She stood next to me, towering over me. My legs swung back and forth from the playground bench, trying to stay in rhythm with the nearby slap-slap sound of a jump rope smacking the blacktop, again and again.
She told us she was going to be a model. I believed she would be and easily could be. The rest of the girls with us agreed. She was beautiful.
When I said I wanted to be a model too, she half-smiled. Then she chuckled and said, “You’re cute, but you can’t. Asian people are short, and short people can’t be models.”
The words were quick and effortless, the way my finger pushes the start button on our dishwasher. One press and things begin to whirl into motion. A belief began to wrestle around, looking for a place to stick: Asian women aren’t beautiful. I am not beautiful.
I lay in bed after that, night after night, pinching the edge of my nose together, hoping to make it longer, pointier, taller — less cute. I stared in mirrors, trying to imagine my strong, long hair a shade lighter and a little less wild. I stood on my toes in my room, pretending I was taller.
I wondered, Could I will myself to be something different than I was made to be? Could I fashion my body to fit into someone else’s narrow definition of beauty? Could I camouflage my ethnicity?
Later in my teen years, notes were passed in school. The penciled letters had been carefully lined up on the page, filling line after line with words written to tell me that I was beautiful to the ones who penned them. But like the girl on the playground who said Asians only go as far as “cute,” these boys told me my beauty was possible only as long as it fit into their narrow definitions of being different or exotic. I was a break from their regular focus of attention, a momentary curiosity. They didn’t know how far my Asian-ness sank beneath the skin of a girl who was becoming a woman, past cheekbones, lined eyes, and a body that had skillfully learned to hide what was most cherished within me.
I started attending a youth group at the end of high school. There, I learned that beauty wasn’t to be sought after, that it could be deceptive. Another note was passed out to all the girls one night. It was signed by “God” and said that we were all made “pretty, but not too beautiful,” as if this knowledge would somehow comfort and protect us. I sat on the gray floor, my dark, sun-tanned, cross-legged thighs pressed onto the carpet beside the girl next to me with legs the color of a sugar cone. I nodded my head in agreement because I thought I was supposed to. I felt some temporary relief that my longing for beauty could be pushed aside for the greater glory of pretending not to care and pretending we were all the same.
Eventually, it came down to this: I was blind and could not see. Beauty was much more extravagant and abounding than I had ever believed it could be.
The healing of my longing for and ability to see beauty would take years of undoing, vulnerability, and learning. But Jesus is a tender healer, and He delights in giving us eyes that truly see.
Just this summer, on the front edge of midlife, I found beauty at a Native American hoop dancing performance while I watched image bearers dance, as they described, “to the four directions” to share the stories of their people. On early morning jogs in July, I saw it as the sun rose in the east, glowing orange through the trees that faithfully stand at attention in the entrance of our neighborhood. It’s been witnessed in my son working hard to learn Korean, trying to mouth the sounds of my mama’s world, unknowingly building a bridge through generations. I see and taste it in the gypsy pepper that popped to life from the fragile petals of a flower in our garden. It’s in the freckles on my face in the mirror, the way my mouth curves like my mama’s, and how the wrinkles reach from the corners of my eyes like my dad’s, hinting at my family’s memories whenever I smile.
I have become a beauty seeker, and because of Jesus, there are no confines to what I seek. I’m no longer searching for an answer I once let a girl on the playground, teenage boys, and a meager youth group note answer for me. I bear the beauty of a good God in every part of my ethnicity. I was made to seek and use my words to call out the beauty of a good God in every person I see.
I once was blind, but now I am learning to be stunned by all I see. And there are so many gloriously beautiful, Jesus’-kingdom-come, created-from-Word-love-rib-and-dust things to see.
What about you? It’s never too late to learn something new. Would you ask God to show you where you are blind to the beauty He longs for you to see?
Jesus is a tender healer, and He delights in giving us eyes that truly see. -@tashajunb: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
It’s astonishing the things that are said or happen in our childhood that stick to us like ugly gum on the bottom of a desk. I’m sorry for those who saw what you weren’t, instead of what you are. I remember my ballet teacher (and I loved ballet) telling me that I was too short and too “thick” to ever make it as a serious dancer. I remember people telling me I was so “cute” as they ran their finger down my ski jump nose. Like you, I didn’t want to be thick or cute…I wanted to be beautiful. It took me a long time to realize that it’s when our inner beauty shines forth – the beauty that comes from knowing we are God’s beloved – that we become radiant. So thankful that God is patient to work His Truth into His lovely daughters.
