Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 1—Where Does True Beauty Lie?

Where does true beauty lie?
            The world says beauty is the key to happiness.  Look young and vibrant and you will be young and vibrant.  Gray hair, a sagging belly, or a disfiguring birth defect is interpreted as a sign of weakness, incapability, or lack of usefulness.  Although the image of the perfect woman shifts over the centuries, the image conceived never fits a real woman.  Although the standard of perfection touches everyone in your family, it falls more cruelly on women.

            Most people have heard the phrase, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."  Margaret Wolfe Hungerford is given the credit for putting these exact words together in her book Molly Bawn (written under the pseudonym "The Duchess"), yet this idea has been expressed in writing by many people as far back as the 3rd century in Greek writing.*  Despite this phrase's popularity, it is rarely carried out through today's media or entertainment industries.  If it was, American audiences would be seeing people of all sizes, shapes, imperfections, and handicaps in both advertisements and visual entertainment.  But, we do not—except for the occasional "homely" or handicap person placed as minor friend sidekick or as the butt of the jokes. 

            Besides seeing clones of the current mold of perfection, the American public is bombarded by superficial "best-and-worst-dressed" lists, extensive coverage of what women wear to an award's ceremony rather than on the significance of their contributions, and even dissections of public candidates' campaign attire and hair cuts as if those facts were as important as the candidates' voting records or stances on issues.

            What does the Bible** have to say about beauty?

            Proverbs 31:30  "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."

            Hmm.  Outer beauty is not nearly as significant as a woman's fear of the Lord.  In this context, fear means a reverential awe.  In other words, the woman respects, honors, obeys, and maybe you could even "star-struck" with God.  So, a woman's "fearful" attitude toward or relationship with God is worth praising, and her outer beauty is merely a description of her at some point in her life.  Even if she is lucky enough to have years of being beautiful, in reality, it is only temporary.

            I 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."

            Again, lasting beauty is does not come from an outward natural appearance or even from the decorations a woman may add.  An unfading beauty comes from "a gentle and quiet spirit."  Personally, I do not believe it means a woman who naturally has a voice that carries across the room cannot have inner beauty.  I believe it refers to an inner attitude and a compassionate attitude toward other people.  However, I may be biased on what I want it to say since I can be rather loud at times.  (This is an example of where you must try to find what God is saying through His Word and not merely rely on my interpretation.  Be careful to consider your prejudices as well.  Look for what God IS saying, not what you want Him to say.)

            Ezekiel 28:17  Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.

            Whoa.  This is an example of what can go wrong when you put the wrong emphasis on outer beauty.  Now this prophesy was made to the King of Tyre concerning him and his kingdom, but the wrong emphasis on beauty—whether it be an individual or a nation—leads to disaster.

            Proverbs 11:22  Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.

            Again, outer beauty cannot replace true inner beauty and wisdom.  This verse in Proverbs suggests physical beauty to be no better than a gold ring in the nostrils of a pig.  That analogy can create a whole new visual reference the next time someone sees a slinky, "beautiful" model draped across the hood of a car in an advertisement! 

            Is this the kind of beauty for which you want your child to aim?  Of course not.  Yet, this superficial, vain beauty is what your children will desire unless you create a buffer between them and the world around them.  Let's look at two possible scenarios by starting with a little boy.

Son:  Wow, look at that car.  It's so cool.  That is the best car ever.

Parent:  I like the looks of that car, too.  It's the perfect shade of blue, and the overall shape suggests it will drive smoothly.

Son:  Y-e-a-h. . . I want a car like that.  No other car can beat that car. 

Parent:  What do you mean?

Son:  It's the fastest car there is.  I could even drive it.  That's the car I want when I grow up.

Parent:  How do you know all that?

Son:  Just look at it.

Parent:  Oh, I see it.  You know, that car is just parked there.  It might not even have an engine.

Son:  It has an engine!

Parent:  How do you know?

