I grew up a shy and somewhat nerdy teenager, and I was mostly known for being really smart. I even went on to become my high school’s valedictorian. I eventually grew tired of being known for just my brain. I didn’t want to be the girl who got straight A’s – I wanted to be the girl who would turn heads, who men desired and women envied. I wanted to be a bombshell. This desire led me to plunging necklines, partying, and promiscuous behavior in my early twenties, and to competing in bikini competitions in my mid-twenties.
Now that I am a Christian, I am supposed to subscribe to a different perspective. One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 Peter 3:3-4:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
God tell us that it is our inner self that counts – our outward appearance is inconsequential. Furthermore, modesty is a big part of Christian culture, particularly for women. I laughed the other day at the number of cardigans I own, and my best friend teases me about the fact I generally wear long tops that cover my butt these days. I even bought a one-piece swimsuit for summer! Considering I used to strut across a stage in front of hundreds of strangers in a tiny bikini and 5 inch stilettos, this is quite the paradigm shift!
However, mainstream Christian culture doesn’t fully reject the pursuit of outward beauty – it often just piles the expectation of inner beauty on top of the world’s expectation to be outwardly beautiful (but in a chaste, modest way of course). A woman shared her testimony at my church on Sunday, and she said something that struck very close to home:
“To be a Christian woman who was desirable…you couldn’t just be reading the Bible, you had to be beautiful doing it. You had to be put together and virginal and pure.”
I struggle with the desire to look put together all of the time. I want to be one of those Christian superwomen who can be both physically beautiful and possess the kind of spirit that God values so much. I think ultimately it is easier to change our outward appearance than it is to confront and change our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, so we often gravitate toward putting more effort into looking like we have it together than we do actually having it together. It’s why we engage in image crafting on social media, projecting a perfect life of endless social gatherings, adventures, and accomplishments, but keep our private struggles and the darker realities of our lives to ourselves. It’s why we spend an hour doing our hair and makeup before stepping out the front door, afraid of the world seeing through the carefully constructed façade and into the real person – the broken, sinful, dark-circles-under-the-eyes person.
Thankfully, we serve a God who does not care whether we are wearing makeup or not, or whether we are in high heels or sweatpants:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
As Christians, the only role model we need is Jesus. And Isaiah tells us that his outward appearance was unremarkable, There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. (Isaiah 53: 2b)
By God’s grace, may we focus less on the image we see in the mirror, and instead strive to become more like the Creator whose image we all bear.