By Frank Wessling
Girls want beauty, and we fail them when we provide only superficial ideas of what beauty is. No self-respecting woman wants to be seen as unattractive, and this is one of those signs that God has built into us a desire for relationship.
We know at a deep level that we are made for relationship. The Catholic catechism describes us as “being in the image of God.” According to St. Augustine, we are “restless” for the ultimate relationship that brings us to rest in God.
But it begins with wanting to be desirable and the work of appearing desirable to others. Anyone educated in the America of today quickly learns what this means for women. Skin must be smooth, hair must be silky, eyes must be enhanced with mascara, lips must be plump, body must be firm and well shaped, teeth must be dazzlingly white and, in the current fashion, a small teaser of cleavage must be part of dressing up.
That’s the message found in magazines and advertising aimed at women. Those are the standards that get you the greatest attention. That is where respect is found. If you don’t match up, settle for living in the shadows and the edge of things, not at the center. You aren’t precisely a failure but without this brand of beauty you can’t expect the best of life.
This is a terrible lesson for girls to learn as they grow up. The fortunate ones will understand that beauty is not — not — just skin deep, the thing maintained only by external treatment. They are helped to realize that beauty becomes a firm and lasting dimension of life only when it rises from within.
If we want the best for girls we want them to value and respect the energy that makes them uniquely lively: it may be openness and easy friendliness, or broad interests, or intelligence and love of learning, or compassion and helpfulness, or any mix of all such virtues. These are qualities that make the well-proportioned person.
Courses in religion for teenagers should include a component on beauty. The ultimate in beauty is God. Impress the kids with this truth. Whatever contributes to making us whole and healthy and open to God and ultimate truth is part of the path to beauty that not only glows in youth but grows in attractiveness throughout life.
Point out that Jesus could see right through the superficial people who drew attention by the way they fixed themselves up. He exposed the deadness within those folks.
It may seem a stretch to make this topic part of Respect Life Month, but it belongs as a foundation of our concern.
Popular culture dictates that girls get no respect unless they follow the fashion dictates of the day. The fashion says they must treat themselves as objects of desire rather than subjects of ultimate value and respect. They need and deserve help in building the self-respect that comes from within and is open to God. The Church should be prominent in such a mission.
The well-integrated young woman is less likely to be manipulated in any way. She has a healthy sense of the sacred in human life.