Son:  Just look at it.
Parent:  I am looking at it.  All I see is what makes it look cool on the outside.  I have not yet seen what it's like on the inside.  When I buy a car, I want to know what the inside is like, too.  Is it reliable?  Does it run smoothly?  Will it be able to take me where I need to go with as few problems as possible?  You know, when God looks to see if you are "cool," He looks at your insides.  Do you truly love Him?  Can He count on you?  Are you reliable and trustworthy?  If you work really hard on making the outside of you look good for others to see but are really a terrible person inside, then you are not beautiful—or cool—in God's eyes?  Your inside is more important than your outside, and I hope that when you are ready to really by a car that you look at the insides, too—and make sure it has an engine!

            Now let's look at a possible conversation you could have with a teenage girl.

Parent:  My, don't you look pretty today!

Daughter:  I don't know.

Parent:  What do you mean?

Daughter:  No matter what I do I'm never really pretty.  I just look better on some days than other days.  I just wish that for one day I could be beautiful.

Parent:  What does beautiful mean to you?

Daughter(unhappy grunt) You know, beautiful.  Pretty.

Parent:  No, I don't know.  You tell me what you mean.

Daughter(unhappy grunt again)  I need to be thinner here.  My cheeks need to be shaped more like this.  My hair needs to be straighter (or curlier or whatever trend is current).  I'm too short.  I need to be filled out more here.  My teeth are crooked.  Do I have to go on?  It's too depressing to keep thinking about.

Parent:  So, beauty is skin deep.

Daughter:  I dunno.

Parent:  I mean, everything you just described to me is only skin deep.  You're not going to like what I'm going to say next, but that kind of beauty doesn't last long anyway.  Even if I could snap my fingers and give you exactly everything you just asked for, it would not last you forever.  However, there is a kind of beauty that does last forever.  In fact, inner beauty often becomes more radiant and inspiring with age.

Daughter:  Yeah, right. (sarcasm)

Parent:  Yes, I am right.  Thank you for noticing.  (Parent smiles; daughter doesn't think it's funny)  In fact, in I Peter the Bible tells us that true inner beauty "is of great worth in God's sight."  Great worth.  In Proverbs 31 God tells us that a woman who fears the LORD is worthy of praise. 

Parent still:  Of course, you will want to make your outer self neat and clean and maybe add a little "flair" once in awhile, but when you concentrate on your outer self, you have no time to be the person God has called you to be.  The good news is that the more you work on knowing and serving God, the more beautiful you will be on the inside.  That kind of beauty brings contagious happiness.  When you are content with the way God made you on the outside and have a gentle, servant's heart on the inside, people around you will automatically pick up on it and will feel happier just being around you.  In a way, isn't that one of the reasons for beauty?  To bring happiness to others?  I know seeing beautiful tiger lilies in the ditch makes me smile.  Watching the amazing hummingbirds near our feeder brings me joy and contentment.  And you, when you let your inner beauty shine out, I can't help but smile.

            Your Turn:  Now, take a minute and think about how you can start a conversation—even a quick 5-minute interchange—on the subject of true beauty with your children.  Nearly every print ad or t.v. image could give you a starting point, because every such image seen by your family is guilty of touching your family.  Before you begin this task, take a minute to read the description of the woman in Proverbs 31.  Please do not read it as a comparison between you and her.  No verse in the summary of this woman's life describes her outer appearance, but doesn't the character of this woman cause you to describe her as "beautiful"?

Proverbs 31:10-31
10 Who can find a virtuous wife?  For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants.  16 She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor; yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.

            If you would like more ideas on helping your children (and yourself) develop a Biblical worldview or to find out how to win a Wal-Mart gift card, go to the 31 Days Giveaway (Intro. Part II) post for more Touching Families blog links.  If you want to check out other 31 Days' topics, see The Nester.

**All verses quoted are from the New International Version:  THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


  1. I struggle with finding my own beauty (despite the fact that my husband takes EVERY opportunity to tell me how HOT I am ;) ). Now that I have 2 precious daughters, I want to find ways of teaching them that their beauty comes from God, and can only be found in their heart, not their outward appearances. My 8yo is already concerned with her clothes, her hair and her nails ... things I am just not ready for her to be focused on! I am excited for the next 31 days!

