Something Needs to Change
Having tried unsuccessfully to squash the excessive drinking of sweet sodas, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a new campaign last fall before leaving office. His goal was to promote self-esteem in young girls through billboards, ads, and after-school programs. The message: “You are beautiful just the way you are.”
A few months ago, the Dove skincare company celebrated the tenth anniversary of their “Real Beauty” campaign with a short movie in which mothers and daughters take selfies for display at an art show in order to “change the way people think about beauty.”
As the self-esteem crisis among young women intensifies, so do the efforts to find a cure. And while there are good reasons for a healthy skepticism of advertising campaigns or legitimate questions about the merits of publicly funded programs, we all agree: there is problem.
The Nature of the Crisis
I can trot out facts and figures, but I don’t need to, do I? We all know young girls who are struggling as they grow up in a world with an impossible standard of beauty. And what makes us even more desperate is that we still haven’t dealt with our own beauty struggles. As one mother wrote to us: “When I try to talk with [my daughter] about true beauty, I stumble over my words because I have a hard time with the subject myself.”
At one level, Christians resonate with the messages of well meaning campaigns from Dove, Bloomberg, and others, for we believe in the dignity and the beauty of every human being as created in the image of God. We abhor the shame, discrimination, and poor self-image that are a consequence of our culture’s obsession with beauty.
But we have to ask, why do these campaigns fail to change the status quo? As Dove celebrates its tenth anniversary, is the situation for women really much better? Has the objectification of women been eradicated in NYC? More to the point: can a billboard or a commercial, however well intentioned, really solve our struggles with beauty?
More significantly, why aren’t Christians better off? Why are our struggles with beauty as deep and intractable as the next woman’s? Why doesn’t the church seem to have a clear and compelling answer for the world’s beauty crisis?
The Only Solution
For far too long, the church has been content with partial truths and platitudes about beauty. We’ve tried to tack “Christ” on the end of worldly solutions and called them “Christian.” Or we think we have tried Scripture’s answers and found them wanting. As one woman wrote to us, “Please don’t base your book on 1 Peter 3:4” about a gentle and quiet spirit. “This verse, misapplied in my life, left me very confused, hurt, and hidden for almost fifteen years.”
But Scripture has spoken the truth about beauty all along. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only message that gets to the heart of our problems with beauty and addresses all our body image issues, big and small.
As we write in our book, True Beauty:
Only God’s Word can promise a beauty as supernatural as it is satisfying, as attainable as it is lasting; a beauty that blesses and does not cures; a beauty that is precious, not worthless, that leads to happiness instead of heartache; a beauty that grows more becoming even as you become more beautify. Scripture is true and tells the truth. It alone reveals true beauty.
Selfie’s and mayoral ad campaigns won’t be able to throw off a tyrannical standard of beauty, but God’s Word shows us the path to freedom and joy. The truth of the gospel is the only answer to our beauty crisis.
Nicole Whitacre is a wife and mother of four. She is the coauthor of Girl Talk, Shopping for Time, and True Beauty (excerpt). Nicole blogs with her mom and sisters at girltalkhome.com, a blog about biblical womanhood.