Now here's a topic that's been beaten to death. But that's actually all right because that means maybe the right things haven't been said. I want to talk to you about beauty. Specifically, society's beauty standards for women.
The world is broken. And we know that. But it's really hard for us to keep that in mind when it comes to our appearances. Simultaneously, women are shamed for "not trying hard enough" or "prude" if they do not emulate the world of magazine women, and labeled things like "whore" if they do. We are trapped in this way. We want to be beautiful. We want to feel beautiful. And yet we can't fit these standards.
But what if we could? What if we did have that photoshopped, long-legged, flat stomached model look, complete with a perfectly white smile as we splashed in the waves that magically always come to our mid-calves? We pine after that standard. But it isn't satisfying, either. Because the world is broken, and beauty in that caliber has its own results of that brokenness.
I have sat in my car wearing completely conservative clothes and been cat-called from another. I have been told to "smile" at people I do not know. I have been followed and I have been jeered at. I have gripped my keys in my hand a little tighter as I walk to my car, having seen a man stare in the parking lot until I am safely in my car. And this is all without that so-called "perfect" body. That kind of beauty, when seen as the only goal, isn't satisfying. It is mocked, jeered, and despised by men and women alike. It tastes sour as soon as it's exposed to the sin of the world.
So what standards do we seek after? If we cannot run to those standards the world has, where do we turn? Well, as Christians there's only one place to look.
Peter speaks exactly to our problem. We can't look to the world to feel beautiful. But we can look to God. If we pursue His approval and thirst for His righteousness, His beauty shines through us- a beauty untarnished by age and untouchable by the sin of the world. Peter exhorts us " 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. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves..."(1 Peter 3:2-6). And in Timothy we find the same thing: "women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."(1 Timothy 2:9-10).
I used to be upset about these verses. Stuffy old men telling me not to dress up. What's to like? But I like to think I'm at least marginally wiser at this point. They are not acting like those middle school "girls-only" camp assemblies where our counselors told us that tank tops were sins while the boys played basketball outside. Peter and Paul are saying that a misdirected focus onto things like clothing or jewelry or hairstyle in order to make ourselves beautiful will be at best a fleeting sense of satisfaction. Doing good for others, being slow to anger, being empathetic and kind are the marks of true beauty, because they are the marks of a beautiful soul.
For those of you not yet married: I don't want a man to pursue me who only does so because he thinks I've got a nice face and a good body. Anyone who likes my type can notice that. Anyone can look at me and say "pretty" or "hot" (unless they don't find me that way, not trying to be vain here). But a man who yes, thinks I'm attractive, but is captivated by my personality, who sees me in community and wants me to walk through life with him? That's the one who's going to last. Because that is the beauty that's going to last. It doesn't age or fade away. It doesn't erode when exposed to the sin of the world. It isn't soured. It is beautiful.