In last week’s post, I mentioned that we had recently spent a few days in New Orleans. While I was there, I saw a number of signs in various locations. In addition to the one I pondered last week, I saw a sign painted on concrete that I shared on Instagram and this sign above, along the banks of the Mississippi River: You Are Beautiful.
This sign, like last week’s, has stayed in my mind since my return home. I’ve been wondering why the people who own this building would have chosen this phrase. After all, there are over 170,000 English words “in current use” to choose from. Those words could form literally millions of different phrases. Why choose You Are Beautiful?
I decided to do a bit of research and it turns out the owners didn’t make that choice. This residential building was formerly the largest rice mill in North America and now is home to the Rice Mill Lofts. Over the years between milling and housing (including Hurricane Katrina), it accumulated a large amount of graffiti. The owners decided to keep the graffiti, including the words You Are Beautiful. Whether or not there’s truth to the story, there are rumors that street artist Banksy painted You Are Beautiful.
So, we don’t get to know the why, but we can imagine. I wonder if, after Hurricane Katrina, there were a lot of buildings and people who were abandoned and ignored and needed to see, and believe, these words on a regular basis. I wonder if someone thought that a city with a beautiful but also racist history needed to read regularly that everyone is beautiful.
I also ponder the fact that I haven’t always thought of myself as beautiful. Every society develops standards for beauty, and most members of those societies don’t measure up. Yet this sign speaks truth: You are beautiful. Every one of us is beautiful, for every one of us is made in the image of God.
When is the last time you told yourself, “You are beautiful”? Say it to yourself right now—out loud if possible (unless—or perhaps especially if—you’ll draw stares from strangers in the coffee shop or subway car!). What arises in you as you ponder this? Can you believe it?
And what about saying it to others? What might happen if you did? Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. What if, instead of “Happy Valentine’s Day,” you said, “You are beautiful”?