I think it was the posters that did me in.
As I waited for my dentist, reclining on my chair, they just seemed to be everywhere. Posters of teeth — absolutely perfect, brilliantly gleaming teeth. They smiled and smiled at me. Then, slowly, they started to smirk.
I shot a quick glance at my own teeth in the mirror. Just, plain, normal, maybe-a-little-too-much-peach-iced-tea, teeth.
Before you could say “zoom whitening,” I suddenly had a new goal: brilliant, beautiful teeth — just like the poster. When my dentist came in, I talked to him about the options and, later, skipped out of the office.
White teeth, white teeth, I’m gonna have white teeth.
Later that week, though, I lost some of the wind from my gleaming white sails.
First, I read a Newsweek article which talked about the latest trends in American beauty — spas for newborns to 12-year-olds and the burgeoning “tween” cosmetics market. Then I came across a poll done by the Oxygen channel that found over a quarter of young women would make their best friend fat for life if it meant they could be thin.
A 5-year-old knows what a spa is? Tweens using firming cream? Young women continuing to obsess about being thin? What’s going on here, I wondered.
And then I looked in the mirror again. Was I just another part of the problem? Were my oh-so-needed-to-be-whitened teeth just one more sacrifice on the altar of treatments and maintenance and makeovers?
I know enough to reject the world’s plasticized, air-brushed, hamster-on-a-wheel beauty obsession. But I confess that I still struggle for some clarity.
As a believer, is any pursuit of physical beauty acceptable or should I scrap it all and go au natural? Is it only OK to pursue prettiness to a certain point? And, if so, where is that point — applying makeup, painting my nails, coloring my hair, tanning my skin, whitening my teeth, surgery?
It was time to remind myself what God’s Word has to say on Beauty 101.
What Does God Cherish?
The Bible is so clear on what kind of beauty God cherishes that it almost makes me wince. 1 Peter 3 tells us:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, 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.
That’s it. What beauty is of great worth to our God? Inner beauty — a gentle and quiet spirit.
Then, as if to put the exclamation point on the subject, Peter uses the example of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. From Genesis we know that Sarah “was a very beautiful woman” — beautiful enough to catch the eye of the Egyptian Pharaoh. But that isn’t what brings her praise:
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
Sarah was beautiful to God because she put her hope in Him, was submissive to her own husband and didn’t fear. Man looked on her outward appearance, but the Lord looked at her heart.
Paul echoes this sentiment in 1 Timothy 2 when he instructs believing women to “dress, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship to God.”
I will be beautiful to God when I am caring for His people and following His commands. I’ve got to remember that.
Fleeting and Fading
My inner beauty, then, is to be my focus. But what role, if any, does physical beauty have in my life?
Before I can answer that, I have to realize one important truth: Physical beauty fades. As Proverbs 31 says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
The word “fleeting” means “empty, transitory, unsatisfactory.” That translation rings so true with me. Doesn’t it always seem that physical beauty is just beyond our grasp? Even if I do feel like I’ve tackled one aspect of it, it only takes a mirror to realize the dozen other flaws that remain.
Rather than be defeated by this truth, I need to use it to set me free. I am just like this fallen world. The mountains, the forests, the oceans and I will all pass away at some point and then be glorified by God into a sinless, eternal beauty.
As Nancy Leigh Demoss writes:
The world’s philosophy of the body and clothing is that the body is all-important, and that the spirit is either secondary or simply doesn’t exist. The Christian has a different philosophy. She understands that our earthly bodies are temporal–they are going to deteriorate. No matter how much we fight it, our bodies are going to die. The wise Christian recognizes that the spirit of a person is what really matters.
When I compare Proverbs’ description of physical beauty as “vain” and Peter’s description of inner beauty as “unfading,” it gives me hope. And understanding that physical beauty is finite gives me perspective.
Why Have Physical Beauty at All?
Of course, my heart wants to cry out, “Why do we have to mess with appearance at all, then?” If inner beauty is what matters and physical beauty fades, why did God even create this aspect of us?
Carolyn Mahaney has been helpful to me here. She says:
All because we are created in the image of our Creator, each of us has a propensity to make things beautiful. This means that when we decorate our homes, or we plant a lovely flower garden, or add some form of beauty to enhance our surroundings we are actually imitating and approving the works of our Great Creator. We are imitating God!
Now granted, these activities can be sinfully implemented, but we must not overlook the fact that the essence of our desire to beautify comes from God.
What should we do with this desire to beautify? Carolyn continues:
Thus we shouldn’t automatically dismiss our “taste for beauty,” even though it is tainted by sin, because our “taste for beauty” is an imitation of the workmanship of God.
Rather, we must discover from God’s Word how to regulate and steward this desire to bear good fruit. How can we use our “taste for beauty” to glorify God?
The Bottom Line
Really, I think that is the key. How do I be beautiful for the glory of God?
The answer: I steward this body and soul that God has given me.
The principles of biblical stewardship are clear: It’s all God’s and I act upon His priorities. With money, that means I give generously to God and others first, spend on myself last. With time, I serve others first and recreate last.
With beauty, it means I seek first the kingdom of God. Period. That’s the beauty that God cherishes; that’s what He says will last. After that, I steward my physical beauty to the glory of God, understanding that this body is only temporary.
That means making my appearance a blessing to others through modesty. That means attempting to bless my husband through my appearance. That means getting my out-of-control vanity in check and understanding that beauty is not about bringing myself praise but bringing God praise.
Dr. Albert Mohler writes:
In this life, we live amidst the pretty, the corrupt, and the artificial. We live among those who do not believe beauty exists, and among those who think beauty can be manufactured. In such a context, we are the ones who have to say we know beauty, and it is none other than Jesus Christ the Lord.
That’s true beauty — Jesus Christ the Lord.
I want so much to get this beauty thing right, to see it through God’s eyes. To be aware of Satan’s lies that my whole worth is in my outer beauty or, even conversely, that how I present myself makes absolutely no difference.
But there is no magic formula. As with most subjects, God doesn’t give us a rule, He gives us a priority: Him.
So, will I whiten my teeth? I really don’t know. I admit I’m feeling rather petty at the moment. But if I do, or if I do any of the other thousand beauty options that are available to me, I want to do it with careful thought and consideration to what God values and who will be getting the praise.
Copyright 2009 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.