What I Preach to Myself about Beauty

Physical beauty. Oh how I have longed to forget you, shove you to the side, put you in the “doesn’t matter” category in my brain, and write you off as the impossible standard that you are.

But the truth is, I care about you. I want you. Some days, just a little. Most days, way too much. My desire for you has filled my closet, filled my make-up drawer, and filled the back of my bedroom door (where I have my ever-important full length mirror). Ironically, it has also left me empty and plagued me will a nagging void . . .

. . . because I will never look like the Photo shopped models plastered on every billboard, magazine cover, and TV add;

. . . because my full-time-mommy life doesn’t lend itself to hours and hours at the gym;

. . . because I don’t have the money for all the treatments that comprise our modern day “fountain of youth;”

. . . because I happen to really like carbohydrates;

. . .  and because I know the truth about the girl under the layer of Lancôme cosmetics,  carefully selected wardrobe, and professionally color-treated hair. She’s a lot more insecure than she looks.

I suppose my love-hate relationship with beauty started around the time it starts for most girls – the “tween” years. Though my mom thought I was “as cute as a button,” I assure you, I was not. At least I didn’t see myself that way. I was awkward, had way too much hair on my legs, was a teensy bit chubby, had no idea how to dress my changing body, and wore my hair in a side pony tail with a giant scrunchie 70% of the time.  I still cringe every time I see pictures!

Most women first mourn the appearance of stretch marks an adult because of pregnancy. Try dealing with them as a middle school girl whose skin just wasn’t quite ready for all the changes that season of life brings. Agonizing, to say the least.

I was a late bloomer, for sure. But even “post-bloom” I’ve had my fair share of beauty setbacks. The veins in my legs have officially declared war against me. No, you will not be seeing me in shorts this summer. And yes, laser treatments are in my future, Lord willing. (Lord, PLEASE be willing!)

And then there’s the whole post-pregnancy body change thing. I’ve lost the weight, but nothing is quite the same. For years, I didn’t understand why in the world anyone would elect to undergo major surgery to enhance her figure. In fact, I’ve been down-right judgmental of women, especially Christian women, who’ve made that choice. But here I sit as a mom who exclusively nursed her son for a whole year and I have to say, I finally get it. I’ll never do it, but I get it. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it for at least minute or two (or maybe longer, but I’d never admit it on a public blog).

And the trends these days don’t make it easy on a girl. Skinny jeans? Really?! I’ve reluctantly embraced the trend, but I still think it’s a sick joke. For anyone out there who has been brought to tears by jeans shopping – oh girl, I feel your pain! ATTENTION ALL FASHION DESIGNERS: Some women actually have a butt and like to eat once in a while. Please keep that in mind!

Okay, enough rambling about my beauty woes (Lord knows, I could share more!). The point is, not a day goes by that I don’t face the temptation to make too much of my outward appearance. It’s an idol that doesn’t die easy, for sure.  The good news is that there is a way to overcome it. That way is truth – God’s truth. Most of what we hear and see about beauty is built on a whole bunch of lies. So it should come as no surprise that every ounce of victory I’ve experienced in this area of my life has been gained through intense and intentional “marinating” in what God says about it.

One of the most important things I’ve learned to do in life is preach God’s Word to myself. Yes, I have literally stood in the middle of an Ann Taylor fitting room and thrown down some truth with such passion that I thought I might need to extend an invitation to myself (as any good Southern Baptist girl would.) I exaggerate a little, but only a little. So, with that incredibly weird picture etched in your mind, let me share what I often preach to myself about beauty . . .

1)      It’s not going to last.

Proverbs 31:30 tells us straight up that “beauty is fleeting.” Even in our world of state-of the art skin care science and cutting edge beauty treatments, we’re fighting a losing battle when it comes to preserving physical beauty. Surely, no matter how old we get we ought to take care of ourselves and seek to do the best with what we have. But let’s face it – there are no bikini contests in nursing homes. There will come a day when my skin will be wrinkled and saggy beyond repair. Body parts will have moved south for the winter, and no amount of Spanx in the world will be able to put them back where they belong. My hair will be gray, my shoes will be “comfortable,” and all of my pants will probably have elastic waist bands. Concerns about the season’s hottest trends and how to conceal the hormonally induced zits on my face will be replaced with concerns about blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and when I get to see my grandkids again.

