Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Payson Utah Temple. As I was driving home, I felt buoyant from the warmth of the sun and the Spirit. The only thing that marred the drive was the constant skipping of the old church CD I had playing. Figuring it was probably ok to ease back into the secular world, I turned on the radio.
A song by One Direction, which you’ve likely heard whether you’ve wanted to or not, started playing. I wasn’t paying much attention, until I found myself singing along at the end of the chorus:
You don’t know you’re beautiful
But that’s what makes you beautiful!
As silly as it may seem, singing along with a pop song made me realize something. I found myself sitting a little straighter and thinking, “No, that’s not right. I know I’m beautiful. Isn’t that what should be celebrated?”
The more I thought about it, the more curious I became about some of the messages women get today. I found it interesting how many popular songs talked about women who didn’t know they were beautiful.
We’ve got Bruno Mars in “Just the Way You Are”:
Yeah, I know, I know when I compliment her, she won’t believe me
And it’s so, it’s so sad to think that she doesn’t see what I see
But every time she ask me do I look okay?
When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
‘Cause you’re amazing
Just the way you are
And John Legend in “You and I”:
You fix your makeup just so
Guess you don’t know that you’re beautiful
Try on every dress that you own
You were fine in my eyes a half hour ago
If your mirror won’t make it any clearer I’ll be the one to let you know
Not to miss the country genre, Blake Shelton adds in “She Doesn’t Know She’s Got It”:
On Friday night when I see her out
Even in a crowd she’s hard to miss
There ain’t a man breathing air
Who wouldn’t stop and stare
And the best part is…
She doesn’t know she’s got it
She doesn’t know how bad we want it
She doesn’t know she’s got it
And that’s what’s a gettin’ to me
And a throwback to 1993 from Sammy Kershaw in “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful”:
We go out to a party somewhere
The moment we walk in the door
People stop and everybody stares
She don’t know what they’re staring for
She don’t know she’s beautiful (never crossed her mind)
She don’t know she’s beautiful (no she’s not that kind)
She don’t know she’s beautiful
Though time and time I’ve told her so
At first, these songs seem to address a very real issue: many women struggle with self-esteem and self-image, and these songs are asserting “you” are in fact beautiful. So, what’s the problem?
First, it’s pretty easy to read between the lines and see that the women being discussed in most of these songs aren’t being described as beautiful because of any deeper definition of beauty. They “flip their hair like nobody else” and are wanted by all the men who see them, including the man singing the song. Once the woman being described no longer fits the standard definitions of beauty defined by our society, would she still be as desirable? What if she was confident, even if the world deemed her ugly or unattractive? Would she be called beautiful then?
Consider this recent viral video by Comedy Central and comedienne Amy Schumer. A satirical spoof of all the songs we’ve been talking about, the video depicts a boy band encouraging Amy to take off her makeup and let her inner glow show. Once she does, however, the boy band quickly changes its mind. “Just a little makeup, just some natural makeup,” the guys sing, not wanting to be seen with someone who “looks like the ghost from The Ring.”
Second, whether we like to admit it or not, there is definitely a precedence in our culture that favors the stereotype of a quiet, less assertive woman. Take this study from the scientific journal Emotion. After showing 1,000 heterosexual adults hundreds of images of the opposite sex, the study found that while women favored pictures of brooding, proud men, pictures of proud women were considered some of the least attractive in the group. It’s not really a surprise that a song about a man telling an insecure woman she is beautiful fits in our collective psyche. As women we want to feel beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with someone telling it to us. But when the insecure woman who needs to be validated by someone else is celebrated and the confident woman who is secure in her skin independent of other thoughts is diminished, it sends a powerful message.
Finally, we live in a world where we all buy into Satan’s superficialities and he loves it. As Sheri Dew said, “Satan wants us to see ourselves as the world sees us, not as the Lord sees us because the world’s mirror, like a circus mirror in which a 5’10” woman appears two feet tall, distorts and minimizes us. Satan tells us we’re not good enough. Not smart enough. Not thin enough. Not cute enough. Not clever enough. Not anything enough.”
I may be reading way too much into it, but as someone who has cried after looking into the mirror I want to rejoice in my hard-won confidence. In a world where so many women do suffer from shame and hatred of self, I listened to that song and was suddenly unappreciative of someone telling me it was beautiful that I didn’t believe in my own beauty.
While there is definitely something to be said for not placing physical appearance on a pedestal, it is important to remember what God has said about “deep beauty” and it has everything to do with understanding and embracing it. Here are just a few quotes from Church leaders, emphasis added.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so.”
When talking about her beloved mother, Elaine S. Dalton said:
“She understood what it meant to be a covenant keeper. She was never recognized by the world. She didn’t want that. She understood who she was and whose she was—a daughter of God.”
Sister Dalton has also said, “There is no more beautiful sight than a young woman who glows with the light of the Spirit, who is confident and courageous because she is virtuous.”
“If you live close to God and His infinite grace—you won’t have to tell, it will show in your face.”
When we understand our true divinity and internalize our own eternal potential, we walk into a room with confidence. We recognize where our worth comes from and the type of beauty that matters. We embrace our sure steps forward and work hard to overcome any faltering with the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
We know who we are, whose we are, and why we are here, celestial creatures choosing to live a life that can seem very un-celestial at times for the chance at something even greater, we can’t be refrained from shining. We should rejoice in that. No matter what a pop song may say.