"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
March 12, 2014
True Beauty: It Really is More than Skin Deep
by Laurie Williams Sowby

What is beauty? What “qualifies” as beautiful? And how can parents, teachers, leaders, and grandmothers influence growing girls toward a positive body image?

To combat societal pressure toward outward beauty and sex appeal and the eating disorders they trigger, two BYU-affiliated women have joined forces in Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore: Perspectives on True Beauty (Deseret Book 2013, 148 pages in soft cover, $16.99).

LaNae Valentine, director of Women’s Services and Resources at BYU, and Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen, therapist at the BYU Comprehensive Clinic, originally asked women students to pen their thoughts on the subject of beauty. The responses spawned a ripple effect, garnering short essays from LDS women from age 6 to grandmothers and even a couple from men.

More than 50 of these essays appear in the book, most with a brief bio of the author, but a few with “name withheld” in the byline. Those are some of the most heart-wrenching.

As I read, I was having a discussion with myself about my own views and how I am influencing my seven beautiful granddaughters.

Constant media messages telling us our “natural bodies are deficient” and “our faces not pretty without makeup” aren’t the only ones to blame, writes Valentine. She relates that when she was six and got her first pair of glasses, her mother lamented, “My little girl isn’t pretty anymore.” That comment and others made as she was growing up left lasting scars and some major body image problems to surmount.

Valentine and several other writers who have learned to appreciate themselves and their bodies as divine gifts tell of moments that changed their thinking, although it was often a long process to do it.

Rachel Uda Murdock, a cancer survivor whose hair was lost to chemotherapy at the same time steroids were ballooning her body, shares her experience of feeling God’s unconditional love when she was at her lowest, emotionally, physically, and spiritually:

“It was an extraordinary feeling. No longer could I deny that I was unlovable. I couldn’t even deny that I was beautiful. God made me, and He made me beautiful. I had been beautiful all along but had never acknowledged it.”

She says she had been guilty of the sin of ingratitude. That insight changed the way many of the writers here treat others, as well as their own self-image.

Kayla Merriman, whose views of herself were colored by her estranged mother’s letters and phone calls reminding her that she wasn’t thin enough to be happy, concludes her essay this way: “As we seek God and come to know Him, beautiful becomes who we are, not what we are. We recognize in us what God already sees — Beauty.”

Another nameless writer discovered while serving a mission that her self-confidence was rooted in Heavenly Father and his message. She then “began to understand that I could choose my own happiness. I could choose to love me: His masterpiece.”

Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore would make a good discussion book for LDS women’s groups, private book clubs, moms, Young Women leaders, and anyone who needs affirmation about the source of true beauty.

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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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