  2. You're right. It's a difficult balance between appreciating the beauty of the body and appearance God has given us--regardless of its shape or style--and not putting too much emphasis on our appearance. No matter what you do the outside world is constantly trying to outdo your encouragement. It doesn't have to be the "outside world;" it can be trusted friends (or ourselves) as well. We all struggle with this balance, and it often comes out in what we do and say--which is then copied by little ones. You are definitely on the right track on being aware of the situation. I am sorry to tell you that you will ever "be done" with the subject; it's a lifelong attitude check.

    The good news is YOU are your daughters biggest influence. As they watch you worry less about having a perfect hairstyle, fretting over a 1/2 pound gain, or needing frequent assurance on how you look, then the more they will be able to concentrate on the beauty in your character--compassion, a love of God's Word, a servant's heart, etc.--and want to mirror that beauty as well.

    Come back daily!

  3. Our daughter is stunning - big blue eyes and long blond hair ... and she has no self awareness at all. She just turned 15 and she is very happy with how God made her, but she focuses more on her ability to learn, to play the piano, to get along with others etc. She has no interest in boys or looking good for them, and we're quite happy about that. God has abundantly blessed us - she is committed to the Lord and loves to study the Word.

    1. What a blessing! She sounds like she is a wonderful example to those around her that you can have joy and value without concentrating on outer appearances.

  4. i've found that part of what seems to help my kids to feel good about their own physical image is *not* fuss over my own. it doesn't mean i don't try to look nice, but i don't dwell on it, act self-conscious about myself, put myself down, or spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. it is what it is. i get up, i exercise, i take care of myself and myphisical body, i dress decently, and that's that. it's sort of like the car scenario: i do all the routine maintenance, i keep the car neat, clean, and fill the tank with gas. it gets a regular "wash and wax." But i'm not taking the car down to the local body shop and getting it all tricked out, modified, and upgraded with fancy decals and tinted windows. (On the flip side, i'm not letting the car fall into disrepair, get dirty and broken down, either!) the kids seem to follow my lead on this, and that gives us all more time to think about others.

  5. Thank you for sharing and showing other ways to have balance. I look forward to your comments on other topics.

  6. Thanks for inviting me to your blog. I will try to read and respond to as many of your entries as I can. This issue of inner vs. outer beauty seems to be a big puzzle for women - how to not focus too much on the outside, so we can develop the inside. While I treasure the fact that God looks at the heart and cares about our character, I have personally struggled with giving my physical body and the issue of outward beauty its proper place. I waited until I was 30 years old to take the time to focus on this issue for myself. I struggled with whether it was OK for me to spend time and money searching out my style of dress, hair, accessories. After all, shouldn't I be focusing on the needs of others? Was my outer beauty really a valid use of my resources? After soul searching and talking to many other women, I decided to bring my questions, fears and desires before the Lord as an act of worship, desiring to be the best ME that I can be for him. And that included my outer shell. The following year resulted in some major changes - some much-needed weight loss, getting my ears pierced, being more selective about what I chose to wear. As a result I feel I am a more well rounded Christian woman, who like my Proverbs 31 girlfriend, works hard, serves others and tries to look her best while she's doing it. This is something I am teaching my daughters: we are beautiful because we are treasured creations of the God of the universe! What makes you attractive is your loving spirit, your kindness, your gentle heart. And, yes, you are soooo cute in those new jeans!! My conclusion? Being a woman of God does not need to be an either/or deal. Being beautiful and being godly are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I aim to be as pretty, healthy, balanced as I can on the outside as well on the inside, in this way presenting my whole entire being in worship to Christ!

  7. Thank you for joining my blog conversation. I look forward to any comments you make as I am sure anything you add will only enrich (and probably improve) anything I have written.

    Thank you for adding the perspective that it is "o.k." to have a pleasing outward appearance. In an effort to combat the world's overemphasis on outward appearances, Christian women often feel guilty for wanting to "look pretty."