Friday, October 22, 2010

for the girls.

"Flowers and sunsets, moon on water and delicate grasses in the starlight - would the designer of all this dress His own children, created in His image, in clothing which would make them unhappy and self-conscious? Would He have them all be alike and look alike? 

- Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Two weekends ago, I worked with a local photographer to capture 15 of the most beautiful girls I know in one of the most beautiful places in Tallahassee. It was a day I'd been planning for months, long before I'd grown attached to these girls, long before I knew just how much a day like this would be needed.

My intention was simple: to teach these girls more than the standard party line about modesty and inner beauty. If you've grown up in a church environment and you're a female, you've heard these lessons all your life. Have a quiet and gentle spirit. It matters what's on the inside, not what's on the outside. You're beautiful in God's eyes. Modesty is the best policy. 

These words are important and true, but they're a little bit meaningless when your face is breaking out and your mouth is full of metal and your friend with the short skirts is the one getting all the guys. 

I wanted to go deeper with these girls. I wanted them to know that not only were they beautiful, but that the beauty they possess -- every unique freckle and quirky grin -- comes from a Creator who designed them that way. And that beauty isn't intended to be hidden.

Our society dwells in the extremes. It's easier that way. Either you're a slut, or you're a prude. You're Lindsay Lohan, or you're Jenna Duggar. There's no happy medium, no balance to be struck. We look into the beautiful eyes of our daughters, sisters, cousins, friends and we tell them to hide. Hide behind make-up so we can't see the lines on your face. Hide behind dull, baggy clothes so men can't lust and women can't be jealous. 

The Creator says differently. 

That's what I wanted these girls to know. That they are each breathtakingly beautiful, and that the beauty they possess can't be taken away from them. Not by pimples, or by a cruel classmate, or by a careless word. 

I kept it a secret. I told them to set aside the weekend, but I didn't give them a reason. Looking back, that was a pretty big request for 15 teenage girls with schedules to keep and parents to see. But they came. All of them. And the Wednesday before, when I shared with them these truths that I've now shared with you, when I told them that it's possible to be beautiful and kind, to be gorgeous and faithful, I also told them they were going to be photographed. By a real photographer. In a real photoshoot. The realest versions of themselves. 

Their reaction was more than I could have asked for; the excitement and giggles were the confirmation I needed. When an idea floats around your head for so long, you begin to wonder if you're crazy: crazy for trying, for breaking out of the box, for asking teenagers to step out of their comfort zones and in front of the camera. 

But I wasn't crazy. The girls jumped on board. We talked about modesty and style icons and fashion and beauty. On Friday night, 10 of them came to my house. They ate and talked and laughed. I heard them in the bathroom and in the bedrooms, talking about clothes and make-up and how much fun they were going to have. And then I started to listen more carefully, and I heard the words I had desperately not wanted to hear. 

"I'm fat." 

"My face looks funny."

"Oh, this looks awful on me." 

Who had done this? Who makes us this way? 

Designed by a Creator who knows every mole, every wrinkle, every smile and every tear, we are no match for the world's hold on us. Every magazine cover, every television commercial, every movie star and every critic. We hear them all, and we listen. We take note. We reject our Creator's definition of beauty and fashion our own. 

Thin. But not too thin. 

Toned. But not too toned.

Tall. But oh, not too tall. 

Flawless skin. Gorgeous hair. Impeccable smiles, perfect enough to mask the pain. 

Because it is painful. This new definition of beauty comes with a price. In designing a new definition of beauty, we sacrifice our selves. 

At some point, some awful age when we become more aware of the world and what it asks of us, we begin to look in the mirror, and we don't like what we see. 

Our hair is too straight or too curly. 

Our teeth are crooked, and our nose is too big. 

We pour over ourselves, every nook and cranny, until we cannot see anymore. 

And these girls -- these precious, beautiful, giggly girls -- already had lost it. They already knew. Knew what makeup covered up zits the best. Knew what jeans would hide the most. Knew what foods they could and could not eat. 

