I had the misfortune of flipping through an issue of Glamour magazine during a recent visit to the dentist. “Do you have this season's hot new look?” a bold headline wanted to know.
Well, let's see. If oatmeal in the hair, dark circles under the eyes and a nursing-friendly, bleach-spattered top are this season's hot new look, then I can say with confidence that, yes, on most days, I've got it.
A quick glance at the beautiful bodies and flawless faces that filled the other pages of the magazine, however, soon convinced me that I do not have it. And, at this point in my life, I probably never will.
When I was younger, I used to look forward to what I thought would be my “glory years,” a magical span of time I figured would fall somewhere between acne and wrinkles when I would look and feel my best at all times.
I recalled my “glory years” theory recently and came to the alarming realization that if I had any “glory years” at all, I likely missed them. I suppose I was too busy scrubbing bathtubs, enforcing naptimes and wiping runny noses to notice just how gorgeous I was.
It is out of necessity that most moms abandon their dreams of glamour and sophistication. One day a few months after our sixth child was born, I piled the kids into the van for an afternoon of errands. I went to three different stores, chatted with clerks and customers and even ran into a couple of acquaintances before returning home. Only then did I find out that I had white dribbles of dried baby spit-up in my hair and a telltale trickle down the back of my shirt.
If incidents like this weren't enough to quash my girlish inclination toward vanity, my recent experiences with a mysterious allergic reaction closed the deal. It's hard to be overly proud of your physical appearance when your eyes are subject to turning blood red and swelling shut at a moment's notice.
Most of us know that God doesn't want us to be overly concerned with our physical appearance. Yet the desire to maintain youth and beauty remains a tricky and emotional issue, even for good Christians. I am blessed to know many devout and holy women. And nearly every one has, at some point, expressed dissatisfaction with her physical appearance.
It can be hard to remember that inner beauty is our most valuable attribute, so it's helpful to recall role models of motherhood like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her inner beauty and love always shone through that wrinkled face and shrunken body. And what did her glow radiate from? Her joyfully selfless embrace of her motherly role. (“God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature” — Catechism, No. 239.)
One recent Sunday morning, by some kind of accident, I actually managed to spend 10 uninterrupted minutes in the bathroom getting ready for Mass. I got dressed, brushed my hair, concealed my dark circles and even put on some lipstick. When I emerged from the bathroom, 4-year-old Juliette, an aspiring princess in her own right, looked me over and gushed, “Oh, Mama! You are just too pretty!”
As I knelt to hug her, I looked over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of my husband beaming in our direction. It was then that I realized: These are my glory years and I am every bit as gorgeous as I need to be.
Danielle Bean writes from Belknap, New Hampshire.
- Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2004