Today we’ll begin a series of homilies on femininity and masculinity. The first two Sundays on women, then the last two on men. As I’ve prayed over the readings, I saw certain ideas that build on each other, and so it’s helpful to have a progression.
Jason Evert says, “Nothing on earth compares to the beauty of women” (Theology of Her Body, 29). Sunsets are beautiful; waterfalls, mountains, snowfall too, but you can’t compare them to the beauty of women. “In the creation story of Genesis 2, the woman is the final work of God. She is the crescendo of creation… ‘God gave Eve a beautiful form and a beautiful spirit. She expresses beauty in both… Like God, it is her essence.’” Advertisers know this: “when a woman is pictured in an advertisement, viewers both male and female will look at the ad between fourteen to thirty percent longer.” Can you imagine some man sprawled out on a mustang? That would never happen.
But deeper still, my experience is that women want to be beautiful because they’re designed by God to be beautiful. Jennifer Hartline wrote, “A thoughtful late-night conversation with my husband turned out this question: If you asked a woman if she would rather her husband think she is incredibly beautiful or incredibly smart, which would she choose? My husband said he was a bit surprised at my response. I said that I really believe, in her heart of hearts, a woman would rather be incredibly beautiful to her man. A woman wants to be desired and prized by her husband as the most beautiful woman he knows.”
This desire seems to start young, to be even hard-wired into girls. While on the boat going to Searching in the Spirit retreat, I overheard some grade 7 girls saying to each other, “You’re so pretty.” I was amazed! These girls were so aware and interested in each other’s beauty. (I never did that in grade 7.) Guys never pay attention to who’s better-looking. Similarly, when I taught a Kindergarten class about what our bodies will look like at the end of time, the girls were thrilled that they were going to look as pretty as their souls! The boys, however, were excited that they’d be able to go through walls like Jesus did after He resurrected.
All this is wonderful and good! All beauty comes from God. Women were designed by God to be beautiful so that they could reflect Him in the world. Their desire to be beautiful is given to them so that they will seek Him and lead other people to Him.
And we’re talking about this because there’s a problem: we don’t see women’s true beauty, and we don’t see God’s. In spite of the fact that women are designed to be beautiful and want to be beautiful, it would seem that most women don’t see themselves that way. A study in 2004 found:
- Only 2% of these women describe themselves as “beautiful”
- About 3/4 of them rate their beauty as “average”
- Almost 1/2 of them think their weight is “too high””
I have no reason to doubt these statistics and my personal experience agrees with them: self-doubt and insecurities plague many women. This is very consistent with our culture, which, in my opinion, is very superficial. We are conditioned by our society to only look at the physical appearance of women and to have unrealistic expectations, and it’s deeply damaging to women. That’s one reason why it’s hard for many women to get old.
This is a video by Dove called “Onslaught” showing in one minute 600 sexualized images. James Borkowski, formerly of Signal Hill, when he showed this video, said that our children see 600 sexualized images in just one day, through movies (think about the characters), music videos, advertisements, magazines. Women have to have perfect skin, looking younger, smaller, tighter, firmer, thinner. There’s an excessive focus on weight loss products, clothing, make-up, and exercise not for health but for vanity. Advertisements use women as objects.
Today, in the Collect (that is, the Opening Prayer) we prayed: “Grant… that we… may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.” God is beautiful, but we have to change in order to see it. We see His beauty in creation, but this is nothing compared to His real beauty. Same with women: their exterior beauty is a reflection of their interior beauty. True beauty is on the inside!
External beauty is good! We should rejoice in it and we should take care of our appearance. The problem comes when we make it our only focus, get obsessed with it, find our self-worth in it, as if exterior beauty were the most important thing.
I was raised in this society like everyone else, so I used to focus on the external, but as I got closer to God, I changed. I started seeing a deeper beauty. Years ago, during a get-together, I remember talking to a young woman, and during our conversation there was a meeting of minds, and I said to a friend later, “Hey, I was just talking to that girl, and her virtue is really attractive.” The fact that she was mature, intelligent, and thoughtful was beautiful in the true sense of the word.
I now see better what false beauty is. At my university in Rome (open to all people, Catholics, non-Catholics, priests and laypeople), there was a woman there who was physically very beautiful. But I remember seeing her treat very badly another student who wasn’t popular. She was interested in the cool guys, but not in this guy. I remembering thinking, “Huh, that’s an unattractive quality, and it takes away from your true beauty.” False beauty leaves everyone unsatisfied and empty.
And then I’ve seen changes in hearts: while at dinner at my friend’s house, I met his sister, who, during the conversation, actually said the following, “I think of myself… more as a temptress.” I was shocked. How could anyone think of herself as a temptress, using her physical beauty to deceive men? That’s not beautiful. But years later, I saw her as a wife and mother, and I saw how she had matured, and how her real beauty came out in her care for her children. Wow, that was great to see!
Being with truly beautiful women, who love God, who are virtuous, confident, and smile—that’s a gift. Why? Because they’re great to be around, they make us better people, show us something of God and lead us to Him.
That opening prayer is so important: “Grant… that we… may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.” We have to change our hearts. Women, nourish that desire for beauty—it’s given by God. But recognize that real beauty is interior. And real beauty will attract real men. Men, God calls us to affirm the women in our lives and tell them the truth: that they are beautiful. Let’s affirm them in their physical beauty, but more importantly, in their interior.
Last thing: the way we see God is related to the way we see beauty. The more we pray, the more we recognize God’s beauty and goodness, the more we’ll see it in other people. But, if we neglect our prayer life, it’s going to be hard, I think, to see real beauty. We’ll be tricked and left empty. And vice-versa: the more we look for true beauty in other people, the more we’ll grow in prayer and love for God.
Nothing on earth compares to the beauty of women, especially her interior beauty. And her beauty reflects God’s.