Bev, I’m so sorry those words were spoken over you. It is astonishing just how much we remember from childhood and how the words have such power. I’m very grateful for God’s patience and tenderness.
Pamela Herman says
Thank you for bringing light into the darkness, beauty into barren limitations. Seeking Him to find Him, the Word, who teaches us truth.
Those words are beautiful. Thank you, Pamela.
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
I feel like we have so much in common every time I read one of your posts. I remember hearing the same thing except it wasn’t just because I looked Asian, but because of my weight. I remember thinking that the weight might change but my facial features will always look more Asian than white. I was proud of being half Japanese, until I went to school and was the only Asian student. It was a very difficult time for me. Some days I still feel like that little girl, not as much with my looks anymore, but instead struggling with believing that my voice doesn’t matter. Trying to find beauty in my story so that I can hopefully encourage other Asian Americans to find and be proud of their voice. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself and inspiring me at the same time this morning. God Bless <3
I went through similar I felt beautiful until I went to school and noticed my my mum was black, an Indian and my father was white. We lived in Australia and sure life wasn’t that bad but words were said, teasing ensued and I was never confident after that. A lot of people young girls in particular feel this way. I pray my daughters don’t go through it and are string in their own identity. Your voice does matter I want to hear what you have to say. Enough of this doubting for all of us. You are A MAsterpiece, Gods creation. Revel in it and use your voice!!
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
Thank you so much for sharing that and for your encouragement. Your words reminding me I am God’s creation,also sparks that fire within me that was flickering to a stronger flame. I am grateful for YOUR voice! God bless you and your family ❤
Amen to what Jas said!
Kathleen, we’ve connected often, sharing our common experiences, and I’m so glad for it. I know those feelings can stick around for so long, or creep up and surprise us. Your voice does matter. It’s mattered to me in this space and I know it stretches much further than that. Keep pressing on. We are in this together.
Words have power. Like the comments of a girl in the playground or a passing comment by a stranger on the television or in a magazine….words effect us and stay with up for s long time. You are beautiful you are a masterpiece created by the most talented artist there ever was, God. How could you be anything but beautiful in your own individuality- you are in fact SO special there is no one like you in the world. Thank you for sharing and a reminder to check I am truly being open to see Gods handiwork the beauty He created in all people and nature alike.
Amen, Jas. Thank you for your words. I like thinking about how we can powerfully use our words for good, too. What a gift that is.
Beth Williams says
Sticks & stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. That is a lie! Words spoken even offhandedly do hurt & deeply. Satan is crafty & uses any & all methods to get us to dislike ourselves. We see pictures on magazine covers or billboards & think that is what beauty is supposed to be. Anything else is ugly. God doesn’t see it that way. He sees us as lovely creatures He has made in His image. he doesn’t look at the flaws or imperfections. When God looks at us He sees the shed blood of Jesus. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see beauty all around me. In gorgeous mountains, sunrises & sunsets, in the way people treat each other. Jesus can see an inner beauty that shines His light in this dark world. My motto is “if you don’t like what you see, talk to Jesus. He’s the one who made me this way!”
I’ve always thought that phrase was silly. I’m glad you see beauty all around you. Call it out like you have here. There’s such power in that. Thanks for sharing, Beth.
Gail Noe says
I can relate. The words & actions of parents and people in my life as a child communicated rejection. I grew up with the spirit of rejection ruling my life & thought that was me. Many years later, the Holy Spirit let me know I was a sinner. As I went forward with that truth and learned God’s plan of salvation, I began to awaken to the truth of who I am in God’s eyes. Forgiveness is wonderful, but we must break the agreement we made with a lie & stand on the truth.
