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True Beauty & the Three Transcendentals

“Beautiful people are not always good, but good people are always beautiful.” - Ali ibn Abi Talib

Picture Mother Teresa.

You probably don’t think of the short, weak, little old lady; but rather the strong woman who made a difference in the world. We associate her more with her good deeds than her unimpressive appearance. In an article titled ‘Mother Teresa: Why Beauty Matters,’ a Catholic mother writes:

“The world says, “thou shalt have no wrinkles, or cellulite, or any signs of ageing…no, just no…because when you grow old, you become irrelevant…and you must stay relevant…And then you look at pictures of Mother Teresa, a wrinkled, hunched-over little nun, who was hardly a beauty; clearly, she wasn’t running off to Sephora for the anti-aging creme, but when people looked into her eyes — they saw Jesus — they saw Beauty, itself.”

Beauty isn’t necessarily a word we would associate with Mother Teresa, and yet we can’t deny that she was a beautiful person.

Why? Because beauty is so much more than just outward appearance.

Picture your classic teen movie – the jocks and the cheerleaders. Super attractive, admired by all. The girl gets the guy of her dreams (or vice versa), but as the movie progresses, we see that they’re actually not as great as they seem and things don’t often end well.

Why? Because beauty is more than just outward appearance.

Think of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Why would Belle ever fall in love with the beast?

Because beauty is more than just outward appearance.

Yet we live in a world that manipulates us into believing that outward appearance is everything. If you don’t look good, you’re not beautiful. And if you’re not beautiful, you’ll never be accepted or loved. You’ll never be enough.

For so long, I tried so hard to fit in and to please everyone. For so long I thought there was a problem with me because I didn't live up to societal standards.

I just longed to be loved. And we all know what the world's portrayal of love is! Love is conditional, limited, selfish. I felt like I had to look a certain way, be a certain way, act a certain way so that I could be noticed, loved and accepted.

Yet I never felt ‘enough.’

I’m currently reading a book by Christina Mead called ‘More Than a Pretty Face.’ Christina writes:

“ is made off of our low self-esteem and our search for what will make us pretty. Every ad you see for a health or beauty product is being sold to you on the premise that you need something else to feel beautiful…Companies want you to feel like you’re never good enough. Isn’t that sad? And then let’s talk about the entertainment industry. Movies, TV shows and music videos often portray women as ‘things’ for the pleasure of others. Women are seen as accessories added to the story for the appeal they add visually to the audience. Girls are given the message from the moment they start consuming media that they aren’t good enough. The idea of perfection that they see portrayed is not only unachievable, it is unreal…”

We may think we’re immune to these things. I myself am pretty secure in my identity as a beloved daughter of God. And yet just by living, by a twisted form of osmosis, we can’t help but be subject to these ideals and lies.

A friend of mine photoshopped false eyelashes onto a picture of me the other day. Another friend spent $150 on a single facial product when in my opinion her skin is already flawless (friends if you’re reading this it isn’t a dig at you, but rather at a society that makes us feel like we aren’t enough just as we are)!

So where am I going with this?

If you’ve resonated with anything I’ve said so far, if you’re sick of a world that focuses so much on looks, and tired of never feeling like you’re enough, then I have good news for you. The world lies! Beauty is so much more than just outward appearance.

I’ve recently learnt about the three transcendentals – Truth, Goodness and Beauty - three qualities that philosophers have related to our being.

What exactly is our ‘being?’ Humans are both ‘being’ and ‘doing.’

Our ‘being’ can’t change, it’s what makes us us. Our ‘doing’ is our actions, what we choose to do with our being.

To make things simpler – picture a cheeseburger.

It has three main parts (I know there can be variations but let's keep it simple for this example!);

1. A bun

2. Meat patty

3. Cheese

This is the cheeseburgers ‘being.’ It’s fundamental, it’s set, it needs all three parts, and it can’t help but have all three parts. That’s what makes it a cheeseburger.

In order to be eating a cheeseburger, you must eat all three parts together.

By my action, I could do what I wanted with that cheeseburger – even eat the cheese first, choosing to favour one aspect of the burger’s ‘being’ more than the other two. But then I would no longer be eating a cheeseburger.

