Their project has got me thinking a lot about beauty and what it truly means to be "beautiful." I remember when I was younger I was a bit discouraged by the fact that most of the important women in the scriptures are always described as being very physically attractive. For example, in his vision of Mary, the Mother of Christ Nephi describes her as "exceedingly fair" (1 Nephi 11:13), Rachel is described as being "beautiful and well favored" (Genesis 29:17), Esther is "fair and beautiful" (Esther 2:7) Abigail is of a "beautiful countenance" (1 Sam. 25:3) and Sarah is apparently so beautiful that even at 90-years-old she causes the King of the Philistines to fall in love with her (Genesis 20). In my teenage mind it seemed to me that only really beautiful girls were the ones "chosen" by God to do the important things in the scriptures. The plain ones, like Leah who is described as "tender eyed" ( which may have indicated she was crossed eyed or had another eye problem, Genesis 29:17), tended to take the back seat in the stories and had it sort of rough. I thought that being beautiful-- physically-- was a virtue in and of itself and that if you were beautiful then it somehow meant you were worth more to God.
Yet over the years as I've studied these women's lives more closely I've come to see that when the scriptures talk about "beauty" they aren't usually referring to physical attractiveness but rather a beauty that comes from being close to God. I think Sarah's story is a good illustration of this. In Genesis 20 we read about how Abraham and Sarah travel towards the land of the Philistines and how once again Abraham asks Sarah to say that she is his sister instead of his wife in order to protect his life. Yet, just like had happened before with the King of Egypt 40 or so years earlier, Abimelech the king of the Philistines sees Sarah and desires her. She is taken into the King's house and it is only through a remarkable dream that Abimelech is told that Sarah is Abraham's wife and therefore doesn't go in unto her. Now I've seen some very beautiful elderly women in my life but I still find it hard to imagine how Sarah, at 90-years- old, could be physically attractive enough that a King would whisk her away from her family. Granted, Sarah did live will into her 100's and so 90 was probably more "young" back then than it is now, but even she freely describes herself as an old woman.
The beauty that Abimelech saw in Sarah, and which made him desire her, was probably not physical attractiveness but rather what Elaine S. Dalton calls "deep beauty"-- a beauty that comes from the inside out. Dalton in her 2010 address said:
“deep beauty”... It is the kind of beauty that cannot be painted on, surgically created, or purchased. It is the kind of beauty that doesn’t wash off. It is spiritual attractiveness. Deep beauty springs from virtue. It is the beauty of being chaste and morally clean... When you are virtuous, chaste, and morally clean, your inner beauty glows in your eyes and in your face... We have been taught that “the gift of the Holy Ghost … quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections. … It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features.” Now, that is a great beauty secret! That is the beauty... that really matters and the only kind of beauty that lasts. "Sarah had deep beauty. Mary had deep beauty, as did Rachel, Esther and Abigail. These women may have been beautiful physically by the standards of their time yet I think what made these women go down in the history books as "beautiful" was because they were close to God, they lived virtuous lives, and they knew who they were and what their missions were on earth. That is a type of beauty that can't be bought at the store or the doctor's office and therefore is precious above all else.
Yet you want to know the most wonderful part about "deep beauty"? You don't have to be rich to afford it, you don't have to have the right body size or hair color, you don't have to be free from disease or imperfections, and you don't have to have certain clothes or make-up. All it requires is drawing near to the heavenly parents who created you and becoming more like them... and that is something that is within every woman's reach.
Hmm... do you think that maybe I could fit all that on a billboard?