The Value of Image

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on March 23, 2011

I often hear people remark that image shouldn’t be all that important to Christians. Some even say that to be concerned with image is an act of vanity. All that matters is what is in our hearts, they say. It’s what we possess inside that counts. While I completely agree that the state of our souls should always be our primary concern, I cringe just a bit I hear when people say that image is of little value. Here’s why:

Just the other day I stumbled upon these videos produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Take a minute to watch one (or all) of them…

Amazing, right? High-quality, well-produced video, inspiring content, well-chosen settings, smiling faces, cute clothes, stylish haircuts, confident, joyful, enthusiastic, articulate, smart, creative people…I’m inspired, how about you?

Honestly, I watch these videos and think: these people are awesome! How do I become friends with people like this?

Ten years ago, when I was directionless and searching for meaning in my life, I can tell you that above videos would have caught my eye. Without a doubt. There’s even a pretty good chance I would have sought out and engaged the organization behind them. Anyone who is interested in evangelization should take note. The Mormons are on fire.

They understand that if you find yourself in possession of some bit of truth (though ideally we’d all have the fullness of truth, even partial truth has value) that has brought light and peace into your life you shouldn’t be afraid to present an attractive image in order to pique the interest of others. People are drawn to beauty. If you’ve got it–and you do–flaunt it. In fact, to not do so is an offense against the unique gifts God has given to you.

Look, I get that what I’m advocating for is not always easy. As you know, I have five kids, ages 7 and under. I’m still carrying a lot of extra weight from those pregnancies. I’m up at night with an infant. I’m tired. I’m on a very tight budget. I get it. All I’m saying is let’s not give up. Let’s fight for beauty. God has given every single one of us unique, charming, attractive attributes and talents. Identify them, nurture them to the best of your abilities and let them shine. This world is hungry for goodness, truth and beauty. It’s our job to give it to them.

But that’s just my take. How do you feel about this issue?

Take care!
Signed, Betty

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge March 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I think real beauty is part of being comfortable in your own skin. If I am striving for a beauty is that is unlike myself (for example wearing a lot of make-up which I don't do or wearing heels which I definitely don't do)it will turn more people off than draw them in. I think that if "beauty" becomes false in any way most people figure it out and not only are turned off, they don't want to have anything to do with you or your organization, church, job etc anymore. It is easy for people to fall for outer beauty but it doesn't last forever, and once the facade starts to crack there really is no going back. And it leaves the person who bought into wondering if anything is authentic.

Betty Beguiles March 23, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I absolutely agree that learning to be comfortable in one’s skin is essential. And I certainly don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all formula for beauty. The beauty of beauty (ha!) is that it can be expressed and demonstrated in a myriad of ways. I love witnessing the way beauty is manifested in different people. All I’m advocating for is taking the time to put our best foot forward. I see a lot of apathy. I want women to embrace their loveliness, their talents, and their passions and joyfully share them with the world!

BettyDuffy March 23, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I wish I could see those videos. For some reason, I can't though.

I agree though–the Mormons know how to present. Some of the nicest people I know are Mormon.

Erin March 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm

LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Love the videos! And yes, Mormons seem to be incredibly inspiring people, especially in the mommy blogging world. The photographer/mommy/blogger — I aspire to be like her. Her story gives me something to look forward to. :) It's nice to be inspired. It's nice to enjoy the simple things and to be reminded that most people out there are simply enjoying the simple things.

Ceeb March 23, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Hi, Betty! I found your blog through the Little Catholic Bubble, but I haven't commented before -although that wedding dress post was a hoot! =)

I think this is a beautiful idea, and one I sure needed to hear. I tell my children all the time how beautifully God made them (inside and out)… I should probably look for it in myself, too, huh?

I've dealt a great deal lately with anti-Catholic comments, anti-life comments, etc. and it has had me so down. In each case I keep coming back to the thought that I wish these people knew how JOYFUL a life of love is – but then I look in the mirror and think, "honey, no WONDER they don't know." ;)

This was a wonderful thought for me to ponder – thanks so much for sharing it!

