall of nail polishes and with more care than I’d expect from a child, is reverently stroking the tiny glass bottles of color. I don’t have a daughter. But I do have a handful of friends with very fragile self-esteems and while I see them as strong, bold women, forces to be reckoned with, souls on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man, I’m starting to realize that most people don’t see them—or me—that way. We’re objectified . We’re seen as pretty faces and bodies to enjoy. And we’re told that we have to look a certain way to have any worth or influence. Just take this beauty aisle as an example.
My heart aches for my friend who felt so small standing in that salon, who felt so intimidated by images and products of physical attractiveness plastered all over the walls that she couldn’t see through the institutionalized shame to find the deep, unbreakable sense of her own worthiness and beauty.
But words are powerful, I remind myself. So let me redefine those beauty aisle words for the women in my life, with the small hope that if they change how they see themselves, so will the world.
Brilliant strength. Not strength in your fingernails, but strength in your heart. May you discover and love who you are, and then fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.
Infallible. May you be constantly, infallibly aware that infallibility doesn’t exist. In anything or anyone. If you must seek perfection, may it be in an infallible grace—for yourself and for everyone around you.
Age defying. Your skin will wrinkle and your youth will fade, but your soul is ageless. It will always know how to play and how to enjoy and how to revel in this one-chance life. May you always defiantly resist the aging of your spirit.
Naked. The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your gloves off. Pull no punches. Say what you want. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.
Flawless finish. Your finish has nothing to do with how your face looks today and everything to do with how your life looks on your last day. May your years be preparation for that day.
I used to watch my mother getting ready for an evening with my father or with her friends. I loved seeing her pick out a dress and jewelry to match. I sat on the counter facing her as she brushed blush onto her cheeks, sculpted curls in her long blonde hair, and spread lipstick effortlessly across her mouth. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
After she was all dolled up and spritzing her sweet perfume on her wrists, I’d ask her if I was ever going to be as beautiful as she was.
“You’ll be even more beautiful,” she’d say. “But you’ll always remember where you are the most beautiful, won’t you?”
And I’d obediently nod and repeat the three words that she made me repeat each day. The three words that help shaped the self image of a grown woman. The three words so bright no concealer could cover them.
“On the inside.”