I’m so grateful for the way God pursues us. Gail, I’m so glad for the ways God has shown you who you are in His eyes: full of beauty and love.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
We are all beautiful to the King. That king is Jesus. That is all that matters. We don’t need to listen to the worlds lies. Or what the Devil trys to wisper in our ears. Or what the beauty magazine tell us. Or this cream or that cream will tell us. If we put on our face. Jeaus loves us warts wrinkles and everything else. We don’t have to try to popular either. I don’t have many friends. In fact I only have two. I only see one now and them may be if she is out at Church. If I get to visit her now and then as we both don’t drive. The other one I see now and then not that often. But I don’t complain. As when I see them it is nice. I have the best friend of all Jesus. Would Jesus have us want spending money on looking good. My answere would be No too that. When he in his eyes has all ready made us beautiful. When we could put that money we are thinking of spending on looking good into his work. Helping somone. A Charity in our Church say like the kids in other parts of world. I do that along with my Husband. We help different Charity’s of Gods work. I am so are you all ready Beautiful. Because God made us. We all God children he loves us. So Don’t Listen To The Devil And His Lies. The Father Love Letter Tell You that you get it on Youtube. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little
Yes, we are all beautiful to the King, and there’s so much more beauty around than I ever imagined.
Jenny Allen says
I am so sorry that someone made you feel bad about the beautiful creation you are. I have s wonderful, delightful, beautiful korean american niece/daughter of the heart that I think had similiar things said to her. Her children, 3/4 asian are the apples of my eyes. I have learned with age (and literally seeing it as I am a physician), skin color is skin deep. Seeing this, I see every shape, tone, and nationality has it’s own unique beauty. We are all humans, not different races. I envy darker skin some days as I burn easily, I want straight hair some days (I just wait for winter), and I think I have been fat since kindergarten (pictures show me that is a lie). Now, I too have begun to love me because I am the only one there us and I can do things others can’t, even if it is only making strange noises in the car. I really can do more than that, but it makes my husband laugh. We are just as unique as a litter of kittens & just as precious to God.
I’m so glad for the tender healing God has brought in your life-that you can see yourself as loved and beautiful. May you continue to speak this into others!
Mary Carver says
So much to absorb from this post. So much to think about. (Yes, what beauty am I missing? What is God trying to show me?) But I just wanted to say real quick that the first thing I thought when I met you was how beautiful you are. I know…so shallow of me! Should I not say it? Will you even believe me? But, my friend who has so much to offer this world, you really are very pretty. (I know! You didn’t write this to ask for compliments! I promise I’m not missing the point. It’s just true. So I’m saying it.)
Lol, Mary. Thank you. You are too kind and you are hilarious. Grateful for you.
Patricia Raybon says
Oh, dear Tasha! You are a beautiful soul — inside AND out! Not a model?! When I met you, I kept thinking how MUCH you reflect the light of God. Indeed, I praise God for you, and for His mercy in showing you all the amazing ways to see ourselves and one another. Thank you for inviting us into this journey of seeing ourselves and each other as the Lord Himself made us, each one His image bearers! I’m so grateful for your story today. Bless you for writing, walking and sharing it! All for Christ! With His love, Patricia
Thank you, dear Patricia! What a light you are. You give away so much courage and I am ever grateful for your BEAUTIFUL example.
Ashley Lande says
“I have become a beauty seeker, and because of Jesus there are no confines to what I seek.” Yes, yes and amen a thousand times! Beauty is my priority in art, writing, everything. It is intertwined with truth, inextricable from it. Your writing is so, so beautiful in itself. Thank you. Interestingly, I grew up with my adopted Korean sister and always felt like an ogre next to her with my acne, extra weight and crooked teeth! She was always stunning and passed through adolescence gracefully without a single zit or hint of awkwardness. But she still occasionally suffered racist comments and if I ever heard them I was ready to fight even though I was usually extremely shy and timid! I am so sorry for what you suffered but so glad Jesus has initiated you into his infinitely fuller and kaleidoscopic purview of True Beauty.
Thank you, Ashley! And thank you for sharing about your own grace-filled entanglement with beauty. And about your sister: I am glad you have each other.
Becky Keife says
“But Jesus is a tender healer, and He delights in giving us eyes that truly see.” So much yes to this. Thank you, Tasha, for inviting us into these complex layers of your story and prompting us to examine our own. xx
Thank you, Becky. 🙂
Carol L. Gonzalez says
Simply put for me: God knows our heart and our inner beauty no matter what the world thinks of our outer beauty.
Amen, Carol. And I’m so grateful for how tender and patient He is with us as he helps us to know this truth in every corner of our being.
Praise GOD….he made us all different and noone is better than anyone else! I love the verse that reminds us of our beauty and worth!