As a creative in the fashion industry, I find myself in many conversations about true beauty. I sat down with Susannah from freedomgraceandfitness.com and answered from the heart.
Susannah: You obviously love designing beautiful things. What role would you say beauty has played in your life?
Ansley: In many ways Beauty has been my song – often times sung with dissonance and lies. But other times with ever-increasing harmony and freedom to belt out Beauty in her many unchained melodies. Beauty has woven herself across my wide array of interests and roles. I have not only longed personally to BE beautiful, I’ve longed to CREATE beauty, to share her, to uncover her where she’s been hidden, and multiply her where she’s been suppressed. (Of all God’s creative works, people are by far the most beautiful and have the most potential to express beauty in her various forms!)
I experience God most tangibly through the beauty of his creation. When I design something beautiful and experience the privilege of watching it come into being, I know more deeply the gift of being made in his image…a maker patterned after The Maker. In these ways, seeking beauty has been a deeply spiritual endeavor with joy around every corner. Beauty is not skin deep, but goes as deep as the soul and spirit and perhaps deeper still.
Susannah: You mentioned the words dissonance and lies. What lies have you believed about beauty?
Ansley: God patterned my heart after beauty – to seek it and find his face, to uncover it and find his grace, to create it and find the gift of being made in his image. But with all the truth inherent in beauty, there are also plenty of lies plastered to the pages of our culture. Lies have a way of taking our beautiful desires, twisting them and then convincing us of ways we can fulfill those desires in our own strength. Take approval for example. Approval is a good and beautiful desire. God gave us desire to be approved of, accepted and admired. However, we don’t trust that when He gives us a desire, He will also fulfill it. Out of fear, we go about seeking approval by our own means. For many people, myself included, beauty is that first channel of approval. I have moments I call “AHA Already” moments. In this case, the AHA is “I’m already accepted. I’m already approved.” My beauty doesn’t need to be validated…rather celebrated in it’s already-ness! (Is that a word? Let’s make it one!)
Susannah: What encouragement would you offer to those in the midst of striving after beauty for approval and acceptance?
Ansley: God met me in a powerful way in the midst of this battle. My ears didn’t hear him speak, but my spirit heard him loud and clear. If Beauty is my song, then these have become her lyrics.
“Who you are is Enough, Ansley. Now become who you are. Beautiful already belongs to you. Now become in Beauty.”
This is a song of both already and not yet. We must must must get the already and then we are free to become the not yet. It’s a song of both present reality and future hope. And here’s the exciting part: becoming you when the YOU is already enough, is a joyful discovery, a dance full of rhythmic refinement, a freedom-filled adventure! And much like a contagious laugh, we “Becomers” invite others to join the same discovery dance that shakes off our lies and lacks and uncovers our Beautiful!
One of the great lies of this world says just the opposite: Strive after beauty so that you can be enough. This lie causes us to live in a prison of defining ourselves. The key to your beautiful rests solely in the hands of your Designer and Maker.
Susannah: Speaking of hands, all of your Dora Mae collections are handmade. Do you prefer the beauty that’s unique to items made by hand?
Ansley: You know, there was a time that God began to show me that many physical aspects of my job as a jewelry designer have deeper symbolic meaning in the spiritual realm. I think He enjoys giving me tangible parallels to quite intangible and often mysterious realities.
I’ve known for a while now that we are all designed and handmade, one-of-a-kind masterpieces knit together by the Maker of this universe. Before that, I simply knew that “God made us.” As you can imagine, those are very different things to “know.” It’s not just the head knowing, but the kind of knowing that reaches in deep and begins to change you. I love handmade because every piece is personal. Every piece is touched and thought through with undivided attentiveness and care. Not one piece can ever “slip through the cracks.” Also, I love the imperfectly perfect aspect of handmade design. It doesn’t have to be an exact science but instead is an art. This is all of us. We are handmade, imperfectly perfect pieces of art.
Susannah: What challenges have you had professionally as a designer in the fashion/beauty industry?
