There’s pretty, and then there’s beautiful.

In the last two weeks, I’ve become completely obsessed with Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior. Her writing focuses on speaking your truth and living in the light — rather than sending our glossy, oftentimes fake representative out in the world on our behalf.

But what Glennon talks about that really affects me most is her relentless effort to create a world in which her two young daughters can accept and love themselves … just as they are. In her latest book, she writes eloquently about explaining to her girls the difference between being pretty and being beautiful:

You two will meet plenty of people who are pretty but haven’t yet learned how to be beautiful. They will have the right look for the times, but they will not glow. Beautiful women glow. When you are with a beautiful woman you might not notice her hair or skin or body or clothes, because you’ll be distracted by the way she makes you feel. She will be so full of beauty that you will feel some of it overflow onto you. You’ll feel warm and safe and curious around her. Her eyes will twinkle a little and she’ll look at you really closely–because beautiful, wise women know that the quickest way to fill up with beauty is to soak in another human being. Other people are beauty, beauty, beauty. The most beautiful women take their time with other people. They are filling up.

Women who are concerned with being pretty think about what they look like, but women who are concerned with being beautiful think about what they are looking at. They are taking it all in. They are taking in the whole beautiful world and making all that beauty theirs to give away to others.

Eloquent, isn’t it?

I find these words resonate particularly acutely with me now, as I find myself inhabiting the role of pseudo-stepmom to a precocious, observant, free-spirited young girl. She has always had an openness and spunk about her that draw others to her. She makes friends quickly and easily. She LOVES life — she embodies joie de vivre like nobody else I’ve ever met. Really, she’s just one big bundle of love. And because she’s nearing the end of her eighth year, that love flows freely to all around her.

But, as is the unfortunate curse of growing up girl in this culture, I know these days are numbered. I remember all too well the first stings of social hierarchy, visited upon me at her age, in third grade. I had three close friends as a child–my cousin and two boys we played with throughout much of our early childhood. One of those boys was two years older than the rest of us, and hence we thought he was pretty much THE BOMB. I distinctly remember the excitement I felt at entering third grade, because in our school district, three grades were in the same building only twice: 3rd-5th, and 10th-12th. Starting third grade meant I’d FINALLY be in the same school as him and we could play together at recess.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that social mores rendered my dream implausible. He was trying to be Mr. Cool, and that meant distancing himself from the “kids” in third grade. I was still living in the world of Love To Everyone! He had moved on. It stung, and that was the beginning of a lifelong struggle to see myself as belonging. Rejection at 8 or 9 years old lasts a long, long time.

So I look at this vivacious, curious, wonderful ball of energy in my life, and I know that the time is coming when she, too, will be struck with the disease of belonging. She will want to be pretty, because pretty girls get attention. They become popular. They attract compliments and are the objects of yearning for those who are not pretty. They are idolized. They are pursued. They have power and currency in their world.

What Glennon tells her children, and what I hope my presence in this young girl’s life allows me to share with her, is that being pretty is no accomplishment. Being pretty means genetics and environment handed you a winning lottery ticket. You don’t earn pretty. You don’t deserve pretty. You are, or you aren’t. That’s God’s / the universe’s accomplishment, not yours.

Instead, what you do earn, what you do deserve, is beauty. As Glennon says, being beautiful is an act. It’s a choice. It’s an intentional decision to seek out love, inclusion, support, truth. It softens your heart to those around you, recognizing that every one of us struggles to belong. It inspires you to reach out to those left behind in the chase to belong. It exudes love to the world, which in turn fills you up to bursting with love reciprocated.

It is my sincerest hope that my not-quite-stepdaughter will not spend her life chasing pretty. Such a life is shallow and punctuated by an obsessive need to stay pretty, lest the world lose its interest. Pretty means you are worthless without your looks. I hope she will never want to be pretty. Instead, I hope I can teach her — and model for her — a worthier life goal, of chasing beauty. She possesses such overwhelming beauty now, and I hope we can find some way to nurture and protect that instinct in her.

This is my greatest wish today: That we embrace beauty and forsake pretty.

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