As a lover of historic dramas, it’s not uncommon for me to curl up on the couch on a Friday night and get lost in one of my favorite mini-series. Recently I pulled out the sequel to Masterpiece Theater’s popular Cranford series, Return to Cranford.
One scene in particular from the heartwarming show always captures my interest. In it the grandmotherly Ms. Matty (brilliantly played by Dame Judi Dench) and the series’ new young heroine, Peggy Bell, are gleefully perusing some hand-me-down clothes. In a tender interaction between the two women, Ms. Matty subtly passes along her wisdom and philosophy on feminine beauty:
MS. MATTY: (Holds out a bonnet for Peggy to try on) “This trim is in a shade that would suit you…it would bring out the color of your eyes. Every young girl has her most pleasing feature. Mrs. Forrester’s hair was the palest shade of gold almost something like the petals of a Jonquil. And Ms. Pole had a figure that provoked no little comment.”
PEGGY: “And what was yours?”
MS. MATTY: “I was told it my complexion.”
Every young girl has her most pleasing feature.
At first this passing comment from Ms. Matty was wasted on me because of its simplicity. But I think it reveals a simple view of feminine beauty that is full of wisdom.
Many of us women often believe that we must possess an “all encompassing perfection” before we can be considered truly beautiful. No doubt this belief is largely due to the widespread misuse of photo-retouching we see in advertising today that turns ordinary women into flawless goddesses. Thankfully, the recent surge of media awareness campaigns, such as the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, has drawn our attention as a society to just how distorted and unrealistic we have allowed our standards of beauty to become. Nevertheless, even if we know that the super-women in TV ads and on magazine covers, with their airbrushed complexions, owe their glowing image to photoshop their false “perfection” can still effect us deeply. They can pressure us into feeling that we are not as attractive as we ought to be, or that in some real way we are a grave disappointment. Such negative perceptions inevitably impacts our relationships with others. We have all experienced how our striving after beauty often leads us to deadly comparisons, jealousy, pride, and even depression, all of which puts up barriers between us and those around us—particularly other women. Such petty divisions and rivalries stifle the good that can come from fellowship with other women and hardly reflects the ideal of Christian unity we’re called to embody. But what’s a girl to do?
Enter Ms. Matty with her simple wisdom: Every woman possesses her own unique and natural beauty. Look for it in others; celebrate it. Be celebrated yourself!
Pondering Ms. Matty’s philosophy over my recent bowl of Friday night popcorn, I couldn’t help but wonder how it might play out if I intentionally looked for and celebrated the unique beauty in each of the women I met throughout the day. So I’ve taken Ms. Matty’s philosophy to the streets and have been blown away with how it’s changed my perspective.
I have encountered three girls in particular (complete strangers) that just stunned me by their simple yet singular beauty. The first was in one of my classes. Every time we talked I couldn’t help but be awed by her dazzling brown eyes. Another girl was a cashier at Staples who had the loveliest strawberry blonde hair I’d ever seen (and given her complexion and freckles I think she was a genuine redhead:). The last was a bank teller who graced my day with her delightful and contagious smile.
What struck me the most about these girls was that the charm of their beauty was simple and easy. It wasn’t forced or put on; it came from what they naturally possessed—their eyes, their hair, and their smile. Like Ms. Matty said, they each possessed a particular beauty that was all their own. No, these three girls probably wouldn’t have measured up to the stringent definition of beauty proposed by Glamour magazine, but they were beautiful none the less. Very beautiful.
There is a natural beauty in each woman alive, an unrepeatable expression of the beauty of our Creator. And that beauty deserves celebrating. So let’s distance ourselves from the crazy competition for nothing and honestly say to the girl sitting next to us in class, or ringing up our ink cartridge, or handing us our deposit slip that she looks lovely.
It will probably make both of your days.