Ansley: Quite honestly, fashion scared me quite a bit. I knew my own inner struggles in this area and did not want to be a part of a system that caused other women to feel they needed to buy something to be beautiful and accepted. As a designer, I obviously have to market my business in the hopes that people will want to buy my version of beautiful! But I’ve struggled on a branding approach that I can feel good about. I’ve begun to settle on the idea that each piece’s uniqueness will not serve to validate women but would simply serve to celebrate the unique beauty each individual client already possesses. I realize this might be a terrible sales pitch:
“No no, you don’t NEED this. You are beautiful and complete. But if you’d like to uniquely express that beauty and completion, Dora Mae is for you!”
I’ve actually had a very vivid dream about this. I’m a designer in heaven and in my white and gold studio I’m helping each woman pick their favorite piece to wear. I have this deep sense that they are enjoying both their internal and external beauty and expressing it in creative ways. They choose one-of-a-kind handmade creations because they too are one-of-a-kind and handmade. Their chosen piece reflects at least some aspect of their incredible unique design.
I happen to be of the persuasion that eternity begins right now – and I hope and pray this could be more of a reality here in my studio this very morning. I pray that each individually designed creation lying on that gallery table can be a tangible symbol of an eternal reality.
Susannah: As a jewelry designer & fashionista, you put time and attention into the details of what you wear, why are those details important to you?
Ansley: Well, there are two very honest, yet very different answers to this question and it all depends on whether my spirit is in control or if its surrendered to Jesus. If it's attempting to be in control, I feel the need to impress other people or more specifically, meet their expectation of what it means to be a "creative person." If you are a controller, than you are also a performer. Performance is an exhausting, joy-theiving little life-killer. To hell with it whenever possible!
On the other hand, inherent in a surrendered spirit is a deep knowing that you are loved unconditionally. Performance suddenly seems silly! In this scenario, I am simply being my crazy weird creative self who is energized by unique forms of self-expression and loves the process of creating a fun outward look that matches my inward look for the day! I don't just put on clothes. I design an outfit! Pieces of clothing are like paint on an artist’s palette. I discover a fun new playful combination I've never thought of before. It's not drudgery or performance, it's just so stinkin fun. And it matters not if I see one soul that day!
Susannah: That sounds like freedom!!! Any other ways you think beauty and freedom are related?
Ansley: Oh yes. I’ll tell you a story. Recently I began hearing about another local designer creating pieces that many people were mistaking for Dora Mae designs. I got many phone calls, texts, and emails from loval clients insisting someone was “stealing” my design aesthetic. I knew we would be selling at the same shows to the same group of clients, and a nagging feeling began to eat away at me. It’s name was Fear. “Orlando isn’t a big enough city for two people to be doing the exact same thing.” Why can’t that designer just find her own beautiful? Thoughts spiraled (like they do) all the way to the worst case scenario: “Will my business fail??! Will I be a failure?”
Over the next couple days, God began speaking to my spirit again and this is what He said:
Do not forget one thing Ansley. All of your creativity is a gift from me. When you start feeling like you own it, you will want to control and protect it. You’ll build a wall and it will become a prison. Your creativity was free to you. So let it flow free out into the rest of creation. I am the source of all your ideas and my creative wells never run dry. Cast fear aside and trust in the abundant creative provision I will make for you. I will continue to put beauty into your imagination and you will cause that beauty to come into being. Receive each one-of-a-kind idea as a creative kiss from your Father. Delight in accepting it just as I delight in giving it to you. If I stop supplying your jewelry imagination, you will know I’m ready for you to move onto another medium. Do not look to your right or to your left, but keep the eyes of your beautiful creative heart solely focused on me. And let my perfect beautiful love cast out all your creative fear.
Suddenly, I broke out of the “will my business fail?!” prison. Every creative idea I’ve ever had in the past and every one I will have in the future was laid down at his beautiful feet. It’s His Beauty to give and mine simply to share.
Susannah: Since beauty has been such a strong theme both spiritually, physically and professionally, do you think you could define it?
Ansley: First and foremost, Beauty is a person. God is beauty personified. To know his heart and behold his face is to know and behold Beauty. It is He that makes everything beautiful in it’s time. In the Bible God addresses and celebrates all sorts of beauty – nature’s beauty, outer physical beauty, inner spiritual beauty, even the kind of beautiful feet that bring good news!
