The other night, I walked up to the checkout counter at Wal-Mart where a young, female employee was chatting and laughing with a co-worker. They quickly wrapped up their conversation as I started unloading my cart, and the girl greeted me with a wide smile. “Hi!,” she said. “How are you this evening?”
I responded with the usual, “Fine, thanks, how are you?” But what I was really thinking was, “Wow, that girl is beautiful.” I kept glancing at her as I wrangled my credit card from my purse, trying to figure out what struck me about her. She was maybe 20 or so, average height and build, with long dark hair and Asian facial features. I tried to put my finger on what it was about her as she scanned my candy and school supplies, but nothing about her particularly stood out.
You know how some women are just universally attractive? Some are cute. Some are pretty. Some are gorgeous. All surface looks. But some exude a beauty that goes beyond all of that. That was this girl. She wasn’t pretty, gorgeous, or stunning,—she was beautiful.
I thought about sharing this thought with her. I thought about saying, “You know, you are really a beautiful young woman.” But I didn’t. First of all, I didn’t want her to think I was hitting on her. And secondly, I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by putting her on the spot. (Or maybe I didn’t want to make me uncomfortable. I’m not sure. It was Monday night at Wal-Mart, for goodness sake.) So I thanked her as she handed me my bags and left.
But as I drove home, I wished I had told her what I was thinking. Maybe she really needed to hear it. It felt like a missed opportunity.
I’ve gone back and forth several times about calling my daughters beautiful, despite the fact that they are in every way. I went through a spell of brushing off the word altogether in the name of “Looks don’t matter.” Surface beauty is fleeting, manufactured, subjective, and all too often prioritized at the expense of what’s really important.
But true beauty is a virtue, and it’s only marginally related to looks. It’s that mysterious quality in nature, the arts, and people that plucks at something undefinable inside of us. Glennon Melton talks about how we become beautiful by filling ourselves with beauty. After all, that’s what the word “beautiful” literally means—full of beauty. When you fill yourself up with real beauty—friendships, flowers, sunsets, prayer, poetry, music, art, compassion, love—you become beautiful. You can’t help it. People see the beauty radiating from you.
And though it’s not necessary to get validation from anyone else, it’s nice to have it acknowledged. Sincerely telling a woman that you see her beauty is not a whole lot different than telling her you see her courage, or her strength, or her kindness. It’s confirming and empowering to know that other people see the good in you.
I noted this fact at a family summer camp a couple of summers ago, when a young woman approached my shy, early-teen daughter. I overheard from across the room a genuine, spontaneous, out-of-the-blue, “You are so beautiful. Do you know that? You really are. Just beautiful.” My daughter wasn’t dolled up or dressed to impress or anything like that. She was simply being herself, with her demure smile and gentle, joyful presence.
It was just a few sentences, but I could see in my daughter’s face that this compliment from a near-stranger—the same compliment I had paid her many times—had a real impact. She knew it was a heartfelt sentiment, delivered without any expectation or strings attached. Women are so often told they are beautiful when someone wants something from them. Pointing out someone’s beauty with no ulterior motives is a lovely gift.
So if you see a woman who exudes beauty, don’t hesitate. Tell her you see it, simply, honestly. Don’t be creepy or weird, just say the words and move on. I’ve had strangers and friends alike surprise me with those thoughts, and it really does make your day.
I hope I see that girl at Wal-Mart again. This time I’ll look her in the eye, right there in the checkout stand, and tell her I think she is beautiful. No strings. No regrets.