The Dark Side of Beauty
- 2004 7 May
As a songwriter and a creative person, I’m always searching for something,” singer/songwriter Ginny Owens says over lunch at Bricks, a cozy Franklin, Tenn., diner that’s a block from her home. “I don’t always know what I’m searching for; and, even in the most content times in my life, my mind is wandering. If I’m going to continue on this [musical path], the only way to move forward is to have varied experiences rather than do the same thing every day. That means going to a place where I am more open, honest and comfortable with the story I have to tell.”
Owens’ “story,” is found in the songs of her third Rocketown Records release, "Beautiful." The most honest and accurate picture of her life to date, according to the writer of No. 1 singles “Free,” “If You Want Me To” and “I Am Nothing,” the record chronicles her quest to define terms. “The dark side of the song, ‘Call Me Beautiful’ [after which the record is named] came out of a huge struggle in my heart to understand what real beauty is,” says Owens. “Who has it? How do you define it?”
And while her question is one pondered by any thinking person, Owens’ struggle to grasp the concept was intensified due to her lack of sight, she says. Because she went blind at a young age due to a congenital eye disease, Owens says it was always hard for her to comprehend what “beautiful” was because she’d always associated the word with visual things. “I would be out on tour and hear guys say things like, ‘She’s hot; she’s beautiful,’ but I never heard that said to me,” Owens explains.
Even in younger years, Owens shied away from exploring the concept because the introspective singer feared sticking out in a crowd. “I’m not sure why, but I grew up not very aware of what things looked like. My mom would describe things in detail, and I don’t know if it’s that I didn’t listen or if I just had sensory overload growing up – trying to adjust to life in general – but I had very little appreciation for visual things.”
She explains how she tried to avoid being “different” at any cost, and now that often she kept her inquiries about the world to herself: “I tried to go so far as not to ask for things that were too unusual,” says Owens. “I didn’t ask visual questions because I wanted to blend in – so people didn’t feel I was an inconvenience. For years I felt like, ‘If I just work really hard, then I’ll be accepted. I’d always thought there was no way I could be beautiful anyway because I can’t see. I believed they’d never see me as beautiful because that [blindness] was an obvious flaw I had.”
Her drive to understand beauty was intensified just after Owens signed with Rocketown. She accompanied label mate Chris Rice and songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick on a tour in support of her debut record, "Without Condition," and the result was a sense of wonder she’d never experienced. Owens says Rice and Kirkpatrick were the first people (besides her mother) who really invested the energy in explaining the world in detail, painting pictures for Owens in ways she’d never experienced. “We’d go down to the beach on a tour stop in Florida, and they’d say, ‘I wish you could see the stars right now.’ They’d describe what stars were – how they didn’t look like the five-point shape you’d imagine, but that they were tiny [when you looked at them]. They explained what rainbows and stuff like that looked like. I called them the Discovery Channel,” jokes Owens.
With her curiosity piqued, Owens found herself on a constant quest to see the world as others around her viewed it. “I was challenged to be less afraid to ask people things that might be a little different than what most people would ask. I became even more interested in the visual. I had more of a mental picture when I’d go to the ocean or go on a hike, and those experiences have made me aware of God, of who He is, of being able to feel His presence and to say, ‘OK, You are still here.’”
As Owens began developing an understanding for the visual world, she was maturing in her career path and becoming more attuned to the pressures of meeting an entertainment industry standard of beauty. “I felt I was never going to measure up,” Owens admits. “It took me a few years to find out how important image really is in this business, and I feel I was on a marathon going, ‘If I try hard enough to look good, they [the industry] will be pleased with me. I got to a point where I said, ‘I’ve worked out all the time, tried to lose weight, tried to do everything to my hair that I can think of to do, and I still don’t have confidence.’”
Her “breaking down” of sorts inspired the searching, writing and digging for answers that set the tone for the new album. “The question became, ‘How am I supposed to do this, to see life, to see myself?’” she says. Through that questioning, the Lord started revealing to me what true beauty is.”
She began unearthing some answers last year after delving into Angela Thomas’ book, "Do You Think I’m Beautiful?: The Question Every Woman Asks" (Thomas Nelson). The book explores the common struggle of women who live in a world that defines beauty by the standards of a 6-foot blonde supermodel with a Crest smile and plastic enhancements. Thomas instructs Christian woman in a view that’s biblically based, though it’s a hard view to hold, admits the author, when the rest of the world says otherwise. Owens notes, “The whole premise of the book was that the only one who is ever going to know us and accept us completely as we are is our Heavenly Father.”
Though she admits that wasn’t a new concept for her, “there was something about the burdens the author carried and the way she brought them to the altar that really encouraged me. I began realizing that it’s a very personal relationship with Someone who’s created me and continues to love me in spite of myself and even for all that I am – or am not.”
Owens says she was at the beginning of a writing cycle for "Beautiful" when she began reading the book, and she finished the title track a few months later – after she’d had time to “process the reading material.” When it came time to take her first batch of songs to her label, the fear set in. “I remember going in to those first meetings with my song ‘Call Me Beautiful.’ I was thinking, ‘Right now my life is this song. Please don’t hate it!’” admits Owens.
Every song on the new album ultimately explores “my struggle to understand how I am supposed to look at life,” says Owens. “These songs point to the way the Lord is teaching me to see life, to see others and myself as the beautiful creatures He intended us to be. [Being] beautiful is not wonderful, necessarily; it’s mysterious, dangerous, complicated, simple and so many different things. Finally, after five years in the business, I’ve been able to pinch myself and say, ‘This is so much fun; I can’t believe God has allowed me to do this.’ I’ve learned to regard each experience as beautiful.”
There’s a smile on my face
And a brand new light in my eyes
It’s a new day
And I’ve never felt so alive
Now I can finally start to live
Take those chances I have missed
Things will be so different
Now that I know
You call me beautiful
(“Call Me Beautiful”)
© 2004 CCM Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Click here to subscribe.