My heart broke for them. Breaks for them. 

Because beauty was never intended to look like that. 

The girls rocked it, by the way. When I was 16, I was wearing Converse tennis shoes with my knee-length skirts; my khaki pants had to be pleated, and my license plate belt was my favorite accessory. I had no idea what a fashion icon even was. 

But these girls? Oh, they knew. They've grown up watching Tyra tell us how to work it, so they did. They dressed to the nines. Their make-up was, for the most part, tasteful, and honestly? So much more fun than I make it. In high school, you're still experimenting with color and glitter and what looks good and what doesn't. I loved watching that. I loved helping them pick out accessories and fixing their hair. 

They were flawless. 

There is something, I think, that all good mothers tell their little girls. I say good mothers, because I had one. I'm not sure if other mothers tell their children this or not, but I am so glad mine did. 

Beauty is confidence. 

Two Saturdays ago, the girls I teach every Wednesday were captured in some mindblowingly gorgeous pictures. But the pictures weren't gorgeous because of their cute outfits or their well-coiffed hair or their perfect make-up. 

That particular day, these girls knew they were gorgeous. 

They had primped for hours, thought long and hard about the exact jeans to wear. So they got in front of the camera willingly. They knew they were beautiful. 

What would life be like for these girls -- for every girl -- if we went around every day knowing just how beautiful we are? What kind of power would that knowledge produce? 

Would Hillary still wear pantsuits? Would I pick at my pimples or pull at my oily hair? Would that 100-pound girl look in the mirror and think about the pizza she ate for lunch? 

Or would we finally be able to look at ourselves and think: Gosh. We are amazing. 

Our bodies sustain the generations. Our faces detail every laugh we've ever shared with friends. Every inch of our arms and legs moves with a precision we cannot even begin to fathom. 

We are so incredibly beautiful. 

I wish I could take every woman I know to a photoshoot. I watched those girls relish in spending time with one another, strutting their stuff for the camera, and I knew: Every woman should do this. Not on her wedding day, for posterity's sake. But on an ordinary day, for beauty's sake. You want women to stop being catty and start being real? You want a women's retreat that really gets personal? 

Put them in front of a camera. Make them confront themselves. Make them see what the Creator sees. 

I bet it would be breathtaking and mindnumbing and incredibly, incredibly humbling.

Edith Schaeffer writes that if the Creator of this universe put so much detail and attention and beauty in the glistening waves and the glowing moon, how much more detail and more attention and more beauty did He put into us, His defining masterpieces? 

I don't know why we forget that, why we ignore that. I don't know why we turn to men and models and Hollywood to tell us what beauty is, when one look in the mirror should tell us.

It's us. We're the answer we've been looking for. 

We -- every love handle, every out of place hair, every toe and finger -- are beauty.

It's time we own it, work it, rock it. 

The world is waiting. 

*all photos by the ridiculously talented lindsey vinson.


Anonymous said...

i got a little emotional about this one. there's not a more perfect or more beautiful one to learn it from than you! beautiful annie.

Sabrina said...

Good Morning Annie....
I don't know how to phrase this. I was blessed by reading this. You have blessed the girls with your spirit and Godly nature. You are amazing and I just miss being around you. Sharing ideas with you, praying with you. Whatever your future holds I know that your gifts for writing, insight, and teens girls growing in Christ are your blessings from God. Have a lovely weekend friend:) PS- This wonderful idea reminds me of the spirit of your wonderful mother..and that is a true compliment indeed!!!

Anonymous said...

I do believe that each and everything happens for a reason, as part of God's plan. So I'm not surprised that I somehow stumbled upon your beautiful blog a few months ago. You are wise beyond your years, beautiful beyond compare and serving a purpose that is completly obvious to those of us who are peeking into your life. Keep doing what you are doing, Annie. Those girls' lives will Never.Be.The.Same. because they were blessed to know you!

Brooke Bailey said...