That won’t be a problem (truth be told, I’m actually quite looking forward to the elastic waist band thing) . . .  unless I’ve based my worth and value on what I look like. If I currently base my identity and sense of satisfaction on how well I attain to this world’s standard of beauty, I’m in for a whole lot of heartache in the future when I’m physically unable to even barely measure up.

The wonderful thing about aging is that what we lose in the beauty department; we gain in the wisdom department. I want that to excite me! I want to look forward to all the years God has for me. But I can’t do that if I fail to remember and act on the truth that beauty is fleeting. If my outward appearance is my main focus, I might as well be chasing the wind. A wise woman sets her heart toward more permanent treasures.

2)      A beautiful face and figure is a complete waste unless it’s accompanied by a beautiful heart.

Biblically speaking, there is nothing wrong with being beautiful. Though it doesn’t ever belabor the point, Scripture tells us that Sarah (Gen. 12:11-14), Rebekah (Gen. 24:16), Rachel (Gen. 29:17), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:3), Esther (Est. 2:2), and Job’s daughters (Job 42:15) were very attractive. In Esther’s case, God used her physical beauty to ultimately bring about the deliverance of His people. So don’t get the idea that God wants us all walking around with no make-up in our frumpy dumpy house clothes.  The Bible doesn’t condemn beauty, but it does condemn beauty that is not accompanied by godliness. Proverbs 11:22 says is best: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” Who in the world would waste a gold ring on a pig?! Well, in God’s eyes beauty is wasted on women who do not walk in His ways.

In 1 Peter 3:3 and 4, we are told that our “adornment must not be merely external,” but should rather be “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” This same truth is echoed in 1 Timothy 2:10 where we are commanded to “adorn [ourselves] with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments (the kind of things that the wealthy and fashion-forward of Paul’s day paraded around in), but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” These verses do not prohibit accessorizing or being fashionable. They prohibit fashion decisions that are motivated by a prideful desire to draw attention to ourselves. We are to be about the business of drawing attention to Christ.

Let’s go ahead and rack up those points on our Sephora Beauty Insider cards and chase down that “free gift with purchase” at the Clinique counter; let’s hit up the sales at our favorite clothing stores; let’s get that pedicure and eyebrow wax; let’s cut down on the carbs and hop on the treadmill. But we must never let those things distract us from what really matters. We exist to magnify God’s beauty, not our own. If our beauty is merely skin deep, we’ve missed the point and we’re wasting our lives.

3)      My longing for physical beauty reflects a deeper longing that Jesus has already satisfied.

Though the definition of beauty changes from culture to culture, women long for it and men are attracted to it no matter where you go. It’s a pretty important part of human sexuality, and I believe God has hard-wired it into us in order to point us to a much bigger, eternal reality.

God desires for His creatures to be beautiful. He wants us to clothe ourselves in fine, clean garments of righteousness (Rev. 19:7-8). He desires for us, His bride, to be “all glorious” for Him (Ps. 45:13).  Unfortunately, sin makes that impossible. We can’t make ourselves clean, or holy, or lovely in His sight. We fall short of His glory and are therefore unworthy of His presence.

But God, in His infinite goodness, has made provision for us to be beautiful in His sight. The message of the gospel is that God has made a way for sinners with wicked, ugly hearts to put on the beauty of Jesus. It’s not something we have to work for, strive to attain, or hope we might one day achieve. It was achieved for us long ago on a cruel Roman cross where Jesus died to wash away our ugliness and clothe us with His beauty. We receive that by placing our faith in the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of Him, our heavenly Bridegroom can look at us and say, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Solomon 4:7). Whether you know it or not sweet sister, that is what you’re really longing for. That is the ultimate reality that all this beauty talk is really pointing to. Don’t miss it!

When it comes to physical beauty, we have options. We can worship it, resent it, reject it, manipulate others (particularly men) with it, use it, abuse it, flaunt it, hide it, define ourselves by it, and/or try to ignore it. But if we want to be biblical and God-honoring, we really only have one option: We must let Christ and His glory eclipse it so that the substance of our life is not a pretty face or well-toned figure, but a heart adorned by the true, unfading beauty of the gospel.

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

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