I love this music video by the musician Colby Caillat. She communicates a poignant message, made all the more powerful by the stark unmasking of the women of various ages and shapes as they remove their make-up and their aesthetic “enhancements.”

So many of us notice the deception behind our image-driven popular culture. We can perceive the commercialized and politicized manipulations hurled in our direction, and their messages always fail to satisfy. But too often, even as we sense that something is wrong, we stop short – merely lamenting the lie, but unsure of how to rebuke it. We are swimming in a stew of air-brushed realities fed to us by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, and even in our moments of clarity it can be difficult to get our bearings.

How do we first identify, and then remain focused on a more authentic measure of the beautiful and the real?

It’s a female-oriented message, to be sure, but a brief note to the men out there – as fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, sons, friends:  There is insight here into the way a woman longs to be seen by you, not as a fake, a doll, or a sexual object.  Can you refine your own vision of feminine beauty?  Is your imagination formed by the false and the superficial, or are you ready to see more deeply?  Your pursuit of masculine honor encourages true femininity, and this honor includes the way you look at all women, regardless of your relation to them. You can elevate and instruct everyone around you – men and women alike – by adopting a more dignified view of womanhood.  Take up that banner.

And now for the target audience: This music video is a beautiful message of love FROM a woman TO women. It is a hopeful guidepost to direct our own encounters with other women – not as competition for men’s attention or some comparative advantage, but as each others’ sisters and keepers… each others’ living school for the cultivation of feminine beauty.

How often do we tear each other down – dress each other down – as competitors in the beauty sweepstakes? And if we are less guilty of looking critically at other women, often it’s because we focus that critical eye upon our own appearance, poring over our every freckle and flaw. Looking at ourselves and at other women through this negative, competitive lens can only distort our vision of the beautiful, and in the process we are hardening our own hearts.

1)   ‘Do you like you?,’ the singer asks. We must stop measuring ourselves against tabloid beauty, against fashion industry insecurity. It’s one thing – a good thing – to attend to our presentation, our neatness… in a word, our loveliness. But feminine kindness and gentleness become visibly manifest as beauty. With these qualities forming our interior disposition, we glow more radiantly than we ever could by the application of mineral-based cosmetics.

2)   And what about your outward-directed gaze? We must look beyond our sister’s beauty, her mistakes, her make-up, her bad- or good-hair-days, her fashion gaffes or victories. Just like each of us, she is longing to be noticed, seen, and loved. However confused she may be in her appearance (and so many of us are confused), she longs to be loved irrespective of the barely perceptible flaw she’s covered up in order to leave the house that day.

Self-confidence, self-esteem, liking oneself… these ideas are fraught with peril when we permit the world, in all its mixed messages, to define for us what is good, what’s worthy, what’s beautiful, who or what is lovable.

As I have suggested elsewhere, the only place to start is Love, and assenting to the reality, to the truth that we are all loved. The funny, backwards logic built into that starting point (that we are loved) is that we are actually lovable. I wonder if this deeply held fear – am I lovable? – isn’t the anxiety at the center of our daily interior struggles with self-image and appearance.

Cultivating ourselves in love is the only path to peace and a properly oriented vision of the good & beautiful. Only this inner habituation disposes us to properly acknowledge others and ourselves with eyes that see what is lovable.

God’s unconditional love is a curriculum in itself of how to be human. It does not sanction narcissism or laziness, it does not instruct us in jealousy or self-loathing or pretense. It posits that we find ourselves lovable when we first extend outward to the other in love– actively and even counter-culturally. To look more deeply, to see through to the person is to swim against the current of our impersonal, cosmetically-enhanced day in age.  You might call it a radically different kind of “trying,” – and it’s certainly harder in some ways than the financial and temporal burdens of expensive clothes, make-up, hair and nails.  But what we stand to gain is a clearer vision of the beautiful and lovable.  After all, are not our hearts worth an even greater effort?