Pursuing Beauty

I’ve been thinking a bit about beauty lately, in particular, what makes a woman beautiful?

These days, there is much talk about “inner beauty”, as though this transcends how any woman appears outwardly. And so some women are shamed for placing too much emphasis on make-up and fashion.

On the other hand, many Christian marriage books (and certainly, wider secular media) I have read over the years encourage women to keep up with putting on make-up and dressing nicely for their husbands, lest they “let themselves go”. From this perspective, women who don’t wear make-up are shamed. (I used to think this was merely a cultural thing – most Christian marriage books are from the USA, where most women grow up wearing make-up every day. However, someone told me a few years ago that among young Australian women, there is a growing culture of “wearing make-up every day” being the new normal. When I was in high-school, it was only select girls who wore make-up, and it was often looked down upon.)

But what does God think about beauty?

Well, for starters, God is the one who created the aesthetic quality of beauty as we know it.

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I often find myself staring in awe at a beautiful sunset, praising God for His creation. And I wonder – why does this sight elicit this emotional response? Why are sunsets universally considered beautiful? The answer is God’s goodness and kindness. The fact that He created so many things in nature (including people) to be pleasing to our eye just tells me so much about His character.

And God is the one who specifically created women to be physically attractive to men.

Physical beauty was not an afterthought, but a key aspect of God’s creation.

But how does that relate to “inner beauty”? This is the part where it gets interesting…

First, let’s look at Proverbs 31:30:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

The context of this verse is that it is part of the description of the “wife of noble character”.

“Charm is deceptive” – well, there’s a topic for a whole other blog post. 😉

I think several things are worth noting here:

– Charm and beauty are of minimal value when compared to your relationship with the Lord.

– Don’t chase after beauty and hone your “charming” skills, to the neglect of your relationship with the Lord.

– Women do not deserve to be praised on the basis of how beautiful they are (makes you think about all those times you say to your girlfriends “Wow, you look good today!”, doesn’t it?), but rather their attitude to God and how this shows in their lives.

Socks and Sandals - I should start a fashion blog ;)

Socks and Sandals – I should start a fashion blog 😉

Now, turn with me (well, just keep reading…) to Proverbs 11:22:

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
    is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.

It might make you cringe a bit to read a woman being compared to a pig, but please push through, because there is a really important message for us here!

– The quality of “discretion” is similar to wisdom and discernment (regular themes in the Proverbs!). A woman who lacks discretion is foolish, and it shows in her words.

– There is a sense in this verse that physical beauty is wasted on a foolish woman, just as it would be wasteful to put a gold ring on a pig.

– Being a foolish woman overpowers any physical beauty you may have.

I think the most important biblical passage when it comes to beauty is 1 Peter 3:3-6:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Here is the ultimate guide on how to be a beautiful Christian woman.

– Your beauty should not come from external things (hairstyles, jewellery, fashion… and I would put make-up into this category). Does this mean we shouldn’t use these things? Well, some Christian women do feel this way – look at Amish communities. If they are convicted to not get “dolled up” in reverence for the Lord, then I will not judge them for that. But I don’t believe this passage is saying we can’t wear externally beautiful things. The key words are “come from” – our beauty should not come from these external things. More on this later.

– Women should focus on cultivating a beautiful “inner self”. This inner beauty comes from a gentle and quiet spirit, and submitting to your husband (if you’re married). How can we have a gentle and quiet spirit? How do we submit to our husbands? Looking at the example of the “holy women of the past”, they “put their hope in God”. When we put our hope in God, it gives us a peace in our spirits. This peace of God is what truly makes us beautiful.

– Having a beautiful “inner self” does not fade, unlike the “fleeting” physical beauty mentioned in Proverbs 31 (above). It is a beauty that lasts (and some might say, increases!) even as we age and lose our youthfulness.

– This passage always reminds me of my mother – a truly beautiful Christian woman! If you talk to her for five minutes, you will almost feel the love of Jesus oozing out her pores. Even as time moves on, I always see her as perpetually 36 years old – the joyful and warm mother of my youth. I was once relaying a story about her to my husband (I think it was about someone abusing her on the train), and he commented, “I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to yell at your Mum!”. What he is referring to is her gentle and quiet spirit. She is a real, living example to me of what true beauty means.

Mum and I at Christmas

My beautiful Mum and I at Christmas

So, how do we put all this into practice?

1. We put external beauty in it’s place.

We don’t elevate physically beautiful women over women of beautiful character. It is tempting to judge people simply on how they look, after allman looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Let’s try seeing people the way God does. And I don’t mean “everyone is beautiful on the inside”, because not everyone is!

I mean, let’s look past the outward appearance of that beautiful woman who is without God and desperately needs His hope, instead of just assuming that she has it all together. Let’s look past the faded exterior of the older Christian lady, and see the wisdom and the gentle spirit that have come from a lifetime of trusting God.

2. We spend more time cultivating a beautiful inner self – actively putting our hope in God – than we do cultivating outward beauty – putting on make-up, nice clothes, jewellery, etc.

