Keeping Up Appearances

Back in April, a friend and I hosted a women’s only, 2-day seminar on the subject of beauty, health and appearances. We were inspired by a webinar from the Botkin sisters called Reclaiming Beauty. The topic never gets old. In our materialistic American culture especially, the vanities of appearance and the idol of beauty are rampant; they have delved their way so deeply into our consciousness that we almost cannot separate what God calls us to be as women and what secular customs have dictated. So where does God’s design begin and our call to pursue beauty end?

My friend and I quickly realized as we prepared for this seminar that the subject matter was far greater in depth than we had initially planned for. Especially for women. I’m not dismissing the fact that men are called to care for their health and appearance as well, but it does not seem to affect them emotionally and spiritually in the same way it does the “fairer sex” (this idiom proves my point). Women find value in their appearance in ways intimately tied to their self-worth and cultural value. The way a woman dresses or feels about her appearance will affect her mood, her actions and therefore the way she influences those around her. At the same time, focusing on the way she feels about herself (rather than sacrificing self for the service of others as we are called to do) can lead to a downward spiral of self-pitying egocentricity, narcissism and possibly depression.

The Bible points to the beauty of the female form (Song of Solomon; Psalm 139:14) and the praiseworthy nature of the physical body we are given by God; while simultaneously warning against the dangers of relying on these external features (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4). Proverbs 31:30 says “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Clearly the nature of true beauty — the beauty that is most pleasing to God — does not come from external adornment or physical features. 1 Timothy 4:8 states: “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.” Paul does not deny the value of pursuing physical fitness and health, but reminds us that exercise of the spirit is the more valuable pursuit.

Scripture truly gives us direction as to where are to find our value in this life — and it is not in our appearance. We are called to pursue excellence, and to work at all things for God’s glory (Col. 3:23-24). And the next time I am obsessing over the shape of my body in the mirror or bemoaning a thick thigh or a rounded stomach, I hope I can remember that this physical body does not define my identity as a child of God. It is a gift for which to be grateful, and a tool to be used in His service. He has given me a body to care for as “His temple” (1 Cor. 6:19-20); He has made it “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:13) so that I might use it to serve Him.

As a woman, I will probably always be thinking about my sense of style, how I look or what I’m wearing (I don’t love watching What Not to Wear for nothing!) It’s something I enjoy and I think appreciation of beauty is God-given. The challenge is not valuing this awareness of appearance over my call to serve God with my appearance first. I could draw in several points right now about the modesty debate that always seems to be flying headlines across the blogosphere, but I’ll try to keep it to a single point: we are to be responsible for the bodies God has given us in a manner that is pleasing to Him (not the world, not current fashion trends and not a set of rules about skirt length); HOWEVER, Scripture also points us to living a life that proclaims the Gospel in every word and deed. I think that includes how I look. Without saying a word, I want my physical appearance to convey that I am honoring God with my clothing, my make-up, my hair, my jewelry, etc. I don’t think it’s going to happen every day, but I believe He has given us the tools to make these decisions for His glory. This is not one of those “Christian liberty” topics where I can choose to bare more skin to the world because I am free from the guilt of sin. This freedom from guilt is what enables me to trust that God is working to spread His Truth in ways that I may not even be aware of — and for me, that means keeping up appearances!

Recommended Reading

Letting Herself Go by Tim Challies
Does Female Beauty Matter? from Girls Gone Wise
Being Skinny is Not a Christian Virtue from Her.meneutics
A Numbers Game: Why Your Weight Shouldn’t Matter from The Everygirl
Embracing Beauty by Trina Holden

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