Friday, October 28, 2011

Inner or Outer Beauty?

The last time I wore the infamous 10 year dress

Turkish women know how to take care of themselves. They have their legs waxed, facial hair removed, eyebrows shaped and their hair styled at the salon. There is a kuaför on every corner. They do their nails and have perfect pedicures. They pay careful attention to their makeup and wear nice clothes, shoes, and accessories. 

This can leave a casual American woman feeling frumpy. 

When I first came here in the early 90’s it didn’t take long to realize that my denim skirts and tennis shoes looked downright dowdy next to the tailored skirts and black leather shoes local women wore.  My tourist uniform was practical for walking around Istanbul, but I stood out like a sore thumb. I began to change the way I dressed, just to blend in.

Twenty five years later weddings here are still a trauma for me because I never know what to wear.  Many Turkish women have beautiful floor length gowns.  To my practical mind, it seems like a luxury to buy an expensive dress that I’ll wear once or twice a year.  Last year, I noticed to my horror that every picture taken at a wedding for the last ten years shows me in the same dress! So I got rid of it, thinking I’d be forced to buy a new one.  I was wrong. I never seem to find the time nor the extra money to go dress shopping.

Last September my husband and I went to a neighbor’s wedding. Just one hour before we were supposed to leave, I was feverishly pulling clothes out of a suitcase in the bottom of my wardrobe, looking for something to wear.  To my surprise, I rediscovered a dress I’d forgotten I had! And I found an old gift from a friend: a fancy necklace with rhinestones and enamelware that I’d never worn.  It matched my dress perfectly.   So for once I went to a wedding dressed appropriately. I felt great, but I was still the only woman at our table who had actually done her own hair. I was also the only woman not wearing high heels.

How do I reconcile my casual approach to appearance with local standards? Compared with some of my local friends, I'm a mess, but I’ve learned positive things about caring for my personal appearance from Turkish women.  Like the simple fact that I look a better on the days I wear makeup, do my hair, and throw on a necklace. I suspect that taking more care with my appearance is an important part of being a good witness here, but I don’t want to be a slave to standards others set for me.

This week I came across a great reminder:

What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. (1 Peter 3:3,4)

This assures me that I can be free to be myself, and that a gentle inner disposition goes a lot farther than any makeup ever could in making me beautiful. Just ask my husband. A shining, smiling inner beauty speaks a lot louder to encourage my local sisters than having the latest clothes and hairstyle. So I’m smiling today, even though my hair is a wreck and my clothes are wrinkled!

What are the local standards of beauty where you live? Do you change to blend in or just stick with being yourself?


Linda said...

What an interesting cross-cultural story you've shared today! In Africa, I wore denim skirts and frumpy shoes much of the time. Looking back now, thanks to your blog post today, I recognize that the well-to-do Africans really did dress up, so perhaps I, too, stood out like a sore thumb. Hmmmmm.... now you've got me thinking.... This will take me a while. Thanks for challenging me today.


OliveTree said...

You wore the denim skirts and tennis shoes too, Linda? That is funny. I didn't mean to make you feel like you stuck out like a sore thumb...:-)

Linda said...

You didn't, Olive Tree! I just realized, while reading your post, that in Africa, I suppose I was comparing myself to those around us who were poor -- a huge majority of people -- but to the upper class people we worked with professionally and went to church with, I suppose my appearance made me "noticeable." I remember feeling somewhat like a bumpkin when around those who had beautiful manicured nails and perfectly groomed feet. I really believe it's important to live so that we're approachable, so your blog post really got me to thinking.

Love your blog!

OliveTree said...

You've also brought up an important reminder for me: a huge percentage of Turkish women lack the resources to have manicured nails, or hair done at the salon. I guess I tend to focus more on the people I live among in my Aegean Coast city.

Thank you.

Belinda Chaplin said...

Here in Bosnia, appearance is very important and people spend much more money on clothes than I tend to. Even poorer people have one or two nice outfits which they will wear when going out. Young people will have just one nice pair of jeans and a couple of nice shirts... and somehow look good all the time...So, I have improved the way I dress. But I also have a "wedding dress" which I wear to all the weddings! Now I have three or four nice outfits as I teach and do training and then have to look professional... but yes I agree, people do tend to look more on the outside here... and we even have to tell teams coming from outside to think about what clothes to bring as people here will get distracted by crumpled clothes and focus on that and not on the message coming from the team!

Michael said...

My wife has always taught my kids that "you can't be beautiful on the outside unless you are beautiful on the inside." I have found this approach to be very true.
But I'm also reminded of a staunch football coach who never allowed his players to wear anything but a standard uniform. When he asked a player why the player wanted to wear wristbands, the player told him "I like how they make me feel and when I feel good, I play good." From that point on the coach allowed players to wear the extras.
So it seems that inner and outer beauty truly are symbiotic.

us5 said...

my husband would agree with yours, Olive Tree... that the best beauty enhancer has to do more with the heart and inner attitude than with clothing or hairstyle. now if i could only remember that!! ;)

OliveTree said...

I guess Bosnia is so close that the cultures are similar, Belinda.

Interesting comment, Michael. I think somehow that's true.

And yes, Us5, I have a hard time remembering it myself!

Karin said...

I love this post and smiled reading it. Oh I have gone back and forth so many times swinging the "well groomed swing" and then going down the "just being me slide" :)

Living in a modern city now has helped me to take care of myself more, looking around at my neighbors realizing they make a big effort on how they look. Just with modern conveniences being there helps too. Previously we lived in a village in Central Asia with little water and electricity it was quite a challenge even to have brushed teeth :)

You always look pretty and groomed to me! Great blog posting.

Amy said...

I just recently bought a royal blue dress with some sparkles for weddings here and I already have silver heels because people dress up. They also get their hair done to go out to dinner on the weekends. (Talking about those with money, of course) I have slowly added a few things to my wardrobe to blend in a bit more, but still my clothing fits more the American style.
I can relate and laughed a bit as I read and thanks for the reminder that inner beauty is where it really is at!
Amy @ Missional Mama

Jamie Jo said...

Whew. I am so thankful to live in a place where this is not an issue. Here I feel almost apologetic if I get hair or nails done or wear something new. Interesting contrast with living where you do.

OliveTree said...

I'm sure you face lots of issues where you live, Jamie Jo, that I don't have to worry about!

Amy, you're inspiring me to make time to go dress shopping. Royal blue dress with sparkles sounds great!

Kris Thede said...

I found my self wondering about this issue a couple weeks ago when listening on Sunday morning to a leader talk about wearing nice clothes to meeting. The details like no tennis shoes [the only shoes my son wears to ch.] I understand that dressing up comes with respect and dignity issues but struggle that it will be a barrier to the poor. Many, many times we've invited a child to go with us only to be told...I don't have the shoes or the clothes. Sigh...not an easy issue here.

Personally-I stick out any way being a pale I wear the low shoes and casual clothes. Fauche.

Robin said...

Great post! I've struggled through this over the years. I've spent much of my time in Eastern Europe, and women tend to dress up even when going to the grocery store. I've adjusted somewhat, try to take more care with how I dress, but I've not been able to give up my flat shoes! I'm not sure how these women walk all day in high heels. I appreciate your reminder that inner beauty is what really counts.

OliveTree said...

I'll never be able to give up flat shoes either, just can't. do. high. heels.

Kris, I'm sure you have completely different issues in Haiti. I would agree with your approach TOTALLY.

us5 said...

i understand the apologetic feelings, Jamie Jo. i intentionally wore the same 3 outfits to church for 2 years so that others wouldn't be put off by how rich i am in comparison!