How we spend our time and money reveals what we truly value. This is the point that really challenges me. When I make more effort to do my make-up and hair before leaving the house than I did earlier in the morning to get up and spend time with the Lord, there is a problem.

3. At the end of the day, the question we need to ask ourselves (and this applies to areas beyond beauty!) is, do I want to bring glory to God, or to myself?

Do I want people to praise me for how I look, or God for the ways he is working in me?

Are you seeking attention and validation from men in the kind of beauty you pursue, or do you care more about what God thinks is beautiful?

Are you concerned with having a truly beautiful spirit, or do you just want to have an appearance of beauty?

This will influence the way you pursue beauty.

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11 thoughts on “Pursuing Beauty

  1. Well, beauty is a very interesting topic. Inner is more important than outer, but outer plays its part too. Eyes and smile often display inner outwardly. Consider that in certain religions there is an effort to hide or disguise beauty so as not to attract attention or invite sin (Amish, Memonites, Muslin). Those who are truly devout (and devoted to their husbands) do not seek to elicit undue attention from appearance. I think men actually prefer a woman’s natural beauty: long and free hair, unmadeup face, etc. as it is a result of attention to her own health, skincare, etc.

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  2. Although there are few points that I disagree with in this article, the whole content is a humbling reminder to seek beauty in the right place isn’t it? I also always think that you are a beautiful person, Jess. I never met your mother before but your description of her is the same as what I have of you.

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  3. Thank you for your comment, Ie. I have always thought of you as a woman possessing the gentle and quiet spirit of beauty to God. Would be interested to know which points you disagreed with 🙂

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  4. In addition to developing an inner beauty of a quiet, gentle spirit, this is again an area that a wife should not rebel against her husband. She should ask him what he wants to see.

    For example, I’m married to a man who wants to see long, platinum blonde hair, makeup, toned muscles, and flattering clothing. I’ve been coloring my hair for him (I like how it looks as well) ever since he asked me to. He said he was willing to pay for it and for the care so why would I object? I wear eye accentuating makeup and foundations that cover my age spots and rosacea on my face.

    If a husband doesn’t want his wife to wear makeup, she should oblige.

    From this perspective, women who don’t wear make-up are shamed.

    No. The default position for marriage advice is to understand that men are visual creatures. What is in your heart? Do you dress and look the way you do to please your husband? Or, do you avoid dressing and looking the way he likes to see you out of laziness, bitterness, or rebellion?

    There is nothing wrong with cultivating inner beauty in addition to presenting yourself to your husband in a manner he finds beautiful. Nothing need detract from your commitment to grow spiritually while at the same time painting the canvas God gave you. Artists do it all the time and wise ones acknowledge where their gift comes from. God does it with his creation. The changing seasons, the differing colors and stages a tree goes through, from plain light white skies to dreary, grey ominous ones, to beautiful, crisp, deep blue with blinding sun. A woman can do the same with her appearance if it is something her husband desires.

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  5. Thanks for your comment, SD 🙂
    I don’t have a problem with marriage advice for women to dress/wear make-up according to what their husbands want. What I was commenting on was advice I have read across the years (citations not immediately available, but I could have a hunt back through my books if you want me to 🙂 ) that women should wear make-up and they shouldn’t wear things like jeans or track pants.
    So that line of mine you quoted should read “From this perspective, women can be shamed for not wearing make-up.”

    My intention was not to shame women who do choose to make themselves up with this article – I really hope it didn’t come across this way!
    My own Mum wears make-up most days, and I wear it every few days or so. My husband likes how it looks on me, but doesn’t want me to wear it every day.

    Anyway, my main point with the article was that cultivating inner beauty is more important (in God’s eyes) than cultivating outer beauty. Not that you can only pick one 😉

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  6. You’re right, if the advice is an over-the-top “this is what you must do” and doesn’t make clear that a woman should ask her own husband, than that’s inappropriate. For single women who would like to attract a man, I think the best advice is whatever makes them feel and therefore project the most femininity. It’s a rare man who doesn’t enjoy femininity.

    The jeans and sports clothes makes me laugh. Growing up in the Midwest, we are all jeans and sports clothes and skirts/dresses for church and special occasions. If the compliments one hears from her husband are any indication of what he enjoys looking at (and I believe they are) than mine is a jeans man. I’ll hear the “you look nice” compliment when wearing a dress/skirt. But not with the same enthusiasm(?) as what he’ll say when I’m walking ahead of him in his favorite pair of jeans. 😉

    Cultivating inner beauty is the most important thing a woman should focus on. Those favorite pair of jeans…evoked no response when my heart was ugly. – Does that make sense?

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  7. No problem, but that email has been defunct for years. Feel free to send me something through my blog with a note on it not to publish it as a comment. I moderate every single comment, so they are not published automatically.

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  8. Pingback: Weighty Matters | seriously serving the saviour

  9. Pingback: Beauty and the Green-Eyed Beast | seriously serving the saviour

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