I consider myself to be a very plain-looking young woman. I've never been one to wear makeup, style my hair, wear fashionable clothes, etc. In addition, I'm overweight. I was never popular, and I never wanted to stand out in a crowd. I emerged from junior high and high school relatively "unscathed" by the typical cattiness of the other girls mostly by remaining unnoticed.
I've heard countless messages about how a girl shouldn't put too much emphasis on physical beauty. But is it possible that this message can be taken too far? Shouldn't we temper what we say depending on our audience? I feel like no one has tempered his or her words regarding beauty for someone like me — someone who's already disinclined to try to be beautiful.
I find myself at 24 just as I was at 17 — still overweight, still plain-looking and still detesting the time, effort and money required to "beautify" myself in the world's eyes. I still have never been on a date, and I still stubbornly insist that a man should get to know me and love me for what's on the inside, rather than what's on the outside. The only thing that's changed is that now I find myself wanting to someday be married and have children as God has designed (a result of having come across Boundless this summer). And I wonder: Have I done something wrong? Have I mismanaged the body God has given me?
All these "anti-beauty" messages I've heard make it sound like it's a sin to constantly strive to be beautiful in the world's eyes. But is it equally a sin to NEVER try to be beautiful in the world's eyes? Have I unconsciously been fighting the whole "beauty" thing too hard all these years?
What tempered message can you give to me and others like me? (I can't be the only one, right?)
Thank you for writing. A couple of weeks ago I answered a beauty question from someone whose friend had no interest in her outward appearance and thought anyone who broached the subject was unworthy of her friendship. This week's reply reads like a part 2 to that exchange. And given all the questions about beauty in my inbox, I could easily do parts 3, 4 and 5. This is clearly a topic that's on the mind of lots of our female readers.
You asked if the beauty message should be tempered depending on the audience. I believe the message should remain the same regardless of who you're talking to, whether women who emphasize their looks too much or too little. The principles of stewardship and modesty are universal and apply to both crowds. It's just that the former needs to pay more attention to their modesty, while women like you need encouragement to be good stewards.
Beauty is not sinful. God made it. Many of the women in the Old Testament were singled out for their physical appearance. Sarah and Rebekah were so beautiful that their husbands feared they might be killed by other powerful, lustful men. Esther's beauty had everything to do with why King Xerxes chose her among all the virgins and Abigail's beauty surely played a role in staying David's murderous hand.
As my government professor from graduate school used to say, the Old Testament shows how beauty plays a key role in diplomacy.
But as I've written before, Scripture is equally clear that when we make the creature our focus — rather than the Creator — we're guilty of idolatry. And the consequences that follow are ugly. (See Ezekiel 16 and Isaiah 3:16-26.)
Yes, there are lots of Christian women who struggle with the problem of overemphasis on beauty. But you're right that others fall into the category of "mismanagement" or neglect. And as you're discovering, this has a profound effect on some of your other goals, most notably your growing desire for marriage and family.
You wrote, "I still stubbornly insist that a man should get to know me and love me for what's on the inside, rather than what's on the outside." You then ask, "have I unconsciously been fighting the whole 'beauty' thing too hard all these years?"
I think your two questions are related.
First, about men. They are visual.
Think about that. More than most women, most men are stimulated, animated and activated by what they see. It's hard for women to fully grasp what this means because it's not our nature to be equally aroused by the images around us. We're more relational.
Granted, some would insist there is no difference between men and women. And our hyper-sexualized culture has altered the way some, even many, women react to what their eyes see. But generally speaking, men get their primary input through their eyes, while we get it through our hearts and minds. A woman who feels loved and accepted by her husband is much more willing and ready to respond to him sexually than is a woman who feels threatened, unappreciated or ridiculed. It has everything to do with her feelings. Even if he looks like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise or (put the name of your favorite actor, sports hero or musician here), if she feels unloved, she will be less likely to respond.
There's been a host of books and studies that confirm this. Both anecdotal and scientific evidence abounds: Men and women are different. Everything from their brain chemistry to their emotional responses confirms it.
This is not to say it's OK for men to be sexually aroused by any and all women. Jesus was clear that lust is a sin saying that "everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). But it follows that Jesus knew He needed to address the issue of looking at a woman with lust because He knows of a man's propensity for it.
That said, knowing that men have to fight their sin nature (Job 31:1) is not justification for women to neglect their outward appearance. As you've discovered, being overweight and unattractive does little to attract a man's attention and ultimately, affection. Yes, there are men for whom externals mean nothing. But most men do want to marry a woman they find attractive. And it's not just that they want someone pleasant to look at. How you care for your externals sends powerful messages to men about your stewardship of what God's given you.
As you suspect, you can go overboard in both directions. A woman with abundant natural beauty who piles on the makeup and dresses seductively is just as poor a steward as a plain woman who "detests" all efforts to make the most of her appearance.
The kind of man a Godly woman should want to marry would esteem a woman who strives to be lovely, both inside and out.
This is not, however, about the world's standard of beauty. It's about making the most of what God has given you. I think it's safe to say most men would be equally turned off by a woman who obviously neglects her appearance. But as to what each defines as lovely, men are as varied in their taste as women are. Some like a more natural, clean-scrubbed look while others appreciate the enhancements of makeup. Some go for athletic and lean, others prefer a rounder, more huggable woman. You should not fear that if you embrace whatever loveliness God has given you, you will fail to appeal to a man.
I used to think that and found it easier to simply do what I wanted (which included too much junk food and not enough exercise) and then blame the men around me for being shallow and more concerned about my looks than my heart when any failed to ask me out.
Yes, my heart and character is a key part of what attracted Steve, but I'd be omitting half the story if I didn't also say that as I grew my severe, short and sassy haircut out to a more feminine length, he began to find me more attractive. And increasing my commitment to a healthy diet and daily exercise didn't hurt either.
What you need is help knowing what's appropriate attention to your looks as opposed to our culture's current obsession. That includes daily exercise for health and well-being, not hours of compulsive training at the gym. It also means giving your body good fuel, so it has the best shot at running well for a long time. If you fill it with junk, it won't. Consume the food and drink your body was designed for (whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, plenty of water) and steer clear of those things that leave it sluggish and diseased (refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, white flour — basically pre-packaged junk food). The human body is like a high-performance vehicle; You're a Ferrari, not a Yugo. You need to treat yourself accordingly.
When you do, you not only model stewardship, you also show that what matters to men matters to you. And often, that communicates a respect that's the most attractive thing of all.
Copyright 2006 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.