The Lord calls me not only precious, His, but beautiful. Beauty on the inside plays a huge part on our beauty on the outside by radiating through our acts of kindness, of love, of grace and mercy. Unless, we fall back to view beauty instinctively and not looking any further- aesthetic feature of symmetry and straightup goodlookingness, regardless of our actions. Many times, at least to me, the Korean culture seems to view beauty the latter way.
Tonight I got angry because I won praise. For my mom’s choir show thing where all these Korean jibsaneems, gwunsaneems, moksaneems (church positions) come from all o’er town, I spent an extra 30 minutes getting ready, putting on my makeup, choosing my outfit, adding some smelly salon stuff for hair to look shinier and with more volume. I didn’t think twice about it, about my reasons for trying to look nice and putting pressure on myself. Until I finally got the praise. “You got so pretty!” “You’ve changed I didn’t recognize you!” and a few ajummas who would come up and ask when I went to Korea, when I got surgery, or not even asking, commenting how they knew that I got surgery no matter how much I denied it. “It’s just the makeup” I kept saying with the polite smile on my face amidst the pleasantries accepting whatever they said to me when inside I felt a growing discontentment and disgust with every compliment. The surgery one was the topper when a wonderfully nice lady came up and said she could spot I got my eyelids done from across the room, no matter how much I denied it. I smiled and denied, when inside I was ready to KAMEKAMEHA her face to kingdom come. jk.
But seriously after that I kept thinking how from Day 1, these ajummas- my friends’ mothers, church leaders, admirable women who I had seen throughout the years at the early morning prayers, the church retreats, all had something to comment on first thing, the easiest thing. Every pimple during the pubescent years came accompanied with another tactless comment about my entrance into womanhood. When I gained weight in my freshman year of college and came back home, I had to smile politely in deference as every ajumma I encountered had not failed to point out in basic terms I was now a whale. And that was the way I had grown up.
At first, I was angry. I was angry at ajummas for the way they reared us. The way we started ourselves in my own Korean group of girls to care so much about others’ looks and to put our value into noticing changes and readily pointing out these changes as if we were responsible to do so. Then my anger shifted. They are reared as well through our culture, through our world to notice good looking and to want to be good looking. The world trains us. In fact, it’s known fact in social psychology and unchangeable to our nature- the better looking you are, the more benefits you receive in life. A doctor is more likely to try to save you in a life-death situation, your likely to get better attention and help, etc. But, I was angry at me. I was angry I spent the 30 minutes extra not just tonight but countless times needing to prove myself to someone or something that I should be pretty to be a winner. I was angry that I had been responsible for these past few years countless tactless comments to other girls, similar to what these ajummas said, about their looks. Useless comments about weight loss, weight gain, etc. things that reaffirmed their physical beauty, without reaffirming their soul. Things that had taught me, to look more beautiful to gain more compliments, more praises, more affection I was affirming in other girls.
I can’t help but wonder what it might have been like if an ajumma or ajusshi had crossed the social barrier of connecting by pointing out details of my looks and had concentrated on my faith. If a parent or a mother when I had gone over to my friend’s houses, or crossed by them at church, had asked or pointed out aspects of faith or even if I dare to dream, asked me how I was actually doing. I don’t blame ajummas or ajusshis at all (except the one ajusshi who grabbed my stomach one year and jiggled my blubber to point out how much weight I gained). They have been reared over generations to look at looks. Abercrombie and Fitch six pack guys that stand outside stores to take pictures with countless girls, most Asian, might understand too. Looks are looks and we can’t hate good looking people for being good looking or for people for noticing.
But I hate that I had spent 22 years with a polite smile taking those words to heart- that my value was to prove I was beautiful- whilst knowing the complete truth that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That my beauty radiates from the inside. Dude, makeup is not bad. But lately, when I’ve been depending on it to feel worthwhile because I recognize how vulnerable I feel without it, that I look like a sick tired pimple scarred child, is when I need to reevaluate my heart. Even with that truth I accepted those words and it hit me tonight when I finally won the approval, how disgustingly unsatisfying it felt and that I had tried for so long and so hard without noticing. This is for me to remind myself with every tactless comment about someone else’s looks, that I am straying again to looking at the fading things of earth, and not the things of eternal glory that will shine forever.
It’s a soul matter. I want a beautiful soul so badly and yet I have such an ugly soul when I strive for a beautiful face.