“The first thing is always beauty. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. I mean, there are things you can do. I mean, you can help yourself out. …”
He is blushing, all six feet three inches of him, because he is in a Young Women meeting, not in the high school gym. He is our male expert for our dating lesson today, and I think the only reason Jodi asked, “What’s the first thing that attracts a guy to a girl?” was to capture his brown-eyed attention. Only now he’s not looking at her. He’s staring at the floor, embarrassed to have been so openly honest in church.
Serves him right, I think. I don’t ask my question: What if a girl is ugly and fat but funny, smart, and considerate? Is beauty such a vital virtue that a girl can’t be considered for a date without it? Anyway, what does he know about “helping yourself out”?
I say that because I’ve been helping myself out for the past three years. I do it with a rattail brush and Sticking Pretty hair spray, with Glitter n’Glo eye shadow and Perfectly Pink lipstick. I even practice a weight-loss program called Body Be Good. But I am 16 years old, and I am just as pathetic as I was before self-help. I am five feet tall and weigh 165 pounds. My hair is 22 inches of beetle-brown seaweed. My eyes are blue BBs, legally blind, buried beneath the inch-and-a-half thick lenses of my steel-rimmed glasses. My mouth is in its fourth year of orthodontic intervention, and my face ought to be intervened with too—by a dermatologist. I imagine this is the self-help to which Dr. Dating refers.
It is noon. The lesson ends, and I plod out of the Young Women room while Jodi simpers about our stellar speaker.
All the way home, I stare out of the car and remember the first thing is always beauty. My pudgy cheeks and frazzled hair hover in the window, superimposed on all the trees and houses that we pass.
“What are you thinking about, Marie?” Dad asks when he spies me in the rearview mirror, moping at my reflection.
“Nut’uhn,” I grunt.
I gulp, deciding it’s worth a second opinion. “Dad, what first attracted you to Mom?”
He grins over at Mom like they met yesterday. “Well, I saw her across the room at a stake young adult dance. And I thought, Wow, she’s pretty cute!”
My mouth twists. “That was it?”
“Well, what did you want?” he laughs. “Shooting stars? An angel overhead saying, ‘Hey, George, she’s the one?’”
I scowl at my shoes. Two to none. The first thing is always beauty.
“Why do you ask?” Mom asks as she turns to face me.
“Never mind,” I sulk.
Lunch is a Body Be Good banana shake. Mom and Dad and Anna eat baked potatoes and talk about Sunday School. When Mom asks me what my Laurel lesson was about, I mutter, “Datin’” and don’t clarify when she tells me to enunciate.
“Can I be excused?” is all I say.
Mom looks at Dad and nods, and I head to my bedroom.
I look at the picture of the Bountiful Utah Temple above my bed and shake my head to shoo away thoughts of self-pity.
That’s when I remember the family’s love and romance expert, my Grandpa John, who courted my grandma via the postman while he was in Europe during World War II and she was in Casper, Wyoming. Grandpa and Grandma passed away when I was little, but Mom still tells the stories about how they fell and stayed in love. Mom has all of Grandpa’s letters to Grandma. I will make it a survey. Grandpa is source number three.
The letters are in Mom’s closet on the high shelf, so I have to lug a chair to reach them. I create a clunking racket as I rummage through journals and baby books and photo albums. Mom comes in to ask me what I’m doing.
“I’m just looking for Grandpa’s letters.”
“Marie, is something bothering you?” Mom raises an eyebrow, but I’ve found the letter box. I pull the chair back to Dad’s desk and retreat to my room with the letters from the expert.
“Dear Emma,” reads the first one I open. It smells like smoky dust. “Hello beautiful. I miss the glow of your pretty face. …”
I quit there and tally the score: three to zero.
“Think beautiful,” I whisper to myself in the mirror. I’ve shed my glasses, so I have to squint with my nose an inch from the mirror to scrutinize my reflection. My eyelids are glittering. My lips are pink. My eyelashes are lengthened with Anna’s mascara. I twirl pieces of my hair onto the top of my head to configure an elegant up-do. Twisting my face from side to side, I experiment with different expressions. But even in profile, my cheeks are too pimply. My eyes are too tiny. My hair is too fuzzy.
I shake down my hair. It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. I have no beauty. I return my glasses to their perch on my nose.
