As a young girl, I watched beauty pageants on TV in absolute awe at the beautiful women gliding across the stage. Similar to the times I’d pretended to ice skate around the living room during the figure skating championships, I tried to reflect the same posture and poise I witnessed from the women on the screen.
As the only girl in the house, I’m fairly sure I watched with my mom, who I was convinced could have been and should have been in a beauty pageant herself. I even mailed away for information about area beauty pageants, captivated as I was by the sequins and glow of the women who paraded across the TV.
I was a shy child around my peers but a chatterbox with my family members, a knobby kneed, skinny brunette with blue eyes and glasses and braces. In middle school I felt increasingly insecure and tried my best to blend in or hide. But inside, I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be seen.
Reading Debbye Turner Bell’s biography, Courageous Faith: A Lifelong Pursuit of Faith Over Fear, brought back those memories. I never did compete in a beauty pageant, but I marched with a little pompom parade group called the Sparklettes and later joined my high school’s dance team, the Bomberettes, for the same reasons: despite my deep-rooted insecurities and shyness, I wanted to be beautiful, and I wanted to be seen.
Those experiences changed me. They helped to shape my character. They helped to build my confidence. They helped fuel my ambition and determination, and they taught me about being a part of something larger than myself.
But even to this day, my concept of beauty and the habit of measuring myself against other women plagues me. I look back on photos from earlier years and wonder to myself, how did I not think I was a beautiful, young thing? How did I not see myself, and why is it that there are still days when the mirror whispers, You are plain. You are ordinary. You look so old. You don’t matter.
The fact is, I still want to be beautiful. I still want to be seen.
Courageous Faith: The Foundation of Success
The title of Debbye’s book perfectly captures her posture in life. Debbye writes with boldness, honesty, and confidence about how her faith in God has propelled her forward through challenges and difficulties.
Debbye shares her journey to becoming Miss America in 1990 and the trials, challenges, successes, and character-building experiences she faced before, during, and after. Often, we look upon people who have reached celebrity status and perceive them as “other”—we wrongly assume that what we see of them on the screen or in the news is the entire person. Debbye pulls back the curtain on her life to reveal the building blocks that make up the entirety of who she is.
When we hear other people’s testimonies about what God has done in their lives, it inspires us and encourages us to keep moving forward. We don’t feel so alone. We realize that, if they could persevere, then maybe we can persevere too, toward whatever it is that will make us feel successful, or satisfied, in our lives.
We all want to succeed, right? We want to see the fruit of our efforts, whatever those efforts might be. Debbye insists that the core requirement for success is faith that God has a plan and a purpose for life, and He’s working that purpose out for good.
You won’t find many makeup tips or weight loss strategies in Debbye’s book; instead, Debbye explores ten major themes that have shaped different seasons of her life, and what was necessary to keep moving forward: failure, faith, determination, excellence, authenticity, courage, purpose, patience, overcoming, and perseverance.
Frankly, Debbye’s story isn’t really about the pageant, although the inside peek at what life is really like on the pageant trail are fun glimpses backstage. When you review that list of themes in her book, it’s clear that what makes Debbye beautiful, and what made her Miss America, wasn’t just a pretty face, or a disciplined diet, or the swimsuit competition.
What makes Debbye (and so many of us) beautiful is at our core: who we are and how we relate to the rest of the world.
Far More Than Rubies
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies,” the writer of Proverbs 31 declares. He goes on to list 21 verses in poem form describing the traits of a woman “of noble character.”
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:20-21 NIV).
Debbye exhibits so many of the qualities of noble character as described in Proverbs 31, and her stories from her life illustrate those traits. She is a gem whose life shines with the light of God. I’m encouraged by her story and compelled to keep on striving to practice those same qualities.
In the midst of my own insecurities and obsession with outward appearance, Debbye reminds me again that a woman of noble character is worth far more than rubies. She is precious. Beautiful, even.