“Ladies, it’s important for you to love yourselves and your sisters in Christ, to see that God is an artist and created you to look exactly the way you do today,” the pastor stated. “But also remember, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Looks don’t matter.”
“That seems a bit contradictory,” my friend said. “Can you actually do both of those things simultaneously?”
In our culture, we’re often told, whether directly or indirectly, that outward looks are of the utmost importance, especially for women. Our media is a parade of beautiful women with perfect hair, perfect smiles, perfect bodies. Girls feel pressure to be thin, to look and dress a certain way in order to gain attention and feel good about themselves.
Perhaps as a backlash to this, the Church often takes the opposite approach. The female body is something to be, at best, ignored and at worst, feared. We completely dismiss women’s desires to feel beautiful by saying “it’s the inside that counts!”
And certainly, there is truth to that statement, however trite it may sound. Our outer appearance was not made to define our being. It certainly doesn’t assign our value.
But it also isn’t to be ignored.
Maybe physical beauty does matter, just not in the way we have led ourselves to believe. Maybe we’ve let our culture give us such a narrow, demeaning definition of what beauty is that we’ve chosen throw the whole thing out instead of redeeming our whole idea of beauty. Returning it to what God intended it to be.
What we need more than anything is a reprogramming of our hearts and minds to see what real beauty is.
We must learn to find the line between appreciating beauty without worshipping or exploiting it. And the best way to do this is to start by seeing each and every person as a creation, a masterpiece handcrafted by God.
I recently met a woman who chose, when speaking to her daughter, to only address and discuss things with her that spoke to her inner beauty: what she liked to read, do at school, etc. I’ll admit, I admired her desire to speak to this girl’s intelligence over her outer appearance. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it was still missing the mark, if perhaps this approach would still leave this young girl missing a piece of the puzzle. With the world around her broadcasting loud and clear what she’s supposed to look like, she may begin to wonder—as many do—if she’s somehow inadequate, if she’s beautiful inside but her looks leave something to be desired.
The fact is, we needn’t view recognizing inner beauty and outer beauty as mutually incompatible activities. Our culture went wrong when it started assigning value to people based on a narrow definition of what beauty is. The Bible firmly rejects that idea—In Samuel 16:7, God tells Samuel that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”—but it also devotes a healthy amount of time to the praise of physical beauty. Solomon, in his famous song, just won’t shut up about the physical attributes of his new bride.
It’s when we let beauty determine a person’s worth that we bastardize the nature in which God intended beauty to be. In the same way, if we choose to ignore physical appearance or pretend it doesn’t exist, we are missing one of God’s greatest gifts.
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine named Amber, who is a mother to a young girl. We were discussing the importance of instilling within children the ability to see, love and accept beauty in all shapes and sizes. She stated, “My daughter is keenly aware of how I speak about people, and if I make an effort to find ways to praise outer beauty even when it doesn’t align with our society’s perception of what that may be, it will be really beneficial to her, hopefully teaching her that everybody is different and still beautiful. My hope in doing so is that I can help teach her that everybody really is unique, beautiful and created to be special.”
Amber makes a great point. We all too often choose to call one another less flattering names, holding them to an arbitrary cultural standard of beauty instead of recognizing that God designed them as a masterpiece.
The reality is, we are broken people. We are insecure and we are sinful. Because of this we want to find and point out ways they are not living up to our standard of what they ought to look like. But when we do this, it’s really God’s standard that we’re not living up to.
And my fear is that if we continue to pick people apart there won’t be anything left—of them or of us.
So what do we do?
We can start with the practical: name calling. “Ugly,” “fat,” “weird” and the like all need to go. They’re subjective, meaningless terms. And they can last a lifetime in the broken hearted recipient.
Instead, we can do as my friend Amber does with her daughter and not just notice the unique beauty in others, but speak it out loud directly to the person or to others. Obviously we have to consider the circumstances and what we say, but there are plenty of ways to do this in a way that’s uplifting and encouraging and not objectifying. I think we’ll find that we see and hear about beauty differently when we talk about it and encourage one another as we do.
Next, it’s important that we remember that we’ve all got baggage. Each one of us carries within ourselves pains and experiences that often contribute to the sharp edges that drive us to pick one another apart. Rarely can we take a person’s shortcomings at face value, as it’s usually derived from a much deeper place.
Lastly, and I believe most importantly, we can pray for grace and the eyes to see God’s creations as He does, ourselves included. God, the creator of the universe, not only made each intricate part of our inner and outer being, He loves us. And if we are good enough for Him, I’d say we just might find that we are good enough for each other, as well.