The next Young Women lesson is about eternal marriage. Bishop Wright and his wife are this week’s guest lecturers. They are gentler and more profound than Dr. Dating. They do not talk about beauty, except as it exists in the house of the Lord. I feel my insides tingle. It is my deepest desire to go to the Lord’s house so I can return to live again with Heavenly Father.
Sister Wright’s eyes moisten when she bears testimony of the temple. “Girls,” she says, “we may joke sometimes about being better than men, about being better looking, smarter, or more sensitive. But the truth is neither men nor women can achieve exaltation alone. In 1 Corinthians 11:11, we read, ‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ Only with your eternal companion can you attain the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom.”
I feel a warmth within my chest, and I know her testimony must be true. But my stomach lurches. I have a question which I am too frightened to ask. What if a girl is ugly and fat, with no beauty to which an eternal companion will ever be attracted? I picture my reflection in my mirror under the up-do, and I shudder, and it’s not because I feel the Spirit.
Mom has told me ever since I could read that I can always find answers in the scriptures. I have never wanted an answer as badly as I want one now. When we get home from church, I tell Mom that I feel funny, and I don’t want lunch. I shut myself in my room. Frantically, I look up all the scripture weddings I can remember: Rebekah, Rachel, Esther. They are numbers four, five, and six in my first-thing-that-attracts-eternal-companions survey. I devour the words.
“And the damsel was very fair to look upon. … And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her” (Gen. 24:16, 67).
Four to zero.
“Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel; … And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her” (Gen. 29:17, 20).
Five to zero. My heart squeezes Spandex-tight.
“And he brought up … Esther … and the maid was fair and beautiful; … And the king loved Esther above all the women” (Esth. 2:7, 17).
Six to zero.
It isn’t fair. No beauty, no hope, no exaltation.
My door creaks, and in steps Mom. “Marie, what’s the matter?” She sees my scriptures and my watery eyes. “What are you doing, honey? What’s wrong?”
It splutters out of me all at once. “Boys will only love you if you’re beautiful. It’s always the first thing. They aren’t attracted unless you’ve got beauty. They don’t get attracted, you don’t get married. You don’t get married, no exaltation. I took a survey. You and Grandma and Rebekah, Rachel, and Esther. And I’m never getting married! I’m never going to be able to live with Father in Heaven! Look, look at this verse. “I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. … A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins … bearing a child in her arms” (1 Ne. 11:13, 15, 20).
Mom touches my arm gently and lifts my scriptures from my hands, “Bearing a child,” she slowly repeats and looks at me with soft eyes. “Marie, may I read you another scripture about that child?”
She doesn’t wait for a response. “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: … he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:2–4).
She pauses while I lower my chin into my chest.
“Maybe … maybe you’re right, Marie. Maybe men only love and desire that which they think is beautiful. After all, they didn’t love our Savior. They despised Him. They crucified Him.”
I shake my head slowly. “But He was the most beautiful of all.”
Mom doesn’t respond. Her eyes are expectant. She wants me to say more.
“They just …” I pause. “They just couldn’t tell.”
“Well, they didn’t recognize it. They couldn’t tell that it was beauty. He was beautiful because …” I blow a frustrated gust of air through pursed lips. “I can’t explain it. He was beautiful in the way you just can’t see.”
Mom nods in agreement and reads, “‘Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Ne. 27:27). Marie, you don’t have to look like Grandma or Esther or Rachel or Rebekah. For all we know, their kind of beauty was as invisible as our Savior’s. The only beauty you have to cultivate is His. If you can be beautiful like He was beautiful, you won’t have to worry about winning an Isaac or Jacob. Men who saw no beauty in our Savior may also not see your beauty. But men of Christ, acquainted with His grief, will come to love you and say, ‘She is the most beautiful of all.’ There may be pain caused by those who don’t know you, but you will draw closer to the Savior as you emulate Him. And until your Isaac or your Jacob comes, you will know that Christ has borne your grief and carried your sorrows. And He will comfort you.”
She places my scriptures back in my lap, squeezes my hand, and drops me a tissue for my sniffling nose. Then she slips out of my bedroom and closes the door. After a minute, I wipe tears and mascara and Glitter n’Glo off my eyelids. In my heart I feel a beauty that I know must be His.