Some people think all God cares about is inner beauty – but that’s not true! He celebrates human physical beauty throughout scripture’s pages! We are his creation and he delights in his beautiful designs! Some people say our bodies are just houses for our souls – but I don’t think this way! They aren’t mere trappings – they are the very stuff of us. We are both body and soul wrapped into one beautiful being and celebrated in all our parts by our Maker. There is no shame in enjoying beauty – it is one of God’s gifts to us. Just as a canvas displays the beauty that flows from an artist’s hand, we display the splendor of our Artist. We are his canvas. He paints his splendor with the magnificence of our bodies, the transformation of our hearts and with the stories of our lives.
Susannah: God spoke the words to you, "Beautiful already belongs to you, now become in Beauty." What does that look like in your daily life?
Ansley: Defining Beauty seems about as difficult as defining God. But if I could describe my path to true beauty, I would summarize it as a surrender, refinement and rest…lived in rhythm.
We must acknowledge our likeness to clay and surrender to our Potter’s hands. I think on some level humans all wish they were The Potter, but deep down we all know we are the clay. We hope, along with all the other clay in creation, that our potter is Good. I’ve gone from hoping in this goodness, to believing in it with my whole heart. By faith in his goodness, I can entrust myself (my body, my soul, my story) to the hands of the one true Master artist.
“Beauty is pain” – as some define it. Well, it isn’t pain, but it undoubtedly includes it! The refiners fire is HOT – but the gold it produces is utterly pure and without defect. My marriage has been one of the greatest sources of beauty in my life - my incredible, painful, gut-wrenchingly glorious marriage that I would not trade for anything in the world. Ok – so maybe there have been a few days I wanted to trade it. But I had already chosen surrender, so that was out of the question! Marriage has revealed the kind of beauty that emerges when our impurities are brought to the surface and washed away, layers upon layers at a time.
Pride, self-interest, independence, lust, insecurity, control, condemnation, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness…you get the picture. Over the last 15 years, Beauty has presented herself in Jake and I as humility, generosity, selflessness, forgiveness, interdependence, faithfulness, trust, encouragement, and love have emerged from our lives.
We entered the whole marriage thing with valiant thoughts of bringing redemption to the world. Instead, we’ve unwittingly and primarily become apart of each other’s redemption! The world becomes a more beautiful place one life at a time and there’s no better vehicle for redemption (assuming surrender) than marriage. And in God’s ironic, seemingly upside down way of His, it’s been during our very own painful refinement process that there’s been space to invite others to join. It’s not two whole people going out to “save” the broken. It’s two broken people inviting others into their “gut-wrenching” so that many can experience their “glory.”
And finally, rest. Here’s the thing – I am not qualified to speak on rest - except all iterations of my failure to find it. However, I know it’s a real big deal. Since most of us humans are striving to be beautiful so that we can be enough, it feels upside down to REST in our Already Beauty so that we can become our Not Yet Beauty. Here’s what I know: when Fear flees it leaves a gigantic gap – soul space for Rest to come in. Sink into the vast ocean of the Love of your Father, drown the fear that keeps you on the hamster wheel and finally emerge to the surface and lay on one of those big new donut floats. As you’re laying there enjoying, breathing, resting, praying, there will be space to hear the REAL path to becoming your “not yet” beautiful. Finally, at the end of the day, get off the float and get going. All the extra energy and inspiration afforded by time on that donut float will keep you off the hamster wheel and moving forward.
RHYTHM – This is NOT NOR WILL EVER BE one-time knowledge that you just “GET.” Believing and becoming beautiful is a rhythm that requires returning again and again. One of my layers will peel back and I’ll feel like I really finally BELIEVE my inherent beauty! I’ll live wild and free running down my path of continued discovery!! And then…I forget. Totally completely forget. I despair in my ugly, lose hope, fear the worst and begin striving again and determine to actuate my own beauty. Self-pity and panic fuel my perpetual motion and I’m back behind bars. But I can always return to the RHYMTH of surrender, refinement and rest. I began with the phrase “beauty is my song” because I’ve felt her rhythm and have been invited to her Great Dance. To the ALL the fellow Already Beautifuls out there, lets feel the rhythm and leave it ALL on the dance floor.
A final prayer and declaration:
Yours Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor! May I live fully as you designed me – a display of your splendor. That is who I am. That is who I am becoming.