Annie, you hit a nerve on this one! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I couldn't agree more. I wish girls everywhere could hear this message.

Jilliebeanie said...

Wow. Amazing post.

jenna said...

You stirred up something so powerful in those girls that day, and I see you have stirred up those powerful truths in each of us reading as well. Thank you.

p.s. - I am definitely going to need to steal this idea and use it for my girls. We must chat details soon.

Love you so much!

Lauren said...

Not only is this an amazingly written post (and full of real truths), I'm also blown away by this idea. I lead a group of high school girls myself and am always searching for things to do with them. Not only is this empowering, but I'm sure this was ridiculously fun! If you have a chance, would you mind emailing me the details of how you put this event together? lauren.taggart(@)

Thank you for sharing about this experience!!

Mom said...

Only the Creator and He alone could have blessed me with this wonderful gift I call daughter! You are amazing. The example you are to these girls is such a blessing to them. You gave them a day that they will never forget! I can't wait to see the other photos! I know one mom who is very grateful for your influence in her girl's lives! I LOVE MY GIRL!!!! XXOO

aunt lisa said...

well, since i am the mother of one of these beautiful girls and i know and love all of the other beautiful girls, i must comment on this amazing post. as a mom i couldn't be more thankful for my daughter(s) to have such a great role model of a young christian woman. our daughters expect their mothers to dress and act in ways that are pleasing to our creator. the thing that is so fabulous about this activity is that our girls see that it is possible and fun for young people to dress and act in ways that are pleasing to their creator. if only they could hear and see this as much or more than all that they hear to discourage that kind of life. so thank you annie for taking the time and effort to at least for one weekend, let them know just how beautiful they are just for being who they are. secondly as the aunt of this beautiful young woman of god who was willing to share her time and talent with all of these girls, i am so proud of you and thankful for all that you are to my girls and to all of the beautiful girls that participated in this amazing event. i love you!

Betsy said...

Annie, I desperately needed to hear that. Seriously. Thank you.

Melissa said...

What an awesome weekend this was; you'd already shared your plans with me and I'm so grateful these girls participated and were a part of your God-given ideas for them. I love you and Jordan and can hardly begin to imagine what He has in store for the two of you as the years go by. blessings, Auntie M

danielle said...


thank you for displaying christ's love to these girls at a time when they need it most!

aPearantly sew said...

What an amazing thing you did for those girls! I loved the pictures. Truly beautiful young ladies!
This post was so encouraging to me. I can't even put into words how much it inspired me. This is honestly the best blog post I have ever read. Thank you!

Betsi* said...

Hi! I came over from Blessed Nest. This post is SO beautiful! Do you mind if I link to it on my blog?
I taught jr. high at my church for a while and I was constantly confronted with this issue among my girls. I love this idea. Well done. Thanks!

Joyeful said...

I'm just visiting from my friend Blessed Little Nest's blog and I know God brought me here!! Wow. What a beautifully written and wonderful post filled with TRUTH! I am definitely bookmarking this article!! I'm a youth pastor and I want to do this for my girls!! We just had a sleepover and we got to explore the amazing love that God has for us and this would be just icing on the cake for them!!!

This reminds me of a post I wrote almost a year ago about the struggle I've had in my own life with "feeling beautiful" :

How lovely to meet you, Annie!! And God's blessings be on you and your girls!!

Jocelyn said...

I found this through a link from Blessed Little Nest. Wow! What beautiful thoughts for women everywhere, and just what I needed to hear (read) today. I was tearing up at the end a bit. If only, IF ONLY, we could teach our daughters and ourselves to always see that beauty. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this and putting this event together for us. I know every single girl loved it so much. This class really has made a difference. This was one of the absolute best youth group activities we have ever done. I am thankful to have you for a fuzzin and teacher. :)

Melissa, Multi-Tasking Mama said...

What an absolutely amazing idea! I would love to see the girls I work with embrace their beauty, inside and out. Beautiful post!