This weekend I watched a disturbing documentary on America’s obsession with artificial standards of beauty. It’s fed by male immaturity that views women as objects. It’s fed by female insecurities that consistently return to the shallowest coping mechanisms of surface level beauty to address something much deeper in our hearts. It’s fed by simple greed – the cosmetic, fashion, and entertainment industries have much to lose if western attitudes toward external beauty ever change.
I’m not going to deal with much that I saw in the documentary, except to say it made me thankful I have boys. The pressure on girls in our media-saturated culture to meet an impossible standard of beauty is simply oppressive. I know those of you with daughters or younger sisters (or maybe just in terms of yourself) have a lot to think through as you prepare them (or yourself) to navigate this culture.
What struck me as I watched the documentary was thankfulness that I feel more beautiful now (at age 40, after two c-sections that wreaked havoc on my stomach muscles, and 50 pounds heavier than at my wedding) than I ever did in my twenties as a 5’ 6” college student weighing 120 pounds. I don’t know what I really looked like to others back then, but I know I felt gawky and awkward inside and was classically insecure. Last evening, through the night, and again this morning, I am pondering why I feel so differently about myself now. In terms of external standards of female beauty, I am NOT now more beautiful than I was years ago. But I have exponentially more peace on the subject now than then. I know the change is something that has gone on INTERNALLY.
As a disclaimer, I have experienced some circumstantial changes that have helped me tremendously. First, while I weigh 50 pounds more than I did during my college days, I weigh 5 pounds less than I did at Christmas. Even that small change has helped me feel better physically. Second, my husband regularly affirms me physically. Words of affirmation are my love language, and I have bloomed internally due in no small part to his affirmation of my dress, hair, or general appearance. And third, I live in Seattle. I appreciate the hippie liberal vegetarians’ perspective on beauty. The majority of my friends here, both in the church and out the church, shine daily with no self-consciousness without a stitch of make up in 2nd hand clothes from Value Village. Coming from the Mary Kay world of the south, it has been a long process for me to accept without enhancement my imperfect skin tone, my eyelashes, and my cheekbones as God made them. (By the way, I’m not lobbying against makeup here–that’s not my point at all). The peer pressure in my culture is that natural IS beautiful. I’ve appreciated that change and have found it helpful for my own self-image. All that to say that I acknowledge external changes that have helped me change my perspective on my own beauty.
But for all the external circumstantial change, by far the greatest change is how I think about myself INTERNALLY. The word that comes to mind is CONFIDENCE. Some may call it SELF-confidence, but any self-confidence I feel has a source in a larger confidence that is well beyond myself. For every word of affirmation my husband gives me, there are days or weeks in which he forgets to verbalize things to me or is so distracted by work issues that he fails to notice my appearance altogether. But God says words of affirmation over me that are accessible every hour of every day. He chose me before time began to present me as part of the beautiful, perfect Bride of His Son. Ephesians 5 says that He is making me glorious. I know with confidence that every day I walk forward in faith I am one day closer, one day more like Him. I know what God thinks of me, and that gives me confidence. I know what God has called me to do, and that gives me confidence. I know where I’m going, and that gives me confidence.
I write this out now, because I know next week, I may not FEEL this way. And I want to remind myself where to look when I don’t FEEL beautiful – when my husband doesn’t notice me, when my skin breaks out, or when I gain back two pounds. Even then, God’s words of affirmation over me still ring true. His purpose of my glorious transformation in Christ is still on track. And I can still walk forward with internal confidence that makes me stand up straight, smile wide, and walk forward boldly because of who I am in Him.
Are you the woman that can’t accept compliments because your internal voice shouts them down? I know so many like that – that so lack internal confidence that they are paralyzed by their insecurities. They hate their appearance and see something totally different when they look in the mirror that what every other person who knows them sees. The problem is internal. No amount of Mary Kay makeup or trips to the gym will change it. First, acknowledge your insecurities. Second, stop fooling yourself that any external tweaking of your appearance is going to help. Deal with God. Wrestle with Him. Plunge into His Word (I recommend Ephesians), and don’t let go until you start to confidently internalize all God declares over you. Then repeat to yourself in the mirror the truths God has declared about you. Adopted daughter of God. Set apart to be conformed to the image of Christ. Lavished with God’s grace. Being made glorious, adorned with splendor, to be presented one day to Christ as His beautiful bride. Those are the internal things that will break out of you with a radiance that Mary Kay cheek color can never reproduce.