The Beauty of Authenticity
by Rev. Julie Long
The FBCX Women’s Retreat is one of my favorite church events of the year. The opportunity to get away from the daily routine, to spend some time enjoying God’s creation in one of the places that relaxes me most, and to take part in meaningful reflection and conversation with some amazing women rejuvenates and refreshes me. This year was no exception.
This year, our theme was “The Beauty of Authenticity,” and our own Nikki Hardeman guided us both beautifully and authentically. We opened our weekend by viewing a video clip that has made its way around the internet via YouTube and Facebook recently. The 3 minute clip was sponsored by Dove beauty products, and is called “Dove Real Beauty Sketches.” The video told the story of an experiment that used the services of a forensic sketch artist to draw the faces of women. The artist never saw the women. Instead, he depended on, first, the description that each woman gave of herself, and then, on the description of each woman given by a stranger who had just met her briefly.
After both sketches, the women were invited to view the two images of herself – one, a self-image, and two, an image of how another saw her. The contrasts were striking. In every case, the self-images were more negative: the women looked closed off, sadder, and less physically attractive. The stranger’s perspectives reflected women that were more open, friendly, and overall happier. After seeing the two drawings side by side, one of the women remarked, “We spend a lot of time analyzing and trying to fix the things that are not quite right about ourselves, when we should be taking the time to appreciate the things we do like.”
While at first glance this experiment spoke to women’s perceptions of their own physical beauty, what it left us with was as sense of something much deeper. All of us - men and women, young and old, thin and overweight, unblemished and scarred - struggle to see the beauty that we reflect to others, physical and otherwise. We get hung up on our limitations and imperfections; we secretly wish to be like someone else; we do not feel as if we are ____ enough (fill in your own blank: smart, successful, wealthy, courageous, beautiful, articulate, etc.). And when we do, we short-change ourselves and others around us. We stop short of living out the depth of our beauty and giftedness. We fail to live into all that God has created us to be.
Embracing the beauty of who we are – living authentically – is not about pretending to be perfect. It is about accepting our limitations, making ourselves vulnerable, and knowing that it is out of our brokenness that we can offer some of our greatest gifts. In the words of Maryanne Williamson, “when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
This week, I am grateful for a community that accepts me and loves me in spite of my imperfections, who affirms my beauty, inside and out, and who calls me to embrace it for myself. I am grateful to raise a daughter and son-to-come in such a place, where they are taught to see themselves as gifted and beautiful children of God. May each of us embrace the beauty that is within us when we see ourselves as God sees us.