What I Wish Every Teenager Knew About Beauty

I remember when Michael Jackson was the coolest thing on the planet. Every new song he recorded generated trainloads of money, radio stations outdid each other in their adulation, everything the young star did was hip, cool, imitated, worshiped, and talked about. But it is not his record sales or his videos that forever froze him in my mind from that period 20 years ago. It was a young lady in my church who had a major crush on him. Holly pinned posters with his likeness all over her bedroom, she played only his music, and since she was unable to get to the man himself, she did the next best thing: turned her affection toward a Michael-Jackson-lookalike at her school. Her family worried about her for a while, wondering if this was normal and hoping it was a phase. It was probably normal and it was a phase.

I thought about this the other day while watching a television special about Jackson’s serial cosmetic surgeries. Not to belabor the obvious, but he went from looking like a thousand healthy teenage males to the bizarre figure we see on our television screens today. In between, at a couple of stages, he seems to have gotten it right. The problem was, he did not know when to stop. I sat there thinking that when Jackson was 25, there! You look terrific. Stop right here. But alas, he kept on authorizing more surgery until finally there’s not much left of his face to carve.

The handsome 25-year-old Michael Jackson is not the first great-looking person not to like the way he looks. Ask any resident of Hollywood, USA. Ask a thousand plastic surgeons. Ask the mother of any teenage girl.

Have I told you about the Miss America I met a few years back? I do not have her permission to tell you her story, although I expect she would not mind. Seven years after her reign, I preached a week of services in her church. She sang in the choir each night and her deacon husband sat on the front row. She was one of the few Miss Americas I had actually remembered, for two reasons. One, she was an outspoken Christian and was frequently seen giving her testimony at evangelistic crusades. I admired her courage and convictions. Two, her front teeth were longer than the others, what little children cruelly call “beaver teeth.” Far from detracting from her beauty, the judges—and this preacher—decided it enhanced her beauty.

One night after church, a group of us visited in the home of the former beauty queen. Her husband said, “Joe, would you like to see the gallery of Mary’s year as Miss America?” Down a long hallway a series of large photos had been framed and hung, each showing Mary with a celebrity—Bob Hope, the president, etc.

At the end of the brief tour, I said, “There’s something different about Mary now. She doesn’t look the same.” He smiled and said, “After her year’s reign, she took part of her earnings and had her teeth fixed.” Ground down to points, then capped to line up perfectly with the other teeth. So she would look like every other pretty woman on the planet.

Even Miss America did not like the way she looked.

A year or so ago, “Parade” magazine ran a cover feature on celebrity Sandra Bullock. By common agreement of a hundred million movie fans, she is a beautiful woman. What caught my attention, however, was a quote of hers emblazoned across the front page. I scanned the article looking for that line. To my disappointment, there was the great quote, buried in the final paragraph. It was such an amazing truth that I wish she had elaborated on it. I wish every insecure teenager believed it. Sandra Bullock said, “What makes you different makes you beautiful.”

Here’s an exercise I prescribe to teenagers: think of a great-looking adult you know. Then, next time you see them, look them over closely. See if there are imperfections. I’ll bet you find several. Thin lips, a nose that’s too long, small eyes, whatever. Yet, you thought they were beautiful. You were not thinking of individual features, but how all their features fit together into the total package, because that’s how we see each other.

Young people do themselves a disservice when they lock themselves in the bathroom with mirrors, checking out their face from all angles, making judgments about nose and chin and eyes and teeth. What they cannot see is how everything fits together into the total package.

Here is the quickest, best beauty treatment you will ever discover: stand up straight, look people in the eye, quit talking and listen to them, and smile with as many teeth showing as possible. Quit wondering what other people are thinking of you, because—get ready, now, here it comes—they aren’t! They’re thinking about themselves.

I just told you my own beauty secret. Shucks, now everybody knows. Actually, it’s some thoughts gleaned from a place in Scripture that talks about real, lasting beauty. It’s I Peter 3:1-6 and it’s in your Bible, too.