1988 Journal Entry: The Difference between Beautiful and Attractive


I’ve been going through my old journals, and came to this the other day. It was 1988, and I was 36 years old.

I had forgotten that this was a *conscious* decision, a choice between being the kind of cool person I yearned to be, and being more simple, kind, and welcoming. I don’t think I was able to choose the latter very consistently back then, due to my vanity, but time made it inevitable. As I got older and plumper, a cool identity just looked silly on me.

I was thinking that some aspect of being able to prefer that other way was due to being bullied, in my early teens. I always was the shortest, chubbiest, and least coordinated of my friends, so I can see why I was an obvious target.

But the way that experience left an influence on me was that I quickly came to understand that there was nothing I could do to affect the bullying, not one way or the other. If I got angry, if I fought back, if I cried, if I tried to close my eyes and ears–no matter what I did, the bullying was still going to go on for as long as my classmates wanted it to.

So I came to the conclusion that I could just endure it. It was just something that was going to happen, like the weather. The only choice I had was: I could endure it while getting angry and scared and vengeful inside, or I could endure it *without* inflicting those painful and futile extra emotions on myself.

That taught me a lasting lesson about being able to remain who I am no matter what others said or did to me. If there had been any hope–if I had had an adult who would help me, or if I could have put an end to the attacks in any other way, I might not have learned that lesson. It was the utter futility of resistance that taught me. There’s a blessing in everything.

I think that realization was part of my inclination so many years later to recognize that the soft and welcoming identity was more useful in the world. I could see that there was a difference between “beautiful” and “attractive.” A person can be beautiful and yet not attractive, in that they don’t attract like a magnet does; they make you feel uneasy or want to back away. But the range of ways a person could be attractive, a hospitable presence, was as many and varied as there are personalities.

I do feel tender-hearted toward people. I have a conviction that most people don’t get enough listening-to. So I try to listen to people, and make a space for them in my attention. It frees me to not have any needs, when it comes to other people; my regular self-advice is, “Try not to have any needs.”

I recognize that most people don’t have lives that are as easy and joyous as mine. I have a husband who cares for me so well, and seems to really believe I am beautiful. (When we were house-hunting here in the Smokey Mtns, I was looking at the view in all directions as we drove along, and I said, “When we move here, we’ll see beauty every day.” And my dear husband said, “Well, I’ll see you.” ) I’m in a good and loving relationship with all my grown-up children and their growing families. My husband and I have enough to get along financially. I can see beautiful Buffalo Mountain right through my office window. I am content. A contented person can make room.

I have probably posted this with some underlying strategy to be admired or thought “spiritual,” and perhaps mentioned the bullying to draw sympathy. Sometimes you just have to post something anyway, in case it does some good, even if there are mixed motives. Forgive me for being less than I try to appear to be, and please keep me in your prayers.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.


  1. Oh Frederica, you are one of the most beautiful people around. Even if I never see you physically again. Accept it baby! People love you and it has nothing to do with Eros (response to something attractive). Mostly because you have the ability to express your real (welcoming, tender-hearted) self in your writing.

  2. I forgive you for being less than you try to appear to be. Please forgive me for being less than I try to appear to be. Let’s not judge one another; love covers a multitude of sins! How good is Christ our God that we might know and practice the truth!

    1. Forgiveness is key. Let’s go out and forgive today! Two basic things motivate us, fear or love. So Let us “fall” in love of Christ a little more today.

  3. This was so deeply insightful and spiritually healing. One of my greatest mistakes in a past life as a member of the Protestant clergy was that I talked too much and listened too little. I was so young and dumb and wanted to impress so I could be loved and feel secure. Most people struggle with something and need to just have someone to talk to who will genuinely listen. People are constantly on an electronic device that is in their hands from sun up to sun down to distract themselves from the loneliness they feel inside either between them and God or them and the society around them. We are constantly searching for a place where we fit in and belong when perhaps it is right in front of us all along in the beauty of the mountains or the face of the Theotokos or Christ in the icon before which we pray. Blessing in everything is so very powerful and true. If only we could remember and cling to that when we are in the depths of suffering and struggle!

  4. Khoria,

    Not only do you listen very well, your responses reflect a deep understanding and offer much needed advice.
    I pray for you and Mother Paula in my evening prayers.

    I was delighted to see your blog on Ancient Faith!

    A blessed Nativity to you and yours…

  5. OH! What a joy to find your writing again! Many, many years ago, I read everything I could find of yours online, and so admired your thinking and clarity of words. Then other wonderful believing women’s words drew my attention. But just today I read this entry and — what a marvel! — here you are!! And able to see Buffalo Mountain out your office window! I attended Milligan College back in the 70s and can imagine your view. Thank you for reminding me that time does help us to be more welcoming, better listeners when we let it. Thank you so much!

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