A Dove Real Beauty sketch.
Gil Zamora/Dove
A Dove Real Beauty sketch.

Who defines ‘real beauty’?

When I was a little girl, my father always told me I was “the most beautiful girl in the world.”

I believed him with the kind of pure-hearted trust a daddy’s girl has for her father. And then I grew up.

It was quite an ugly shock when one day I looked into the mirror, then looked at TV, magazines, and my friends and realized that it was a lie. I wasn’t the most beautiful girl in the world. There were plenty of women out there with bigger eyes, fairer skin, lusher eyelashes, and fuller lips than I had. From then on, I resolved never blindly to believe my father again. I was blind, but now I could see—I could see flaws, marks, disproportion. And with them come dissatisfaction and envy.

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Dove’s “Real Beauty” advertising campaign dramatized what women already know with its new “Real Beauty Sketches” video (see below): We are our harshest critics. The video, released April 14, shows an FBI forensic artist sketching two portraits of each woman: one as described by the woman portrayed, another by a stranger.

“You are more beautiful than you think,” the video preaches to the tune of soft piano tinkles and visuals of trembling, tearing women who stare at the stark, naked difference in the two portraits.

The video circulated widely online and has attracted more than 27 million views on YouTube. Some cried and lauded the campaign as “empowering,” while others criticized it for limiting the platform to physical beauty. A blogger questioned: What about being brave, strong, and smart?

As contrived as it is, it’s a conversation worth having. What is “real beauty?” Dove’s team says love your natural beauty. Their critics say love your inner beauty. They are both right. But the conversation still doesn’t travel past basing self-worth on something that is limited, self-contained, and subjective. How about someone with a cleft lip, a bowed leg, and pockmarked cheeks, with an IQ below 100 and a humorless personality? Is she not “beautiful” then?

I once wrote a tearful email to my father as a freshman in college. “Everyday I walk past porcelain-skinned, beautifully dressed, pixie-nosed girls on my campus,” I grumbled. “And don’t say you think I’m beautiful because by now I’ve caught on to your lies.”

And then my father wrote a long email back that has become my beauty philosophy ever since. The abbreviated form: Is beauty important? Yes. Are some people better looking than others? Yes. But how do they make you feel? How do they feel?

The secret to real beauty is exemplified in Christ. Christ was not a turquoise-eyed Ryan Gosling with golden curls. In fact, He was at best an average-looking John Doe, according to Isaiah 53:2. He was born next to horse dung and grew up knocking wood in a country hick village. But He was the perfection of humility, love, and compassion. People loved Him. When they interacted with Christ, they didn’t just see beauty, they felt it within themselves as well—a real, genuine, everlasting, egalitarian beauty that comes only from Christ.

The truth is, none of us is truly beautiful. We are sinners trapped in a shell of decaying flesh. Our physical appearance becomes a source of pride and envy, as do our intelligence, education, and whatever inherent traits the world deems good enough for self-pride and self-worth.

As the clichéd saying goes, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” But perhaps we have the wrong beholder. It shouldn’t be us, or the world. Why should a beauty product company try to educate us on what “real beauty” is? Only Christ can provide the right standard for beauty.

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.


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