Phaeton March 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Wow – great videos! Mormons are amazing. I love having them for friends, once we get past the point where they try to convert me. I am so envious of the strong communities they create in their churches – I wish Catholics did more of that.

Lauren March 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I completely agree with you! I have several friends who are Mormon, and I am always impressed at how they (and their friends) are so put together–fashionable, but modest. I jokingly tell them that the best advertisement for the Mormon Church is its members. (Obviously, I don't agree with what their church teaches, though.)

My only concern is that, within that specific culture, there is TOO much pressure to project a perfect outward image. I remember reading somewhere, for example, that Utah has the highest rate of antidepressant use in the country. There has to be a balance struck between putting our best foot forward–which I think is what you're getting at here–and needing to be "on" and flawless no matter what, which is an unattainable standard. But I don't think that's what you're calling for at all.

Great post!

Jennifer March 23, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I'm so glad you're bringing these videos, as well as the new Mormon branding and marketing campaign, to the attention of your largely Catholic audience. As a compulsive blog reader, I've found that Mormons have an upper hand in that department. Many have gorgeously designed blogs full of crafty goodness and professional graphics. Often they have a button on their blog that says, "I'm a Mormon" with a link to the LDS website. Very, very clever. As a new "convert Catholic" as well as a professional writer, I'm tempted to wonder why the Catholic Church isn't jumping on this bandwagon. We don't corner the market on cardigans and cake pops, but we do have Stephen Colbert on our team! :) In all seriousness, I'm leary of organizations that need to "recruit" for membership, just as I'm weary of a standard of beauty that does not embrace all colors and sizes.

Kimberlie March 23, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Recently I have come to a bit of an "awakening" about image and appearance. I am a tired mother of four AND I looked every bit of it. I couldn't remember the last time I had shaved my legs, put on make up, worn a dress, or in general looked in the mirror and said anything but "yuck. I hate the way I look."

That all changed though when I renewed my vows with my husband and I realized "this man deserves a wife that is put together, that sometimes at least will put on make up, that wears a flirty skirt occasionally, and that definitely shaves her legs." He's never complained, and honestly, the hair on my legs is blond and fine, but still.

I do think image matters. I don't think we have to become self-absorbed, but how I feel about myself, how comfortable I am in my own skin, is directly related to whether I put a little effort into my appearance or not. Am I still overweight, yup. Am I still gaining wrinkles by the day? Yup. Can I count an extra gray hair or two each day? Absolutely. But I feel better and therefore I think I project a better image to others.

That's my .02.

Nicole March 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I agree with you. Sometimes playing into the turtleneck-and-jumper stereotype of feminine modesty (for example) is just feeding into the misinformation that people have.

I vote that F&F creates videos like this about (and FOR) Catholic moms!

Lady Caitie in the Pretty City March 23, 2011 at 10:45 pm

"Lets fight for beauty!" Love this!

Andrea March 23, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Hallie this is a great post. I 100% agree and felt the same way about these videos. I want these ladies as friends! haha
Beauty matters. Some contrived version of fake beauty is not the same thing as actual beauty. Some people are attracted to simplicity, or a more natural beauty, or bells-and whistles (makeup and heels? which I do enjoy) beauty.
No matter what, this beauty and put-togetherness is more a reflection of the interior. In the first video I wasn't just (I say "just" because it does make a difference) affected by the gals' gorgeous home, her lovely hair, her perfect makeup…it was her joy in her vocation and her willingness to embrace life's challenges with grace. Her image reflected the way she feels about her life – she takes it seriously.
It's the same argument about church buildings. Why do people flock to the Vatican? What attracts them? A big part of it is the beauty. We know that the beauty there is only a small reflection of the perfection of Christ, who is adored and worshiped inside. I can't help but wonder if most non-Catholic tourists just have a sense that there's something bigger going on inside.
Image matters. If we go around frumpy and angry and scattered, we do a disservice to ourselves and the way we reflect our vocation to society at large. St. Josemaria Escriva says in "The Way:"
"Long faces, coarse manners, a ridiculous appearance, a repelling air. Is that how you hope to inspire others to follow Christ?" (661)
I mean, he kind of just says it like it is, but I agree. A smile and a joyful disposition goes a long way for an attractive Christian Image.

