Recently one of my Facebook friends made some posts about feminine beauty and how women perceive themselves. If I understood him correctly, he was saddened by the fact that not every woman thinks of herself as physically beautiful, and he had an admittedly romantic notion that each woman should/could find a husband who would affirm our beauty and find us drop-dead gorgeous. We had a bit of a dialogue back and forth, and I've found myself thinking some more about the topic since then.
The truth is that we are not all physically beautiful. If we claim all women are, we render the word "beautiful" absolutely meaningless. By insisting that, no matter what a woman sees in the mirror, it is some sort of tragedy if she does not "feel beautiful", we are making plain women believe they now have two problems: their physical plainness and their inability to conjure up feelings based on wishful thinking or pretense.
Over the years, I've read a few books and articles on dealing with a poor body image. Over and over again, the solution is some variation of, "Look in the mirror, preferrably naked. Admire all your wonderful features and say out loud everything you like about your body. Embrace those extra pounds...remember, real women have curves!"
This ignores and invalidates women who cannot bear to look in the mirror because of hideous scars from trauma, because of deformities, because the sight of their body triggers painful memories and feelings. It ignores those of us lacking in the curve department. But who cares? Apparently we are not real women.
Real women, it seems, are all beautiful. If we don't think we are, we should pretend otherwise and "feel beautiful". If we can't do that -- because we're too realistic and honest, or because what faces us in the mirror is too broken and scarred, or because we are not "womanly" enough -- we are basically invisible, as if we don't exist. We don't matter, and it's our own fault.
On the one hand, we are told that our worth is not determined by our beauty or lack thereof. On the other hand, we are told that we need to "feel beautiful". We are told that, if we are not confident in our beauty, we may never attract a husband and, if married, we will never be able to fully please him sexually. As wives, we are duty bound to be uninhibited and to act as if we were incredibly beautiful and sexy...and then somehow we will convince him.
The underlying message seems to be: It's bad enough if we are not beautiful. It's even worse if we can't pretend otherwise so convincingly that we fool ourselves and almost make people forget our crime of not being beautiful.
Christian books repeat this message. They tell us men NEED (not just want) us to be beautiful, that they need a "beautiful woman to rescue" and that we need to "reveal our beauty".
When you're not beautiful, all of this is like yet another cruel taunting reminder, a slap in the face. "Oh, but all women are beautiful," some men will blithely say...and yet these same men will make disparaging remarks like, "Even an ugly woman can find some guy somewhere if she is confident enough in her beauty and femininity." Don't they see the glaring contradiction there?
It's become somewhat popular in certain Christian circles to bemoan our society's standards of beauty. "Don't fall for the media's false messages!" we are told. We are reminded that we shouldn't feel inadequate and should not compare ourselves to media images of surgically-enhanced and airbrushed professional models and actresses. "That's not real!" we are urged to remember. We are told how tragic it is that, because of these false images and messages, teenage girls are growing up thinking they are worthless because they don't realize how beautiful they are.
At the same time, we are told that our beauty is dangerous and that we need to conceal it carefully lest we cause great damage to our brothers in Christ. Besides, "modest is hottest", so if we really want to be sexually attractive, we should wear modest yet feminine clothes that will make Christian men admire our beauty.
We are told that our value is not determined by what men think of us, yet we are urged, every time we get dressed, to prayerfully consider what every man we might encounter that day might possibly think when he sees us. How we appear to men, how they think and feel about us, is of the utmost importance. We are urged to read books and "study" men so that we can learn exactly how they think. One man might be "stumbled" by this, another by something else, and we need to keep all that in mind. A godly woman, apparently, somehow manages to walk that fine line: she is modestly hot, feminine, confident in her beauty, and appropriately attractive in every way -- yet not too sexually alluring to anyone but her husband.
The real problem is not our culture's standards of beauty. It's not that women are refusing to recognize their own beauty. It's not that women aren't realizing that, if they really want to be "hot", they should dress to appeal to certain conservative Christian men. The problem is that even Christians in America can't get it through their thick heads that a woman's worth has nothing to do with her beauty or lack thereof, or what men think of her, or whether her husband thinks she's gorgeous, or even whether she has a husband.
A woman's worth is determined in exactly the same way as a man's: she is created in the image of God, and that has nothing to do with her appearance. [Yes, I know there are some wackos who teach women were NOT created in the image of God. Read Genesis1: 27. "Man" doesn't always mean just males.]
Our worth as women is determined by God, and he doesn't look at our outward appearance the way shallow humans do. He sees the real us, who we are inside. There is no Scripture that admonishes us to be or feel beautiful. That is all a distraction, a diversion from what really matters to God.
I am as much a child of the King as any male...or as any beautiful woman. There aren't any ugly ducklings in His Kingdom. When He bought me with a price, it wasn't at some discount because of my flaws and blemishes.
When I stand before Him someday, my appearance will not matter. I doubt He will say, "If only you would have had a better body image! If only you had determined to feel beautiful!"
In fact, I prefer to think I will be so hidden in Christ that, for the very first time ever, I will be really beautiful -- because all that anyone will see is Him.
That is what really gives us our worth: Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. The only beauty that really matters -- really and truly matters because it is the only beauty that will last for eternity -- is His.
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