Well, it’s the same with humans! We are basically cheeseburgers (don’t quote me on that). A philosophical/theological way to describe our being is with three fundamentals. These are three things that by our very being, we can’t avoid. Plato and Aquinas talk about these as being three parts of the human soul.

1) Intellect

2) Will

3) Emotions

Like a cheeseburger, we can’t help but ‘contain’ these three aspects. Just as the buns confine the patty and cheese of a burger, the intellect knows the truth and holds everything in check. Just as the meat patty is the main ingredient of the burger (vegetarians this isn't a direct attack at you - just bear with me for the sake of this metaphor!). The will is necessary as it helps us desire the good. And lastly, the cheese adds that little bit of colour and aesthetical attractiveness, just as our emotions and passions help guide us to what is beautiful.

Introducing the three transcendentals – Beauty, Truth and Goodness. These are what the emotions, intellect and will are directed towards.

Now back to the burger. We could just eat the cheese. We can choose to favour one aspect over another. We could emphasise emotions, for example, as the world often does, choosing to inflate what is beautiful, attractive, and aesthetically pleasing.

But like only eating the cheese of a cheeseburger would mean you were no longer eating a cheeseburger; you cannot be truly beautiful unless you have truth and goodness too.

These transcendentals go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other, and if you do, it’s just cheese and no longer a cheeseburger. A rip-off, cheap, counterfeit version. Not the full package!

True beauty also involves truth and goodness. Which explains why we’re left feeling so empty when we tirelessly strive after only beauty.

Have I lost you with all my newly acquired philosophical knowledge?

Pause for a moment and watch this cute video:

You can see Simon Cowell and the crowd’s immediate judgment. You can see Jonathan’s struggle with his self-worth based on his size, his appearance. You can see the crowds first impressions shattered as Jonathan blows them away with the goodness that is his voice! With the truth that he is so much more than ‘just his size.’ Jonathan and Charlotte’s performance is truly beautiful, and if you watched till the end of the video, you can see the goodness in their friendship too – love is desiring the good of the other, even if at the expense of yourself (but that’s a whole new blog topic).

The world is so quick to judge based on outward appearance. As I said at the beginning, according to society, our worth is in our looks, and if we don’t look good, if we aren’t beautiful, we’ll never be enough.

But have you ever met someone so beautiful they radiate? They attract you, you want what they’ve got. They’re confident and comfortable in their own skin, they know they are enough and refuse to let the world tell them otherwise. I’m not talking about physical appearance, but you know what I mean right? There are just some people who are so truly beautiful you can’t help but notice their beauty. One example for me is always Religious Sisters, Nuns. They’re so joyful and radiant, even though they’re usually mostly covered by their habits! (You can read more about beauty and radiance here).

I felt inspired to write this post because God has been revealing my own beauty to me lately. I’ve been able to live confidently, comfortable in my appearance and content with simply being me (it comes and goes, but the point is, it’s actually achievable!). And I was wondering why? Why, when I’m definitely not society’s beautiful – I don’t have flawless skin, I’m not super skinny, I don’t walk around in tight, revealing clothing, I don’t have the perfect hairdo or a perfect face of makeup.

Yet I felt so beautiful. Because I wasn’t simply focused on my appearance, but I was seeking to know the truth, and to will the good.

Audrey Hepburn had it right when she said:

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”

Ladies (and men, your worth also isn’t just in your appearance!), which would you rather be? Cheese or a cheeseburger? Beautiful or truly beautiful? Tolerated or radiant with the kind of beauty that attracts without even having to make an effort?

You are capable of being truly beautiful. You are already truly beautiful – remember, by simply ‘being’ you can’t avoid taking part in beauty, truth and goodness! But it’s up to you what you choose to emphasise. I know it’s a struggle when society constantly shoves the importance of appearance in our faces. But I’m here to tell you you don’t have to settle for that. If you’re tired of trying to reach an impossible ideal, that’s OK! Stop striving, refocus on the truth. You are enough just as you are. Just by being you.

Beauty and the burger. Don’t settle for just being cheese.

Here’s a song to reflect on as you let go of the lies and learn to embrace your true beauty! It’s written by an artist who’s tired of trying to live up to societies standards.


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