The following is an excerpt from Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Liseux:
I was six or seven years old when Papa brought us to Trouville (France). Never will I forget the impression the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power. I recall during the walk on the seashore a man and a woman were looking at me as I ran ahead of Papa. They came and asked him if I were his little daughter and said I was a very pretty little girl. Papa said, “Yes,” but I noticed the sign he made to them not to pay me any compliments. It was the first time I’d heard it said I was pretty and this pleased me, as I didn’t think I was. You always took great care, Mother, to allow me to come in contact with nothing that could destroy my innocence, and you saw to it, too, that I heard nothing capable of giving rise to vanity in my heart. As I listened to what you and Marie said, and as you had never directed any compliments to me, I gave no great importance to the words or admiring glances of this woman.
At first this might sound a little shocking/extreme. You might think to yourself, “What?! Her parents never told her she was pretty? They never paid her any compliments about her beauty? How could a little girl survive like that?! She must have been so insecure! What terrible parents!” But before you take that stance I would ask you to take into account two details 1) Consider that Therese was not insecure about her appearance in the least. In fact she says right there in the passage that compliments about her appearance were of no great importance to her. 2) Also consider that St.Therese’s parents are also on their way to becoming saints. They have both been beatified in the Catholic Church. Her parents were not martyrs, they did not found a religious order, they were just parents. So if they have been beatified for being parents, that obviously says something about their parenting abilities.
Next, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well Therese was just a nun, and nuns don’t care about how they look.” But take into consideration that this story from her childhood took place long before she entered a convent.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal defined vanity as putting too much emphasis on things that are really not that important. Obviously it is important to look nice. Pope Pius X described God as “infinite beauty.” All of creation contains beauty in different ways, and some things were created even just for the sake of beauty. However, a problem arises when too much emphasis is put on external beauty and not internal. You have a limited amount of control over how pretty you look exteriorly, but there is no limit to how beautiful you choose to be internally, there is no limit to how much love you choose to give people. That is where the real importance is.