Monday, November 11, 2013

On Beauty (or, finally, the final "Good-bye girls" post)

While shopping in my local Walgreens the other day, I walked past a display of beauty products based on Disney villainesses.  What?  Because mean beauty is the most powerful beauty?

It reminded me of a slogan I saw pasted on Facebook a few weeks ago:  "Today, dress like you're going to meet your worst enemy!"  The idea, of course, is that you need to look your best when you enter social combat.

This makes me profoundly sad.  I do not believe that God made beauty so that it could be used as a tool to frighten, dominate or intimidate others.

What is true beauty, and how should we seek to achieve beauty in our own, personal appearance?

The Bible says, "Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).  That's nice, and certainly true, albeit a bit difficult to apply directly to one's morning routine.

I have been thinking on this topic for a long time, ever since I began the "Good-bye girls" series over two years ago.  Because I am not what you'd call a beautiful woman, and I am certainly not stylish, it has taken me this long actually to broach the subject.  Of course I am unqualified, but I will try to share three principles of beauty that I think are important.

You should strive to bring glory to God through your appearance, because the Bible tells us that whatever we do, we should do it all to the glory of God. 
(1 Corinthians 10:31)

This has numerous applications, but the most obvious ones are...

(a)  You should care for your body respectfully as the temple of God.  Be clean, well-groomed and as healthy as possible.  Eat wisely, sleep wisely, exercise wisely.  Remember that your physical appearance is the first thing anybody ever sees, and if you belong to the Lord, then people's judgments about how you look will be related to their judgments about Christians in general.  Be a good testimony to the grace of God by presenting yourself well, but not in such as way as to draw undue attention.

(b)  Since, as we mentioned, your physical appearance is the first thing anybody ever sees, craft your appearance with care to help people be drawn to the Lord rather than pushed away from Him.  Paramount here is modesty.  Be careful to dress in a manner that does not tempt a man to think about sex.  You can look very pretty and pleasant without looking like a sexual object, and you should strive for that aim.   If in doubt, cover it up.

You should be considerate of others when preparing your appearance.

We already touched on this with modesty.  You are being considerate of others' thought lives when you dress modestly.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told men that they are sinning, committing adultery in their hearts, if they look on a woman and lust after her.  You can be considerate of men by not tempting them to this sin by the way you dress.

You are also considerate of others when you dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable.  Don't try to outdress everyone when you go to a social event, but don't wear something distractingly casual, either.  Have a good idea of what the dress code is for various situations, and dress accordingly.  Wear rugged work clothes when you show up to help someone rake his yard, so he doesn't feel guilty for asking you to be hard on your good clothes.  Wear something neat, classy and professional when you make a presentation.  Wear bright clothing with fun patterns when you will be interacting with children.  Wear something special and attractive to honor someone's special occasion.

Keep in mind that how we prepare our physical appearance is a primary way that humans communicate with one another.  What you look like says a lot about you.  Think about how you look and evaluate what message your appearance conveys.

You can't change your face, but you can wash it and moisturize it!  Heavy make-up is often intimidating or offensive, but a light layer of base foundation over less-than-perfect skin can be soothing for people who look at you all day long.  Clean, nicely styled hair and well-fitting clothing also put people around you at ease.  Wearing expensive, cutting-edge styles may cause people to admire you, but it rarely helps them feel comfortable around you.  And if you go out with hair in your eyes, buttons that threaten to burst, or Lycra stretched to translucence, people will be on edge worrying about what will happen next.  Take sensible measures to make yourself neat and attractive, and stop there.

Since your appearance automatically communicates a message, use your appearance to communicate kindness, consideration and love.

Do not allow others' opinions 
to dictate your style.

Although you should certainly dress in a way that is considerate of others, this does not mean that you dress to "please" others.

Once when I was a Bible study teacher, someone from my Bible study kindly sent me an anonymous gift, a beautiful Vera Bradley bag.  I rarely (well, probably never) would have splurged to buy such an item for myself, but I was happy and pleased to own something so stylish.  However, over time I began to notice that people treated me differently when I carried that bag.  I got many, many compliments.  Once a woman complimented me and I said, "Oh, it was an anonymous gift..."  She responded with astonishment, "A gift?  Do you know, that must have cost $75 or more?  That is some gift!"  Clerks in stores treated me with more respect and deference than I'd ever experienced before.  Nurses in doctors' offices asked me what I did for a living (ha!).  For a time I enjoyed the feeling, but after awhile it began to bother me that something as silly as a handbag could have such a huge effect on how people treated me.

I tell that story to encourage you not to try to be a people-pleaser, nor to follow all the latest trends and styles primarily for the respect and power it will gain you around others who may not be able to afford what you have chosen to purchase and display.

  • Don't buy something for the power it will give you.
  • Don't wear something to intimidate others or to show off.
  • Don't dress immodestly because you think it will make you more attractive to someone.
  • Don't follow a fad merely because of peer pressure.

As you prepare yourself each morning, getting ready to go out and face yet another day, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does the way I look bring glory to God and bear an appropriate testimony to His grace in my life?
  2. Does my appearance demonstrate consideration for those who will be with me today?
  3. Am I presenting myself in a way that shows love for my family, friends and fellow humans on this earth?

And.  If all else fails, a nice fitting pair of khaki slacks, a navy blue cardigan, neatly brushed and tied back hair, a light coat of foundation and a flicker of mascara is appropriate for almost any situation.

Other posts in this series:
Good-bye, girls--part one,
Good-bye, girls--part two,
Good-bye, girls--part three,
Good-bye, girls--part four.
Good-bye, girls--part five
Good-bye, girls--part six 
Good-bye, girls--part seven


Tessa D McKnight said...

Thank you for this post! And I think you are beautiful.

ruth said...

Thanks for reading, Tessa. Welcome!