Our Image-Obsessed Culture
We live in a culture that is obsessed with image, and every day advertisements bombard us with promises to deliver beauty and happiness. Many of us struggle to leave the house content because of the constant anxiety we feel over looking “beautiful enough.” With all of the hype surrounding being beautiful, we must ask ourselves, What exactly is beauty? Every day we are faced with a choice: Will we choose worldly beauty, defined by fashion magazines and the culture? Or will we choose godly beauty, defined by the perfect, holy words of our God?
Beauty by the Bible’s Standards
As Christians, we can have a love/hate relationship with beauty. We want to guard against worldliness, so we minimize beauty. Or we swing too far the other way and think it doesn’t matter how we think about beauty. But the Bible is not silent on the subject of beauty. And if we are going to make any headway in recovering from the influences of feminism, we must learn what God has to say about beauty and our bodies.
In their book, True Beauty, Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre define beauty in this way: “True beauty is to behold and reflect the beauty of God.”1
They go on to say that God is the author of beauty and he is the truly beautiful one. By creating us in his image, he gave us his beauty. When we behold him, the one who made us and loves us, we are reflecting his beauty.
When we behold him, the one who made us and loves us, we are reflecting his beauty.
Because we were created in God’s image, we were made to desire and notice beauty. When we see a precious new baby or a beautiful man or woman, we acknowledge such beauty because God is the Creator of these things. The entire book of Song of Solomon is full of references to both the man and the woman’s praise of the beauty of the other. The biblical authors even made mention of beautiful people like Sarah (Gen. 12:11), Rachel (Gen. 29:17), Joseph (Gen. 39:6), David (1 Sam. 16:12), Absalom (2 Sam. 14:25), the woman who tended to King David before he died (1 Kings 1:4), and Esther (Est. 2:7).
We know that there were beautiful women in the Bible. And we know that God is the author of beauty. But it’s critical to remember that outward beauty is not everything. Being beautiful is not a sin, but, for example, if Esther had sought her own gain and refused to help her people, her beauty would have meant nothing. And though Sarah was beautiful, she probably would have traded her beauty for a baby. Absalom’s beauty led to pride, and his downfall (2 Sam. 18:9–15). And Joseph’s beauty landed him in jail, falsely accused (Gen. 39:1–23).
Looking Around and Within
Everything around us is a reminder that we cannot trust in external beauty. All of us are subject to the natural process of aging. And even in our youthfulness, we could all probably confess that many times our daily date with the mirror leaves much to be desired.
There is no arguing that women want to be beautiful. Beauty is a gift, and I will be the first to admit that I want to be beautiful just as much as the next girl. But I also must recognize that if my hope is in my designer hair straightener and my Great Lash mascara, I will end up disappointed and discontent. There is a healthy balance between being feminine and making the products of femininity an idol.
When you and I walk out of our homes, we face a barrage of self-criticism and comparison to others around us. And it’s easy when we walk into a group of women for our first reaction to be judging the beauty of those around us, even to the point of gossip: “Did you see what she was wearing?” We must repent of such things.
Unless we see that all of our comparisons and self-criticisms are fundamentally prideful and that they express unbelief in God, we will spend our entire lives never feeling good enough—and that is a worldview that will ultimately lead us to death. When women bury themselves in a sea of credit card debt just to buy the newest designer style, they are at their core saying, “God is not really God. The praise of others is.” Hugging a cold toilet after forcing oneself to throw up is fundamentally saying, “God does not meet my needs, and he is not sovereign over my weight.” Obsession with image, no matter how detrimental it is to your health or well-being, is a form of pride and self-worship—just like all of our disbelief is pride and self-worship.
We can, and should, recognize beautiful, modest, godly women when we see them. But we should not hope in those affirmations in our own life. Our mood should not rise or fall with compliments about our dress or new shoes. And, most importantly, our characterization of beauty must not come from the latest issue of InStyle magazine.
Beauty and Our Final Breath
If the Lord allows us to live until we are eighty years old, few will remember the face of our 20s, 30s, or 40s. All they will see is the wrinkled face of a woman nearing the end of her life. As we prepare to meet our Savior, no amount of Botox or fad diet will prepare us for our final breath. Only a life spent pouring over the mirror of God’s Word will prepare us for that glorious day.
It’s easy to pay lip service to the truths of the Bible, yet still live in constant anxiety and unbelief. The fight of faith is hard. If you feel yourself struggling with true beauty versus worldly beauty, ask God to reveal the areas in your life that need to be changed. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. If you find yourself anxious about how you look in the morning, proclaim Christ to your wayward heart. Do not choose bondage to the world’s ideals any longer—choose life in Christ. Let us not be ashamed to recognize true beauty when we see it, but put our hope in Jesus’s blood and righteousness, lest we think on that final day that it’s our trendy outfits and size 2 bodies that will save us.
This article is adapted from The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God's Good Design by Courtney Reissig.
1. Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre, True Beauty (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 28.
The gentle and quiet spirit of which Peter speaks, calling it “of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4), is the true femininity.
We don’t have to accept our culture’s ever-changing and ever-more-tyrannical definition of beauty.
In an increasingly pro-women society, you can’t even watch the Super Bowl anymore without seeing media campaigns elevating the dignity and worth of women.