Matthew and I are thrilled to welcome Nicole DeMille as an occasional contributor to CMR. Earlier this year, we both independently watched her on The Journey Home and were floored by her story and her style. The next day we were speaking on the phone the topic came up and we simultaneously said that we should ask her to write for CMR.
Please welcome Nicole to CMR by reading and commenting on her piece “As Pretty Does”
Nicole DeMille is a convert from the Lutheran church and a stay at home Mom. She is active in her parish in Northeast Ohio. She has appeared with Marcus Grodi on The Journey Home and Deep In Scripture. Her writing can also be found at The Catholic Revolver.
I know the times are a’changin’. I “get” that in America Version 2012 a picture of a dog with a manicure is gorgeous and a picture of Jesus is an eye-roll. I even get that somehow being foul-mouthed after forty is still a badge of coolness. But as a mother, a woman, a thinker, a Catholic, I simply can’t get some societal trends to add up. Here’s one: It seems I have awakened as out of a stupor to find myself operating in a place and time where no negligible number of women of all ages and stations in life would prefer to be called “hot” rather than beautiful. Friends tell me that my consternation at this is a day late and a dollar short. Where have I been? This has been a long time coming, burgeoning in the eighties when I was a very young girl myself. I don’t remember any harbinger, though. Teasing my hair in high school created a social mask and also a membership card in a club of belonging, but the thought of playing the role of temptress truly never crossed my mind. Then again, I had my high school sweetheart ride forty five minutes on his bicycle to my house for a kiss on the cheek.
Behaviors and backgrounds aside for a minute: that any female would consider objectivity and anonymity to be a good is patently backwards to me. I would aspire to have more appeal, or at any rate, more dimension, in the estimation of my husband or any other human being for that matter, than does a magazine picture. Also axiomatic to me is the notion that as we age, women find and manifest beauty in our actions and words more than our outward appearances. Now it’s all gone haywire, and I am told I am either old fashioned or in denial, or happily deluded. Has the larger definition of beauty matured and changed while I was busy straightening out my kids’ toy box?
Naturally my sense of what is beautiful is based on my Savior. Where else would one start? To gauge the beauty of the created, you must find and understand the measure established by the Creator. I suppose that is why I find acts of sacrifice beautiful and actions more beautiful than characteristics. I don’t look at my daughter and feel proud that she’s a beautiful girl, but when I see a certain smile she gives her brother when he’s mastered a new task, that stops me in my tracks with its beauty. I think Alda’s quote resonates with me because today we accept the artificial, the plastic, the standing still, as beautiful. Commonplace things can be beautiful, surely, but not crass things, not things used against their natural and God-intended purpose. Sin is never beautiful. So when I see a woman on the cover of More magazine, whose target audience is over-forty gals, and she is so over tooled and pulled taut that there is no motion or action detectable on her face, I see no beauty there. Pretty is as pretty does, my mother used to say, and pretty can’t “do” very much if it’s frozen solid. Increasingly, we are shown that artificial excess is beautiful. A lot of money, a lot of clothes and shoes, a lot of cars, a lot of synthetic filling in your face and breasts and derriere. These are the new hallmarks of beauty? I don’t see it. I see heaviness, and burden, and a lifetime of days spent dedicated to the care and feeding of the outer shell of the self. Very boring, very isolated, and very static. Beauty is dynamic: Jesus talking, washing feet, healing with mud and spittle. Beauty acts and laughs and doesn’t pose. The beautiful object and observer of it are both caught unawares.
Holiness is loveliness, and when I think of the loveliest people I have encountered, I don’t think of sexual attractiveness or a contrived weirdness. A person who has thought too much about being different, being Avant garde or “challenging current ideas of beauty” usually ends up looking terribly staged. I remember an ad campaign that ran a while back that was to feature “real” women. The attempt was pretty feeble; the women were maybe a size eight instead of a size two, but they were still in their underpinnings and in full makeup. And they were still making weird faces that no one makes, while wearing lip gloss so shiny that it was clear they could not kiss anyone or eat anything. The alternative seems to be stripping away all femininity, but that kind of rebellion is not really fighting Wall Street or “the man,” it’s just fighting your own hormones, which is tantamount to fighting the God who made you.
When I was a girl, sitting in the pew at my Lutheran church, I’d hear the hymn “Beautiful Savior” over and over. How those words sat in my heart and rooted there. “My joy, my crown . . . “ The beauty of the Savior was not in the liberally interpreted blue eyes and long auburn hair of the statue in front of me; it was in His constant generosity with His own joy, and it was in the dignity His love installed in my wiring. Yes, those words got into my blood . . . “truly I’d serve Thee . . .” There was beauty and loveliness in its entire dimension, in all its movement. I’d repay His beauty with my beauty. His sacrifice with my service. To serve is beautiful. This is why so many people of all stripes describe Blessed Mother Teresa’s wrinkled mien as beautiful. This is why the hands of my Pope are so beautiful. Why I am knocked to my knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament. “Unable to move for a moment,” indeed, as Alda expressed so absolutely. Beauty does not inspire the onlooker to use it, but to be edified by it. How on earth have we fallen into the pit to such a depth that we can describe a woman, likely an abused one, exposing the most private parts of her body to anyone whose own darkest tendencies have drawn him there, as beautiful? That is no offering; that is a sad and dark capitulation, a white flag. That is a little girl all grown up, finally saying, “Okay, you have beaten me down enough; now I settle for THIS.”
So the prettiest eyes reading this piece are the ones that cried for someone else’s cross last night, the ones whose lids are sagging a bit from years of concern and industry, the eyes that see and strive for the joy and the crown. The most beautiful words said are those said in earnest, said out of vulnerability and said out of agape love. The most beautiful bodies are the bodies sore from labor of all kinds, or bent by years. The most beautiful voices are the softest, and sometimes the silent. The most beautiful faces the ones leaning in, trying to understand, focusing outward on the other, not on provoking a reaction of arousal or envy or confusion, but on giving glory to the Imago Dei.