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The Importance of Being Beautiful

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Beautiful

  1. I’m sort of curious. You clearly state that you are not an organization that is attempting to dictate women yet the quote at that very top of your page is clearly stating that in your belief its your duty to protect woman’s dignity. It sounds similar to a parent child relationship, the parent is in charge of the child’s dignity. In doing so the parent dictates what the child needs. So can you explain to me how none of this is dictating women?

  2. I’m not about to disagree with St. Therese, but I think the conclusion drawn from her writing misses the mark. Vanity, of course, is sin and comes ultimately as a result of insecurity and a true lack of one’s knowledge of their actual beauty and dignity. But a woman’s desire to be beautiful (not just “nice”) is a holy desire. Yes, vanity is a problem in our world, but it stems from the bigger problem of women not knowing how truly breath-taking they are. There’s a big difference between the desire to look sexy and the genuine desire to be beautiful. Humility is seeing yourself the way God sees you – as you are. It’s not self-deprication.

    This makes me indeed curious to look further into the writings of St. Therese, as the idea of never paying a child a compliment sounds far more puritanical than it does Catholic. Certainly this is not the approach Jesus took. Is it possible that this is St Therese finding joy in her wounds, being grateful for the good that came from a wrong that had been done to her? Though her parents may have had saintly hearts, that does not mean they were perfect. I’d also wager the holiness of Therese further transformed them, but this is just speculation as I admit to not really knowing the full story of St Therese.

    One of the biggest reasons women have trouble believing God sees them as beautiful is because they have never been told it before by parents.

    The desire to be beautiful isn’t just a desire to look “nice” or “presentable” either. Nor does it solely refer to interior beauty.

    To suggest that a woman’s desire to be captivatingly gorgeous and beautiful is just vanity is, I believe, a real misunderstanding of theology of the body.

  3. St. Therese does not intend to say that her parents never said anything nice to her, in fact, her father frequently called her “my little queen”. She says that they carefully avoided saying anything that could lead her to vanity.

    This post does not condemn exterior beauty, but it is stating that interior beauty is far superior, and you have much more control over it. God does see beauty in all of his creations, but a loving heart is infinitely more valuable to him than a pretty face.

  4. Just be careful not to confuse the desire to be beautiful with vanity. I think there is nothing more true and holy in all the world than a father telling his daughter that she is beautiful. Perhaps Therese would have been especially susceptible to the sin of vanity so the Spirit guided her parents to keep her from that, but the deepest message The Lord wants to speak to the hearts of women is: you are beautiful and you are loved.

    The deepest desire of a woman is to be beautiful and to be loved. This is glorious, not vain.

    I think what bothers me most is the post’s claim that “you have a limited amount of control over how pretty you are externally.” This, coupled with the suggestion that The Lord values holiness over a pretty face, makes me cringe. That’s like saying, “God values your holiness more than he values you.” What? No. A woman IS her beauty and God values it infinitely – this beauty is most glorified the closer she is to Christ, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t already the most beautiful creature in all of creation. It also seems to suggest that you believe God created some girls to be less pretty than others, which flies right in the face of theology of the body.

    Some women are not more pretty or less pretty than others. Our very perception of beauty has been tainted in our culture to believe otherwise, as we now see beauty as whatever media has trained us to see it as, but it’s our eyes that are the problem.

    I understand that your point here is to stress holiness over vanity, but I think you’re missing something.

    In encourage you to check out some blogposts on madeinhisimage.org on the subject of women’s beauty.

    or check out Christopher West’s “At The Heart of the Gospel” or “Heaven’s Song.”

  5. The deepest desire of a woman is not to be beautiful and to be loved. The deepest desire of any human being is just to be loved. It is a great misfortune when we are led to believe they are the same thing; that if you are beautiful, you are lovable.

    I am sorry to make you cringe, but God does value interior beauty over anyone’s exterior appearance. And yes, some people are more attractive than others, that is a fact. Please show me where in Theology of the Body it says otherwise.

    It appears you are a Christian, and if you would like some Biblical passages to meditate on I would recommend Proverbs 31:30, in which we are told that beauty is fleeting. And also 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”

    Also, I would caution you from speculating on what St. Therese’s faults could have been, no good will come of that. And I would recommend Peter Kreeft’s “Socratic Logic” for a basic course in fallacies, such as the ad hominem you committed against St. Therese’s parents when you said they were not perfect, which is true, but I was never arguing that they were.

  6. Since your yourself hold up the quote and her parents as the ideal of parenting, and seem to be suggesting that it is good to not tell daughters they are beautiful (if I’m incorrect, please tell me what you really mean), I don’t think it unreasonable at all to speculate as to why her parents would do such a thing. I should have clarified when I said they weren’t perfect – I meant to say they may have not been perfect parents, which is what you are holding them up as an example of. It’s not ad hominem if I’m suggesting that specifically that what you hold up as ideal parenting is an example of imperfection. That was in my first post, though. I went on to speculate in my second one that the Spirit guided them to do this specifically in the parenting of Therese, but not necessarily all their children. I admit that I know little about Therese’s parents, but I think it’s important to ask these questions before holding up the decision to not tell a daughter she is beautiful as an example of saintly parenting. Are you recommending this to all parents? Do you believe that a girl knowing she is pretty is vain? Proverbs 31:30 is clearly not referring to beauty, objectively, as vain. This refers to an impure beauty, or quite simply, “sex appeal.”. If you really believe beauty to be vain, check out the Song of Songs.

    In regards to what I said about no woman being more beautiful than another, my source is Christopher West’s commentary of TOB, but I won’t be able to give you a direct quote until later.

    To say one woman is objectively more beautiful than another is like saying rivers are more beautiful than the ocean. Certainly, one may be drawn to one more than the other, but The Lord did not create one to be less beautiful than the other.

    Of course, until I pull up my sources, this appears as just my opinion. But for now, that’ll have to do.

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