I have lived in L.A. most of my life.
L.A. is known for “the industry.”
L.A. is the birthplace of film and TV, and has produced some iconic musical talents and moguls.
L.A. is also the land of vanity and super-high standards of beauty. It’s the place where in Beverly Hills, it’s normal to see women walking around with bandaged faces and bodies because of recent nips, tucks, lifts, injections and suctions.
Being Filipina, I am from a culture where family and even strangers don’t hesitate to tell you what they think of you – particularly your looks. I was always the “fat” one in my family. Though I have only one younger sister, the pressure to be “skinny like her” was ON from the very beginning, and reverberated with me through my adult years.
And so my obsession to be thin like the girls in Seventeen magazine and Young Miss magazine began in my formidable teen years, when I discovered an all-women gym in Glendale. I bought a membership and began to work out like a fiend. And I got thinner.
You see, in my mind, I equated beauty with being thin. And I had never felt like a beauty. In fact, I was never told growing up that I was pretty or beautiful. I was never my daddy’s princess and my mom never praised my looks.
I was “fat” and mouthy.
The tide finally turned when I went to college and all of a sudden “men” noticed me – and I started to notice myself, and that indeed, I was not so bad looking after all!
Of course, the old tapes still played in my head about how "fat and ugly" I was. So I kept up my obsession with working out and being at the gym for hours. And because I still had a young metabolism, I was able to keep up with partying, aka drinking and eating junk food (because that’s what college kids do) and counter-act the effects by working out and staying thin.
Then I finally hit the jackpot and GOT A BOYFRIEND!
I somehow felt validated because someone was attracted to me.
My journey to find love, worth, & beauty was all about being and staying thin, fit, & cute.
"If you had these things, you would surely find your mate, get married and live happily ever after."
As we know, things don’t always work out the way we plan, scheme, dream & pray.
The boyfriend devastated me and I found myself “recovering” from our breakup for the next five years.
By that time, I became a Christian and started to discover that God loved me for me. However, though my head knew it, my heart and soul hadn’t quite caught up.
I fell in love again, but that relationship abruptly ended.
I suddenly found I had hit the ripe old age of 31 and was still starkly single.
That’s when I got really mad at God.
I took my situation into my own hands and reverted to behaving like a college girl – going out and drinking heavily and meeting all sorts of “dates.” I was told I was sexy, cute, and beautiful – all those things that women love to hear and want to believe about ourselves. I knew those men and those words were empty. But since God “forgot” about me, I lapped up the false attention.
I had never really been a dater. I'd had relationships, but never casually dated. And during that time, my 30's came and went in a flash – an entire decade gone.
I was still single.
I suddenly started to feel like a Disneyland guest, left behind after the park closed down.
I felt alone and in the dark.
But God still was working.
He brought me to a place of devastation and darkness where I could do nothing but look to Him for my value and my true beauty; pay attention, listen, and believe what HE said about me. Not what some dude whom I met online said, nor the one-liners tossed at me in a bar.
He had to bring me to that dark and lonely place - if only to heal my heart and my thoughts.
And slowly, I began to see me – the pretty, the beautiful, the plump, the fit, the toned, the hormonal, the zany, the sensitive chick – all wrapped up in one:
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 New King James Version (NKJV)
I’m not saying that I’ve “attained” as Paul says, but what I can say is that I’m not letting people – (family and men) totally crush me.
Now allow me to be truthful.
I’m now 46 and (still) I can’t believe that I’m (still) single.
And being this age, I have a new set of struggles: wrinkles and the (very) narrow (or narrowing) pool of available & eligible “men”, “dates”, or potential “mates.”
I struggle with the fact that most of my friends my age have been married for a while, and have had kids (and grown kids, even).
I struggle with my “youth” men-tee's from church youth group having totally “passed” me in finding their mates and starting their own families.
I do still want to find a husband, and I want to look good and be attractive.
So just because I am “older” and no longer in my 20's & 30's, does that mean that I give up on my looks and let myself go?
Does that mean I am being vain by bathing my skin in Rodan + Fields and am thinking of trying Botox?
Do I stop working out and eating as clean as I can?
Don’t get me wrong: I go makeup-free most weekends unless I’m going out. When I go out I totally turn it up - even if to just have drinks and dinner with a girlfriend.
I love looking good and I want to turn heads.
But am I allowing vanity to be the ruling factor for (hopefully) attracting a husband, especially now that the wrinkles seem more prominent than ever, and I have to whip out the reading glasses when I’m reading the menu at a restaurant?
Am I now the stereo-typed “middle-aged” woman looking for a husband and trying to reclaim my 30s?
Or do I just “take what I can,” i.e. settle for “okay enough” because he’s “nice enough” or “Christian enough” because time is running out and I’m not getting any younger?
My raw emotion is this:
It is Independence Day and I am home alone penning this post while my friends are with their husbands, boyfriends, fiances and significant others and families. Does it suck that I don’t have my own family and my own man to spend this holiday with? Hell yeah it does. Do I want to eat a huge plate of pasta and ice cream and lie in bed until darkness falls? Maybe.
To encourage myself and you, reader, I say:
I know that beauty is fleeting and that our looks will fade away.
I also know that it is the character & heart of GOD that radiates through me, displaying true beauty & lasting value.
It is God’s definition that counts most.
Perhaps it’s all about living in the tension between both worlds: the physical, temporary beauty as a human, and the eternal glorious beauty that can only come from the One who gave it to me in the first place. This eternal beauty allows me to rest in who I am today, and how I look at this very moment.