PNG March 23, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Thanks so much for the post! I agree that we (Catholics) can take a lesson from these videos….very polished, put-together, and attractive. When you have something to give advertising is critical. We, Catholic, women have so much to give the world….femininity, authentic marriage, mother's who are truly the hearts of their homes, and an invitation to the Eucharist where we gain the strength to give all of these things. It behooves us to put our best foot forward and be like Christ who was all to all and his Mother who is the model of feminine perfection. I saw mention in some of the comments about being fake or shallow and whose to know if what is being presented is real. But we have the "real" thing….Christ in the Eucharist. In order to give him to a very secular world, we just might need to be in the world and not of the world.

JMB March 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm

I disagree with the Mormon assessment. There is no there there. So what if she's cute? That's like judging a book by it's cover. Catholics are not into the "branding thing" or image thing because we have the truth. And quite frankly, it's more than having a Coach bag and some Lia Sophia jewelry on. I go to daily mass. Often times that finds me in NYC at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I'm very comforted by the scene – very fashionable men and women, homeless types, senior citizens, foreigners, tourists, business people. The Church is universal.

That said, all moms should make an effort to put on some makeup and brush their hair before they go out in public! That's just common courtesy.

Bonnie March 24, 2011 at 2:06 am

Wow Betty – THANK YOU for this post! I have been feeling so deflated recently and now I feel inspired.

"Honestly, I watch these videos and think: these people are awesome! How do I become friends with people like this?"
That's what I think when I read your blog! "I wish I lived near Hallie Lord…" :) seriously.

Young Mom March 24, 2011 at 2:36 am

Nah, I see videos (or people!) like that and I just feel despair because I know that I could never fit in or measure up. I wouldn't be "good enough" to be their friend. I could neer feel comfortable inviting those women over to my house where my kids have colored on the walls and eat chicken nuggets for lunch. I wouldn't want to go to their house if I felt pressured to pull out makeup and my only nice clothes, not to mention having to dress up my kids. No thanks. I'd rather be friends with real people. I tried to play that "we have the perfect little world where everything is wonderful" game before, and it's exhausting. In reality, sometimes I only get a couple hours of sleep at night, I'm 8 months pregnant and still nursing my 18 month old, can barely keep up with my housecleaning at the moment, and I fight with my husband (whom I adore) sometimes. I'm not going to pretend that I'm anything but what I am, it's not worth it.

Martha March 24, 2011 at 3:02 am

So many great comments!

I was explaining just this to my eldest daughter (13) the other day. She's very religious, and feels that it's vain to care about these things- but I explained that you can't attract people to your way of life if you look and act like an alien to them!!!

All within reason, of course. But we can be cute, confident, versed in popular culture, etc., and retain our godliness- and hopefully gain some admirers of our faith along the way!

KBernadette March 24, 2011 at 5:24 am

The thoughts in my mind were: Overproduced, fake, phony, hollywood inspired, just no! I watched with the sound off, to get the full effect of judging solely on appearance. Those were people I am not attracted to, and never have been.

The only appearance that attracted me was the boy with downs. Now that is real. That was beauty.
His mother had an incredible smile, though I wondered if they were veneers.

If I had turned on the sound,
I probably would have been more impressed by the beauty of their family life than their looks.

I'm all about beauty, but I'm also about leaving those who want to wear jumpers and turtlenecks alone to do what they are convicted to do. Put your best face forward, but try not to be judgemental and shallow about those who don't meet your standards of beauty.

Betty Beguiles March 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Oh, wow. That is not at all what I took away from those videos, Young Mom and KBernadette. Interesting.

I saw individuals who were brave enough to confront their struggles–children with special needs, parents who abandoned them as children, etc.–and then, with a smile on their faces, talk about how their faith has sustained them and their challenges have blessed them. I saw people who refused to fall under the weight of their crosses but rather have embraced life for all the sweetness it possesses. I saw courage, passion and joy.

