About a month before my wedding, I went to Costco to buy chicken stock, coconut oil...and a box of Crest Whitestrips. I plastered them on for the next two weeks, didn't think twice, then smiled my wedding day away.
It wasn't until a few months ago, when I mentioned thinking I might buy another pack, that my husband even learned I'd whitened my teeth for our wedding. "Your teeth are fine," he said. "They used to be whiter," I insisted. He replied that he hadn't noticed, and that I didn't need to do anything fake to be pretty.
Fake? Like any other bride, I'd wanted to look my best on our wedding day. But I hadn't given much thought to any reasoning beyond that, and certainly hadn't set out to intentionally deceive anyone into believing I had a born-with-it blinding smile. Where, then, to draw the line on bridal beauty treatments, and how?
At Spoken Bride, we understand beauty as an invitation to the sacred; a reflection of heavenly splendor. A bride who desires to make a complete gift of herself to her husband, to enter into marriage with a pure heart, eyes fixed heavenward, is beautiful simply because of radiant love and because of her identity in Christ. Yet because we are persons, body and soul, the outer reflects the inner and speaks to the beauty of the Holy One. The perfect hairstyle, makeup, and jewelry are nice on their own, but it's the way they befit the woman wearing them that they take on a deeper significance. Here, a few ways to look at the question of how to be authentic about wedding-day beauty.
The moral theology approach:
It surprised me to learn St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa touches on the question of makeup. But there it is in Question 169, a discussion on the "adornment of women." Aquinas states what might seem like "a lying counterfeit" (that is, the application of makeup) is sinful only when its root cause is a woman's desire to inspire lust in a man, or to reject her God-given looks. So, he's saying intention matters. Wanting to contour your skin or apply perfume or gel nails isn't a wrongful wish, so long as it's consistent with a sense of enhancing your self-worth rather than covering up self-loathing--along with the obvious need to let love triumph in the heart over lust. Aquinas also says "outward apparel should be consistent with the state of the person," which speaks to the notion that the body reflects the soul and makes visible the deep love and intention each person is created with (II-II, q. 169, a. 2, c).
The Scriptural approach:
The Song of Songs contains line after line of breathtaking poetry as it describes a bride and bridegroom's mutual sense of wonder and admiration in each others presence. It's evident that the bride has taken special care with her appearance; there's talk of jewels, fragrance, and sandals. And yet, these adornments, and the loving response they inspire, are all rooted in the bride as a person: she dreams of her beloved saying "let me see your face, let me hear your voice" and he tells her "there is no flaw in you" (Songs 2:14, 4:7). These words and this outlook are medicine for women today. It's the idea that a bride adorning herself for her husband is sacred and hidden, and it makes her feel beautiful. Makeup and other ways of enhancing her looks should add to, not overpower or replace, the beauty that's already there, inherent to the full. Beauty isn't something we put on. We already possess it, because it's part of who we are. Woman is the crown of all creation.
The real-life approach:
Personally, I go through hot and cold phases with makeup and appearance. Sometimes I'm content going bare-faced for weeks, and others I enjoy the ritual of putting on makeup every day for a while. I don't think I'm in the minority, though, in saying for special occasions I just feel better about myself when I've made efforts to dress nicely, do my hair, and paint my nails. I used to be embarrassed by this, worried I wasn't secure enough in the fact that beauty is already tied in with who I am. But I think I've since identified what it is that's helped me make peace with caring about how I look, in a way that doesn't put forth a false version of myself.
It's that I've realized I feel most confident when I feel most free. When I'm not wrapped up in anxiety about how I look, I'm unchained from concerns about how my hair looks or how well-groomed my eyebrows are. What that looks like, practically speaking, is putting in a moderate, just-right amount of effort, in the sense that virtue is the mean between two extremes. I take enough measures to feel pretty and to get my appearance off my mind, yet not so many that I obsess over maintaining made-up perfection (if, like me, you've ever gone into the bathroom, multiple times, specifically for the purpose of re-pressing on your false lashes for extra security, maybe you can identify with this).
Moderation begets peace. Making extra efforts in the beauty department isn't false when your intentions are pure. Know your beauty and worth, appreciate them, and enhance them if you want to for your wedding day, to the point that they're not on your mind anymore because you're too busy soaking in everything else. Revel in the experience of preparing yourself for your beloved.
So does it matter that my husband didn't even notice my brightened smile the day we got married? It's true that pleased as I was by the results, I didn't smile all day because my teeth were whiter. Even if he didn't see the difference in one particular aspect of my looks, it was because he saw the totality of them; he simply saw me. And being seen, being known, being gazed at with love; that is the longing in every bride's heart.