I was never lauded for my physical appearance. I grew up taller than the average Asian woman (and man for that matter), cycling through degrees of unflattering bowl cuts, baby fat, and acne that persisted long past the point of being called endearing. I was a tomboy who loved running through the streets and falling off my bike. Always the first to try to steal a base in kickball or make a run for it in cops and robbers, I came home with new injuries every day, bandaids never too far from my burgeoning rock collection. I preferred mountains to makeup, forests to fashion.
As puberty reared its awkward head, I became acutely aware of my perceived shortcomings in comparison to my peers. My glasses, braces, Albert Einstein ‘Got Math’ t-shirt, and backwards baseball cap didn’t pass muster in middle school when Abercrombie & Fitch, breasts, and a panoply of ponderous awakenings ran rampant. I couldn’t have cared less about fitting in as a child, but despaired of my lack of femininity as a teenager and especially as a young adult. I constantly compared myself: I was never pretty enough, skinny enough, popular enough. But then I was an academic and a creative, above social acceptance based on the superficial. Or so I told myself.
As an adult I’ve fallen prey to propaganda and worldly standards of beauty that are impossible to attain. Standards of Asian beauty in particular — porcelain, dewy white skin and stick thin proportions — made me feel supremely unattractive. My hours in the sun playing soccer and tennis and practicing the cello gave me a complexion and the calluses that stood in stark contrast against the glossy images I saw in the media. And yet I tried. I redefined my wardrobe, wore make-up, and started overly caring about how the outer appearance created a window into personal aesthetic and societal standing. I went through equal stages of feminine rebellion and enhanced femininity in the pursuit of “beauty”. But despite my best efforts I couldn’t shake the inner voices that whispered my insecurities with dripping venom.
Yet as I discovered my identity in Christ, I came to view style as an opportunity to voice my values and ideas, to speak to the heart of my true identity rather than the one I tried so hard to create on the outside. I learned that to follow Christ was ‘to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:24) rather than putting on appearances.
I grew into a woman who understands that the power of beauty is not in the things she wears but in the tenor and quality of her mental and moral rigor. That our worldly standards of beauty will forever be subjective, but the standards of the heart are absolute. I grew to understand that beauty lies in the kindness, hard truths, and grace granted to undeserving, sinful recipients, of whom I may lead the pack. I discovered that love, in its purest, most unconditional and sacrificial form, is the epitome of beauty, a height of glory untouched by the A-listers of the world. I grew into a woman who proclaims that beauty lies in the beholder of my choosing.
Mine is the true Beholder who created every awe-inspiring thing on this Earth (the Earth notwithstanding), gazed upon it and declared that it was good. The God who created man and woman in His likeness and pronounced that it was very good. The intentionality behind every atom, muscle, and hair on my head meticulously and lovingly crafted even before I knew the world. The sacrifice on the cross — Christ in his defamed, bloody, and frankly heinous crucifixion the most horrific and most beautiful act of all. This sacrifice on behalf of those who rejected Him paved the way for us to understand true sacrifice and genuine beauty in the eye of the one Beholder who truly matters. It is the unmerited grace bestowed on a broken, ugly duckling that turns us into faultless heirs of a High King. And true beauty lies in knowing that in Christ we are free simply to be ourselves, handcrafted by the Creator.
I lose sight of this truth easily; every morning may bring a battle with the mirror, the scale, the closet, the world. But the lies we tell ourselves have no credence when our worth comes from another who created every beautiful thing. For ‘she is clothed in strength and dignity’ (Proverbs 31:25), that’s who she is, who I am. If beauty lies in the Beholder I rest assured that mine, the creator of life, showers me with affection and deems me irrefutably beautiful, especially with all of my scars. So though I may clothe myself in tatters, I wear this truth proudly: that I am profoundly beautiful in the eyes of my Beholder, and in Him does my identity lie.
‘Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.’
(1 Peter 3:3-4)
‘She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.’
Kathryn is the founder of That’s What She. After years spent roaming through the wilderness she met Christ in adulthood and hasn’t looked back. An avid lover of music, storytelling, and prone to run-ons, she hopes to embark on this journey with all of you and learn quite a few things along the way.