It was in the whole package that I saw beauty. If I'd been shown people who live shallow lives and only care about physical appearance, I might agree with you. That's not the case here, though.

J.C. March 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Why Hallie, there is already an entire personal prelature devoted to this idea: It's Opus Dei! :) They recruit the elite on Ivy League campuses (and elsewhere) and encourage them to shine professionally and otherwise–all for the glory and honor of God. (See the St. Josemaria Escriva's quotation posted by Andrea–he's very persuasive!) And while many of us may fall short of Opus Dei standards, we can all take away the basic premise that we should strive for excellence and order all our earthly ambitions to the ultimate end of saving souls and giving glory to God. It's not for vanity's sake, but for God's. St. Jose Maria Escriva's writings make it very clear that our external or "worldly" accomplishments hinge on an internal spiritual struggle and the perfecting of habits, with God's grace. So to echo many of the comments, it goes without saying that if there is no genuine internal beauty, joy and peace, image is only a facade. But when it reflects God's love and the joy of our vocations, it is a persuasive testimony for Christ. *For the record, I am not and never have been associated with Opus Dei in any way.* Thanks, Hallie, great topic.

Sarah March 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I haven't read any of the responses yet, but I love this post!!! Love! Genesis 1 tells us we were created in the *image* and likeness of God. Image refers to the physical whereas likeness refers to more intangibles like character traits. God is Beauty right? If we could even look at God, we'd be stunned, absolutely stunned. I think all that is good and beautiful here reflects that truth, and yes, we should try to nurture that (although I fail plenty of times, and I don't even have kids yet!).

Sarah March 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm

And btw, I have a dear friend who is Mormon and if it wasn't for really researching and delving into the teachings of the Catholic faith and embracing that, I probably would have converted to Mormonism at some point. In fact, my number 1 hang-up to "reverting" to Catholicism was that it seemed so unattractive to me in my easy twenties. (I now have been exposed to the incredible beauty of Catholicism, so a lot has changed, but at first, it was a rough road).

Nancy Piccione March 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Great issue to discuss.

A quote that stuck out to me in reading St. Francis de Sales "Introduction to the Devout Life" (that I just posted moments before seeing this thread!): "For my part, I would have devout people, whether men or women, always the best dressed in a group but the least pompous and affected. As the proverb says, I would have them adorned with grace, decency, and dignity."

Whitney March 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I love this post and I think you're right – let's fight for beauty!

Erin March 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I loved reading your thoughts on beauty as well as all of the other comments on this subject! I agree whole-heartedly that we ought to showcase real beauty-God's creation and delight in it. I also agree that a balance must be struck where we don't become overly-obsessed with the images we portray. (It's a funny coincidence, I actually just blogged about beauty and image today! It's a subject that's been on my mind lately.) The take-away for me is how you strive to put your best foot forward and fight to preserve beauty, despite the challenges, frumpiness" (lol!) and extra pounds that sometimes accompany motherhood. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

KBernadette March 24, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I'm sorry Betty, I thought the post was solely on image, I guess I was so put off by the videos (without sound) that I didn't absorb the rest of what you wrote, which is good!
It's only this, "well-chosen settings, smiling faces, cute clothes, stylish haircuts, confident, joyful, enthusiastic, articulate, smart, creative people…I’m inspired, how about you"
I don't agree with it. I guess I prefer to find Christ in the poor and downtrodden. In converts who lack beauty, articulateness, and intelligence because of the sinful pasts they have turned from. In mothers who struggle to find joy and enthusiasm, and admit it, yet keep the faith.
There are many, many people out there searching who could not live up to the standards these videos portray, and I think they would be turned off by seeing them, I know I would.
I attend the traditional Mass, dress up every Sunday and take care to dress feminine everyday. I know about the power of beauty.
But give me Mother Teresa in the slums anyday over this.

