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The instruction was to color a self-portrait and write descriptive words that best describe you.  

My fourth grader went wild at the task. The end result was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. The drawing was your basic 9-year-old drawingcartoonish and sweet. What I could not get over is how she described herself:

cool
funny
smart
kind
works hard
fun
student
helpful
loves family

Not one word about how she looks.

Not pretty or beautiful or thin.

Not one ounce of her energy was wasted on her appearance.

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She knows at 9 what I wish we knew at 40: our appearance is just an accessory.

We are beautiful when we are cool. We shine our splendor when we are funny and smart and kind. We are gloriously gorgeous when we work hard and study. We are breathtaking when we are helpful and when we love our families well. We are stunning when we are fun.

Our appearance does not dictate who we are.

The way we look only reflects who we are. It is not the definitive word.

Somehow, we got this wrong. We got it backward.

Maybe it snuck in as we grew up in the ’90s when heroin-sheik told us that waif-thin equaled beauty. Or maybe it snuck in later when we were trying to keep up with . . . them. You know who. In keeping up, we determined a perfectly contoured face is the only way to show our faces publicly.

We, you and meGen X and elder MillennialsI’m talking to us. We got this wrong. But I think we are making strides in righting our wrongs, at least I think we are trying.

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We try when we head back to college after having that third baby. We try when we make dinner for a family suffering through grief. We try when we throw on a bathing suit and canon-ball into the pool with our kids. We try when we work for a promotion. We try when we execute a good date night with our spouse. We try when we hit goal after goal.

It’s not just showing up at the grocery store with messy hair and no makeup that teaches our kids a new narrative. No. That only teaches them something else about appearances.

It’s the way we actually live that teaches them about true beauty.

Or maybe that’s what they are teaching us. Maybe they have become the masters and we are the pupils. Maybe it’s time for us to put on childlike confidence, look in the mirror and see the awesome women we were created to be.

In my own 41-year-old, self-drawn portrait, I hope to write as my child did, “Student.”

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I hope to keep learning and doing better. I hope to continue evolving into a beautiful woman who looks in the mirror and sees past the wrinkles and sunspots to the fun, loving, kind, funny, cool, helpful woman deep inside. And I hope I get wrapped up in her good deeds and not just lost in my bottomless makeup bag.

It matters because my 9-year-old is watching and learning how to measure her self-worth.

May I become her greatest teacher and guide, always pointing her to her light that shines from within. So that when the world tempts her to look outward for worth or beauty, she’ll remember and draw back in to her light and remember who she is:

cool
funny
smart
kind
works hard
fun
student
helpful
loves family

And when she walks in those truths, then we can add a final word to the list, a sum of the other words: beautiful.

Let’s be beautiful women.

Let’s raise beautiful women.

Jessica Phillips

Jessica is a writer, speaker, Bible teacher, wife, and mom. Out of her own deeply examined experiences, she is able to speak with love, vulnerability, and authority about subjects that range from suicide, infertility, grief/loss, redemption, marriage, parenting, leadership, women in ministry, and women in leadership. In a world that tempts us to give up when the going gets hard, Jes encourages women to get going and to keep going! 

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