May 9, 2008

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

All that glitters: Chasing glamour, inviting beauty

I have been watching “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC with an interest that verges on addiction. I enjoy the dancing, but it is the costume and make-up magic that draw me in.

The tricks are wide ranging: spray-on tanner, fake eyelashes, body glitter, ornate costumes. Swirled together, they create aesthetic fireworks.

During breaks, I grab my weights and do tricep curls, huffing into toned conformity. Wedding and swimsuit seasons have arrived, and I’m not quite ready.

It seems nearly impossible for a young adult—even a grounded, faith-filled one—to resist bouts of beauty yearning and seeking. The pursuit can be a rollercoaster, ascending to arrogance, dipping to despondency, jerking you back and forth.

And yet, my understanding of beauty is deepening and, as a result, the rollercoaster is leveling off. The catalyst is a book by the late, great Catholic thinker John O’Donohue called Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.

In the book’s introduction, O’Donohue makes a profound distinction, writing, “It has become a habit of our times to mistake glamour for beauty.”

Though glamour can be alluring, it is fickle and hollow, fool’s gold next to beauty.

Most of what the media presents as beauty—the images we mimic with calisthenics and cosmetics—is actually glamour. It can be applied and achieved because it is superficial.

“Beauty,” on the other hand, “cannot be forced.”

This simple sentence brought me great relief. If we cannot manufacture beauty, then we need not chase it with such vigor. Sit-ups, teeth-whitening strips, high-volume mascara—they may achieve glamour, but they do not lead to beauty.

Rather, beauty is marked by “its ability to surprise,” O’Donohue writes. “With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.” It is not plucked or tweezed, scrubbed or squeezed. It arrives on a gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s another reassuring insight: Beauty is not a limited commodity to be coveted and clawed at, as reality TV and beauty pageants often imply. It is infinite, and it multiplies when celebrated and shared.

“When we say from our heart to someone: ‘You are beautiful,’ it is more than a statement or platitude, it is a recognition and invocation of the dignity, grandeur and grace of their spirit,” O’Donohue writes.

It is a prayer.

And prayer polishes the soul, which surfaces outwardly. “Ultimately, it is the soul that makes the face beautiful.”

That may sound suspiciously like what your mom always said, but it’s true. And I’ve got it on good authority, verified by Miss America 2001, Angela Baraquio.

“To me, a beautiful person is kind, loving, generous, humble, respectful, honest, considerate, self-assured and speaks from the heart,” Angie told me. “The funny thing is, the more beautiful you are on the inside, the more beautiful you become on the outside because beauty really comes from within.”

In Angie’s crowning moment, her inner and outer beauty converged. Here was a young woman who had honored her Catholic principles and gut instincts along the path to the pageant. She consulted her priest. She supported other contestants. She prayed backstage. She embraced her personal style, eschewing the big hair and sequined dresses in lieu of a parted chignon and an unadorned satin dress so simple that it shocked some of the contestants.

But when she walked onstage, she caught the light and shimmered.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. E-mail her at†

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