Tony Rossi March 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Catholic converts that I've talked to have said that their initial interest in Catholicism didn't develop from debating doctrine with people, but from the fact that the Catholics they knew were kind human beings and set a good example. The few Mormons I'm familiar with definitely seemed genuinely kind and caring so I understand why they attract converts. They also seemed more culturally aware than some in the orthodox Catholic world who automatically reject popular culture as a whole. We're never going to change the culture if we're constantly standing outside of it.

Young Mom March 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I agree with KBernadette. I would rather be around people who aknowlege the pain and struggle of life. When you pretend that faith resolves everything and makes life just happy clappy and great regardless, I just find it disengenuine. When you live in those circles, you lose all your "friends" when you admit that you have doubts sometimes, if you "come out" as depressed, or pretty much any issues. Because if you were really a person of strong enough faith, you wouldn't have any real problems.

Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I find these videos very inspiring. I like the idea of putting your best foot forward when you represent yourself in public and don't think that that's mutually exclusive with acknowledging the reality of suffering and difficulty. After all, it's not like it would be appropriate to dump all our woes and worries on people we don't even know. There's a time and a place for talking about the dark side of things; and that's not every time and every place.

Thanks for highlighting this, Betty. Kudos to the Mormons for a great job showing people the positive side of their organization. Well done.

Sarah March 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I guess I don't understand why it has to be "either/or." Nothing about this post attempts to discredit that Jesus is very real and present in the downtrodden. I think it's also important to remember that eventually, all tears and suffering will be wiped away (not necessarily now but in eternity). Beauty in life reminds us of that… there is a heaven and a God who wants to redeem all our hurts.

Also, the top two videos posted did not come off as fake at all to me (both portrayed lives who know both suffering and joy) and the last video was a wonderful portrayal of a normal mom (I thought). If you listen to the audio, you know that she is a photographer (hence, the very lush images and lighting).

I think it's kind of judgmental to assume that people who may look pretty or put together aren't "real" or don't understand the more difficult aspects of life.

KBernadette March 25, 2011 at 2:03 am

Okay, okay. I listened to the videos, and I'm becoming Mormon!… not really.

They were touching though, but I wouldn't have been touched any less if they weren't wearing trendy clothes.

I didn't say I thought they personally didn't know suffering because they're pretty… I was commenting on the visual image aspect alone. I wonder if there are any videos of ugly gap toothed, speech impedimented, poor folk in this series of videos though.

Amanda Evans March 25, 2011 at 5:28 am

Thank you for this post. I found it through a friend's blog. I'm just over half done with my forth pregnancy and I'm a bit worried that I won't be able to "keep up" myself after this. It's harder to get out and walk so I'm putting on more weight and the added concerns of every day make it hard to take time for myself. They also tend to make me grumpy which is not beautiful!

Your post has inspired me to 1) go ahead and take time to look pretty, or at least *feel* pretty, which often adds up to the same thing and 2) *ACT* pretty.

Thank you.

Moni Rose March 25, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Image is such a paradox – vanity and media, etc make it SO hard to be a modest and holy woman, and yet, we are created in the IMAGE and likeness of God himself! Esp. being Catholic, the Theology of the Body brings to light the beauty and awesomeness of the whole person: soul and body! And as those videos point out so poignantly, we can communicate clearly with our outward appearance what our lives are all about!
As a mommy of two (now stay-at-home) I've struggle with the need to get dressed in the morning – why would I need to do that, I'm not going anywhere, etc.
recently, however, I've been inspired to try harder: to really serve my family and the world through putting my best face forward.

I'm so excited I came across your blog! :)

Young Mom March 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I suppose it can be judgmental to assume that people that look "together" aren't "real". I'm sorry if it came off that way. I just know that I grew up in circles where we all had to put on a happy face and act like we were perfect, because that was how we could get more people on board for the cause. Let me tell you, it is exhausting to be perfect all the time, and heaven forbid you slipped and let some imperfection show, you instantly get admonished for not being "joyful in the lord" or "trusting" in god enough. I guess seeing people who present themselves and their faith tied together in such a pretty package brings back bad memories of never being good enough.

