Editor'’snote: This article originally ran on LDS Living February 2021.
Have you ever listened to a talk and wanted to chant, “Yes! Yes!” all the way through? That was me when I listened to Bishop Gerald Caussé message, “Harmony of Body and Spirit: A Key to Happiness,” given during a BYU devotional in October 2020. Before the talk was even over, I was sending my closest friends a link so they could listen to it. Why? Because Bishop Caussé offered a liberating reminder that the pursuit of a beautiful soul will always be more important than the pursuit of a beautiful body.
I think that’s a reminder some of us need after almost a year spent closer to our kitchens and farther from our gyms. That transition to the home seems to have brought new or deepening problems related to body image for many people. Fitness routines were disturbed, new stresses had to be coped with, and some people had more time to consume popular media, where generally only ideal body types are portrayed.
In a New York Times article “What Is Beauty Now?,” Elizabeth Daniels, a professor who researches body image at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, wrote about body image during 2020. “I see so much anxiety about weight gain in quarantine,” she said. “People talking about ‘the Covid 15’ and so on that I think the pandemic is actually reinforcing expectations for thinner bodies.”
At least in my social circle, Daniels’s observation is accurate. A disruption to normal routines has at times caused my friends and I to stress more than usual over body expectations.
But Bishop Caussé offered the perfect remedy to get us back in the right headspace. His words made me want to pursue a higher sort of beauty. He said,
“Like me, you may have noticed that goodness radiates a certain kind of beauty. Is it not remarkable that our noble feelings become reflected in our physical appearance? Those with pure and charitable hearts have a lovely countenance that is charming, is attractive, and draws people to them. I am not speaking about beauty as defined by the world, which values only the perfection of the outward form and disregards the inner spirit. Rather, I am speaking of the beauty people radiate because of their inner wholesomeness.”
He then quoted these powerful lines from Victor Hugo:
“No external grace is complete unless it is vivified by interior beauty. The beauty of the soul is spread like a mysterious light over the beauty of the body.”
Isn’t that beautiful? I think Bishop Caussé is trying to turn our heads toward Christlike beauty. I’ve always been intrigued by the description of the Savior found in Isaiah 53:2: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
Yet, people did desire the Savior! The leper, the woman with an issue of blood, the blind man, and so many more were drawn to His inner countenance. Likewise, I believe we can find more meaningful connection with others as we cultivate Christ's light within ourselves.
The pervasiveness of the commercial world can make it tempting to believe that physical beauty will bring us the connection with others we crave. But that promise is empty.
Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Harvard, wrote for The Atlantic, “If you ask people why they might exercise and improve their diets, few will say, ‘I want to be happy.’ It’s common to hear that people want to improve their appearance—which presumably means they think it will enhance their well-being vis-à-vis the increased attention and admiration of others. This, however, turns out to be a mistake. Although it is true that becoming more attractive is linked to greater well-being, the effect is so trivial that it can’t possibly pass a personal cost-benefit analysis.”
Gratefully, there are better ways to increase well-being. Bishop Caussé pointed the way:
“Please do not allow perceived physical imperfections to define you. Strengthening your inner light should be your focus. By doing so, you will develop an inward beauty that radiates in your outward appearance, improves your physical well-being, invigorates your natural senses, and makes you a happier person.”
Aren’t we grateful that the gospel can pull our attention back around when it gets diverted? As much as I wish I was immune from the world’s toxic norms, I find I often need a spiritual remedy. Because of Bishop Caussé’s article, I am speaking back to the media assuring me of false promises. I am reminding myself (once again) that a new outfit or makeup product, while they can be fun, will never satisfy the way following Christ does. The Savior is the way to contentment and real self-love. If you need a reminder of the power of a beautiful soul, check out the devotional below.
You can look forward to Bishop Caussé shedding new light on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast and sharing a remarkable story of a resistance group in Germany during World War II—all in his distinguished French accent.