By ELIZABETH LONG, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 30, 2022
Recently a friend shared with me the Instagram feed of a particular influencer. As I looked over my friend’s shoulder while she scrolled through curated pictures of swimming pools, hotels and exotic travel, I couldn’t help noticing the influencer’s celebrity-status body. She had an hourglass figure, toned-tummy and flawless skin. She looked perfectly beautiful. And it was all too easy to criticize my own body.
While the light side of social media can keep us connected and entertained, the dark side is that it tends to alter our self-perception and lower self-esteem. While scrolling through social media and through the thousands of pictures of models, influencers and celebs with perfect bodies, we start to measure ourselves according to their standards of beauty.
But here’s the reality. And it’s a reality you probably already know. Many of those perfect bodies don’t exist. Influencers and celebs often promote eating healthy and working out. However, their pictures often combine plastic and cosmetic surgery, retouches, filters, unnatural poses and lighting to achieve a look our bodies can’t naturally achieve.
Regardless of how aware we are of these strategic deceptions, we still somehow believe that this is the only desirable beauty out there because society says it is. These standards we set for ourselves and others lead to unhealthy comparisons.
Comparison kills joy. When we compare ourselves to someone else’s body, we suddenly lose all joy in our own body. We can no longer be happy because someone else is thinner, fuller, stronger, fitter or better.
Comparison kills love of self and love of neighbor. We compare, and suddenly love for ourselves becomes conditional. We begin to believe we are only worthy of love if we look like those we compare ourselves to. And then we tear down our neighbor to feel better about our insecurities, using words such as“She’s so fake…”
“He’s so into himself.”
“I’d have a body like that too if…”
I believe the cure for this poison of comparison is finding joy in living a life according to God’s beauty standards. He made us body and soul, and our bodies are meant to be physical expressions of his love.
I think you know what I’m getting at. Beauty is more than physical looks. True beauty isn’t superficial. True beauty goes even deeper.
When Jelena Vasilj asked Our Lady of Medjugorje why she was so beautiful, Our Blessed Mother responded, “I am beautiful because I love. If you want to be beautiful, love. There is no one in the world who does not desire beauty.”
Beautiful people love, act with integrity and practice virtue. Think of all the people in your life who you find beautiful. Do they look like Kim Kardashian? I bet you find them beautiful because they are loving, kind or in some way virtuous. They have an inner beauty that shines through.
One of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met was an elderly nun who by societal standards wouldn’t be considered physically beautiful. But her face literally glowed with joy. She expressed an inner beauty that was so attractive it would draw you into her world.
This kind of beauty that comes from within is the only one worth living for. You could have the perfect body based on societal standards and repel everyone around you because of pride and selfishness. Or you could accept the body God gave you, live as an expression of his love, and attract those around you with your humility and grace.
The good news is that God’s beauty standards are attainable. It begins with the realization that we are made in his image and that we are already beautiful in his eyes because we are his creation.
St. Catherine of Siena, who had many mystical experiences and could see souls, once told her confessor Raymond of Capua, “Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, ‘It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.’”
If we want to live to achieve God’s beauty standards, we need to perfectly conform ourselves to his image and likeness through a relationship with Jesus. It takes a bit of work. It requires deepening our relationship through prayer, the sacraments and practicing virtue.
In the end, we will stop holding ourselves to superficial beauty standards, find joy in ourselves both body and soul, cultivate a love for our neighbors who are also created in God’s image, and be truly beautiful from the inside out.