I found myself crying in the dressing room. All I wanted was to find one thing I felt beautiful in, one thing that I could slip into and become that confident woman who used to lure her husband with a pair of stilettos and a bat of her lashes. Now, the mascara from those lashes was running down my face. At my wedding shower, I received a closetful of tasteful and beautifully fitting lingerie. I could select something with my eyes closed and know it would look great. Two babies and a thousand stretch marks later, I found myself stifling sniffles next to a mountainous pile of “no’s.” Here I was, credit card burning a hole in my pocket, ready to spend any amount of money to feel beautiful again, and nothing was acceptable. I wish I could have blamed the unflattering fluorescent lighting, but this was how I reacted to the sight of my body anywhere. The problem wasn’t with the mirror. It was me.
I know that I’m not alone. There are entire industries founded on women’s insecurities about their bodies. We hope that if we follow the right regimen or buy the perfect product, that we will experience a miracle transformation. Despite my awareness of how it works, I find myself duped time and again. Until my son was born, though, I considered this to be my problem, my cycle of ups and downs — a struggle I could deal with. I never considered how it might affect my husband.
My husband thinks that I am beautiful. He has always thought so, and he is generous in reminding me often. I, on the other hand, am my own worst critic. When I feel insecure about my body, I want to cover it up. I want the lights off. I want to hide. When I scan every inch of myself, taking stock of my imperfections, I turn inward. Rather than seek out ways to love my husband, I project my own critical eye onto him. In reality, he just wants to see me. When I try to hide from my husband’s gaze, I choose my insecurities over him. I feed those insecurities rather than allowing myself to be vulnerable with him.
What makes an alluring and beautiful woman cannot be bought; it must be lived. I was crying in that dressing room because I thought that beauty was something I had to put on, and I couldn’t find beautiful anywhere. But my husband is not drawn to my lingerie. Excited by it, sure. But captivated? That’s about who I am and how I love him.
This experience has made me reflect on our future together. As we age, our relationship will become less and less about the physical. We aim to be one of those couples whose romance lasts, whose desire for one another persists and even grows over time. If I am to inevitably lose the cheap capital of youth, how is it that I will continue to attract my husband, to draw and captivate him?
Being alluring is not about having a Photoshop body; it is about offering my entire self, including my body. I choose to honor him over my insecurities. Doing this means letting my guard down. It means focusing on the good man that he is, and choosing my desire to give myself to him over my impulse to hide myself. The confidence I have to allow my husband to see me is beautiful. The vulnerability I display when I offer myself to him is beautiful. Part of that is physical, but any woman off the street can paint on a fresh coat of lipstick. Alluring my husband is about more than holding his gaze; it’s about capturing his heart.
And that is a lifelong journey. Happily ever after is not inevitable. It is asking yourself every day what you can do to make your spouse just a little happier. That is the fresh and exciting challenge of romance, one that takes on a different character in the different stages of life. Sometimes, it will be grand gestures, but more often, love is in the details.
Through my journey to embrace authentic beauty and offer my whole self to my husband, I realized that my struggle is not merely physical. The temptation to hide myself is more than skin deep; it is written in my bones. Even after six years of marriage, there are parts of myself that I am unwilling to share with him. My tears in the dressing room were about my body, yes, but they were rooted in something deeper: a rejection of myself. I wanted to buy beauty the way I try to earn affection. Offering myself to my husband, despite all my perceived physical imperfections, allows him to speak love into hidden recesses of my heart.
If I could flip a switch and return to the body I had before childbirth, I would most certainly do it. On a deeper level, I am relieved that option doesn’t exist. Given the choice, I would remain in the safety of my hiding place, behind a veneer of lipstick and lace. The changes in my body have propelled me to the uncomfortable ground of vulnerability. No longer can I continue to live in the illusion that my husband’s love is something I have earned by own right. Now, I am invited to explore the truth: his love for me is a gift. As my capacity to receive that gift grows, the love that we share deepens.
Being alluring is not about the things I do to attract my husband, but rather the way I receive his love for me. The further I let him in, the more captivating the invitation. This is the mystery of love. When love is given, love grows. When love is received, love grows. Love never exhausts, but only generates. And that is what is alluring about marriage, and what will keep us together as our skin wrinkles and our hair turns gray: the inexhaustible mystery of love.
Copyright 2020 Samantha Stephenson