priest's wife March 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

yes- in Eastern Europe, the Mormons (a very "American" religion) is gaining a lot of ground because of their clean-cut image- Catholics need to evangelize more and not just be satisfied with the believers they have

Sarah March 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Young Mom and KBerdnatte -

First, I've personally struggled with the overly-put-together-perfect image issues before. I can see how unhealthy that is. Perhaps that's why I felt the need to speak up… because it took me forever to be comfortable around those who look happy and put together! To the point where I found myself saying no to some of God's gifts because I was afraid of becoming "fake" if life was "too good." Then I married a clean-cut man who came from a rather nice background and had to come face to face with some of my own personal issues there. I also began to see that there is an odd sort of pride that *can* come out of some groups that choose alternative, "messier" images or modest lifestyles that is not necessarily very holy. So yeah, it's a struggle for me too, and I wasn't trying to be difficult by commenting. :) It's a fine balance where I think we have constantly be striving to look at the substance (or in some cases, lack-there-of) that comes with any kind of image.

Jeannine March 26, 2011 at 2:23 am

I completely agree with you. THIS is today's evangelism, and it is working for them. The Mormons are showing us how to do it, and we are losing souls by balking at their example. I heartily second Nicole's suggestion…F&F making a few videos like these? Most of us would be thrilled to put them on our sidebars.

It's about the souls.

Elisa March 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I love this article. This is so true. I used to know a lady who showed up at the abortion mill to pray every weekend. It was fantastic. Except that her 4 little kids were half-dressed in their PJ's, with hair like they just came out of bed and food all over their face. The mom looked almost the same. Of course, I thought: "Whatever, she's here, praying!" But I couldn't help but think that the image she is portraying is exactly why some people don't want more than 2 kids. This is the #1 reason I put on concealer! I don't mind being a little tired occasionally because the baby had a bad night, but when I am out and about, I want people to see that I love being a mom and that my children are happy, well-cared for. =)

Anonymous April 2, 2011 at 4:55 am

I agree with you about the importance of image. I am sure they are nice people. I just am not comfortable with the Mormon religion itself. I think as Christians though, it is important to be relatable, look your best, but to remember that inner beauty is the most important and not to judge by outer appearances, which sometimes can be deceptive. And dangerous.

Tim April 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I agree w/ Lauren's comment about the Mormon church although that "false front" is a trait common to the entire human race! I try to look good for my husband, for my kids (I don't want them growing up embarrassed of me!) and for myself! Since I have started exercising again my energy levels have SKY-ROCKETED! (well, I also weaned my baby at the same time ;) As far as putting up a false front or looking too put together, I don't have to worry. I can't fool anybody! That's just not me! I love retro/feminine clothes, but I'm also too much of a tom-boy to stand around when the fun's going on. I say the stupidest things, and I'm usually the one to fall flat on my face trying to do something funny. I think I am very unique (and I haven't quite been able to attribute this to a good thing) in that I am SO transparent. I'm like a kid. I think some people think I look silly in all my fun, old fashioned clothes that I wear to make my husband giggle with me like we did when we were first dating, but I really don't care. I couldn't care b/c I cannot be happy any other way.

amber April 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm

What a great post! And I totally agree! Thanks!

Cari April 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I know I'm late to the party on this one, but I love the discussion so much.
The only thing I'd like to add that I didn't see already mentioned was to urge us to remember that Jesus didn't come *only* for the downtrodden and marginalized. He healed the son of a royal official. He healed the servant of a general in the occupying army. He performed his first public miracle in a place where I'd bet people were dressed up and looking their spiffiest.
Jesus didn't shun the polished and good-looking and I'm not so sure we should either.

Stephanie April 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I agree with your sentiments. Outward beauty isn't everything (nor is it the most important thing), but it does matter. Caring about our bodies, our health, and our clothes is – in part – an expression that all is well with our hearts.

Thanks for starting this conversation.

Kim January 9, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Just wanted to say I agree with you 100%. Beauty is key in bringing people back (and keeping them in) the Church, and it should show up in our art, architecture, music, dress and most importantly in our virtues. Nothing less will do!

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