A wise man I once knew (no, really!) gave a group of us some seriously good advice: marry a man who loves you for your heart, not for your face. Although this video is a group of guys speaking to girls, predominantly about modesty, I think the main point, that ‘virtue makes you beautiful’ can, and should, be taken away by both men and women. This video was made by a Mormon church, and is a take-off of the song What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction.
A deeper look
Most of us take a lot of care and spend a lot of time making ourselves look the best we can and even then our experience when standing in front of the mirror is often disappointing. In a way it always will be, because a mirror can only show us one aspect of our being: what we look like. There is so much more to us than this, but it is very easy to get confused: I don’t like the way I look, other people won’t like the way I look, other people won’t like me, the measure of what I am worth is how much people like me…how far down this path will we go before we realise that we are working ourselves to death trying to prove to the mirror that we are loveable?
Think about what we do to just our hair: wash it, brush it, apply products (gel, mousse, anti-frizz), perhaps dye it, straighten it, curl it, grow it longer, cut it shorter, the list goes on… If there is more to us than this, shouldn’t we pay the same amount of attention to our insides, by which I mean our hearts? Otherwise we are like Easter eggs: showy on the outside but disappointingly empty on the inside. And as a bonus, when we take care of our hearts in this way, it will show on the outside! (If you don’t believe me, think about someone you know who is perhaps always angry, always complaining: doesn’t that show on their faces? And then think about the faces of Mother Teresa and John Paul II or any other saints who we are fortunate enough to have photos of. Can you spot the difference?)
Thinking like an apostle
Making our hearts more beautiful is more commonly called ‘growing in virtue’. But what is virtue, and how do we grow in it? YouCat tells us that ‘a virtue is an interior disposition, a positive habit, a passion that has been placed at the service of the good’ (YouCat 299). There are many virtues, of which modesty is just one. By growing in virtue we become more like the Lord Jesus.
So how do we get these virtues? First of all, we can’t do it by ourselves: we absolutely need God. Secondly, God is not going to do it without our co-operation because he has created us free. As St Augustine said: “He who made you without your consent does not save you without your consent.” As there are many virtues, it would be a little bit overwhelming for us to try and grow in all the virtues at once, so, without ignoring the others it is a good idea to pick one on which to focus. Of course, you could do this by sticking a pin the Catechism, but there are better ways. By examining your conscience and asking your close friends, you will probably be able to identify which virtues you need to prioritise. So, if you are aware that you lose your temper easily, you might choose patience. If you tell lies, you could try to grow honesty.
1. Pick a virtue (let’s go with honesty as an example).
2. Pray, asking God to help you grow in honesty.
3. Make concrete resolutions which will help you be more honest and less dishonest, and carry them out! (For example, if you automatically lie to your parents when you think you’re going to get into trouble, then immediately say “I’m sorry, that was a lie,” and tell them the truth.)
A last word on modesty, which the Catechism tells us “protects the intimate centre of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden… It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity” and that “it inspires one’s choice of clothing” (CCC 2521-2522). Rightly or wrongly the world and other people make assumptions about us based on the way we look. If this happens with things we don’t choose, such as our accent or skin colour, how much more will it happen with those aspects we do choose, such as the way we dress. I sometimes get a little frustrated with the attitude that women-need-to-dress-modestly-because-men-can’t-help-themselves, but talking to my guy friends, they do find it difficult to cross, say, a university campus in midsummer, and will spend a lot of time looking at the ground. This is not to say that we need to wear long sleeved shirts and ankle length skirts all the time (or any of the time). But if you want your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend and, one day, your husband or wife, to ‘love you for your heart and not your face’, then you need to make it easier for them to see your heart (yes, gentlemen, I’m talking to you too). Don’t distract them so much with your clothes (or lack of) that they can’t see who you really are! Would you rather someone who describes themselves as “overwhelmed” by the way you “flip your hair” (from the original song) (because that has to be the definition of someone who “only cares what they see with their eyes”) or who sees your heart, appreciates your for it, and will help you to keep growing in virtue?