This isn’t the first time I’m writing about this, and I promise it won’t be the last. I cannot shake it. It is top of mind, all of the time. I want to talk about feminine beauty and body image — not from the understanding of the world, but in an effort to redefine beauty from a heavenly perspective. This topic weighs heavily on my heart because — whether a believer or not, woman or not — it affects all of us. Men, I encourage you to stay with me, because I hope that you can take something from this that provides insight into the women in your life that you love. This is for your sister, your wife, your mother, your daughter.
1 Peter 3:3-4 is clear: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.” And 2 Corinthians 4:16, too, encourages us to lay at the feet of Jesus any headspace reserved for thinking of our physical bodies: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”, later in 5:4: “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” God is at work in us — sanctifying us day by day, transforming us by the renewing of our minds and aiding us in our walk as we look more like Jesus with every fresh morning.
But, the Father of Lies, Satan, is at work in the earth, too, and a lot of his work is made tangible in the tricks he plays in the minds of women, starting so early, planting those lies in the minds of little girls before they even outgrow their tutus and Sleeping Beauty nightgowns (or your red and sparkly Wizard of Oz-inspired “Dorothy” heeled slippers that maybe sometimes you even wore to bed. No? Just me?). The lies don’t stop with adolescence, and often persist throughout our adulthoods — if not worsen. In 2015, a study came out that revealed that 80% of girls age ten and under have tried dieting. In 1970, the average age a girl started dieting was 14. In 1990, that number had dropped to an average age of eight years old. Forty-two percent of first-through-third graders report wanting to be thinner, and 51% of those girls felt better about themselves while dieting. The average fashion model weighs an average of 23% less that the average woman. I would bet, after having spent the last year and a half face-to-face with this crowd, working for a modeling agency, that that discrepancy is even greater. And I promise, it’s not easier at the top, even if your very livelihood is based on your looks and waist size. Insecurity and body image issues are rampant, if not even more so.
Hatred of my own body was Satan’s plan to destroy me. It’s been a common thread in my life, not unlike a lot of women (and men). Growing up as a ballerina, I was criticized by my female instructor for having too broad of a ribcage. As a member of the dance team in high school, I had a very consistent spot in the back, because I would have been too distracting anywhere else. As a rower for the University of Washington in college, my teammates joked that I was the runt of the family — which was definitely a first — due to the fact that I couldn’t bench press my weight. At my first job, working for a beauty company in Seattle, the pendulum swung back, when the head of HR joked with me that the reason I’m single is because nobody wants to date a Christian, especially one “so huge”, in reference to my height and breadth. In my senior year of college, I landed myself in the ER with a terrible eating disorder I shrugged off as “veganism” and persistent stomach pain that had been so debilitating, I was leaving work and skipping school almost every day because I couldn’t stand up straight after eating. In absolute desperation, screaming internally with questions as to how I could have ended up in such a place of darkness and self-loathing, I heard the voice of God for the first time call to me, “Sophie, I know you’ve tried so hard to climb yourself out of this hole. You think you’ve done everything, but you haven’t prayed yet.” So pray I did. I asked God to show up, and He showed up — by lifting my eating disorder off of me while the pain in my stomach completely dissipated right out of the top of my head.
I am so thankful for that moment — praise God that He is victorious — but am now left brokenhearted for everyone that has yet to experience his healing and overwhelming love in that same way. This is the attack on our gender, and in this generation, exacerbated by advertising and social media (which, of course, are not inherently evil in and of themselves, but have somehow become Satan’s playground of deception). Ephesians 6:12 is a good reminder that it’s not our weakness as women, nor is it selfishness or lack of wisdom as humans; it’s so much bigger than that, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
It’s time for us to put on the armor of God, continues Ephesians 6, so that “when the day of evil comes [or when that lie from Screwtape comes to take you down], you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to just keep standing.” God doesn’t ask us to put on this armor and then fight. He doesn’t say to charge, or to shoot, or to run, or to even start badmouthing your opponent’s momma. He just says to stand, and then he says it again: just keep standing. It’s because God isn’t asking us to do anything other than just be with him, to stay grounded in his word, and to stand tall in his presence. I think, in this fight that we have on our hands, God is not asking us to do anything but to look to him. He is saying, “Beauty is in fact, in the eye of the beholder. But, beloved, I am your beholder, the one that sees you and knows you and stills the waters of the storm you’re in. I am the one that speaks your identity when you feel inadequate, and heals the decay in your heart where someone spoke death over you (or maybe where you spoke death over you).
Ephesians 2:10 calls us God’s handiwork — men and women alike — which, by default, makes us beautiful. Here’s what we need to do to stand, and to keep standing: we need to look to God for our identity. Not just once, but every day, and every time you believe a lie about yourself that you are inadequate or that your value is in the way that you look. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.”
We need to invest time in the things we love, that make our hearts come alive. Aligning your heart with God’s purpose for your life is the most beautiful thing you can do, for walking in your purpose (and seeking Him for clarity and identity) is a beauty of an eternal kind. When we start to hone the gifts that God has given us, firstly, it’s an act of worship — and being close to God is healing and revealing — and secondly, I think we get glimpses of ourselves the way that God sees us.
We need to show ourselves some grace. If you’ve made it this far in reading this, bless you sweet child of God. You are patient, humble, kind, gracious, and loving. You probably serve the Lord, and others, constantly. Maybe you’re tired and you don’t take care of yourself. Today’s the day to do it. Go to bed early. Sleep is good for the soul and the body.
We need to cast out comparison. Comparison is straight from the fiery pits of hell, and it is the root cause of a lot of our struggling as women (physically, emotionally, financially, relationally, spiritually). Comparison is often rooted in fear of an impoverished future, like God doesn’t have enough to go around, as if there isn’t enough beauty, wisdom, or advancement at work. We are forgetting the magnitude of God’s power and the intimacy of his love when we think like this.
He cares about the details of your life –— your relationship with him, your work, your friends, your favorite book, your exam next month, he cares that your mind is sound, he cares about the health of your physical body, the cares about way that you see yourself.
John and Stasi Eldredge, co-founders of the Ransomed Heart Ministries in Colorado Springs, put it perfectly in their book, Captivating: [Woman] is God’s final touch...she fills a place in the world nothing and no one else can fill...say to yourselves, ‘The whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation reached its zenith in me.” And they continue: “But in order to make the matter perfectly clear, God has given us Eve. The crowning touch of creation. Beauty is the essence of a woman.”
We, as women, are all Eve — the crowning glory of God’s creation. The Creator of the heavens and the earth took time to create you beautifully and wonderfully. He was intentional in stitching together every facet of your being; He made you for His delight, not a hair out of place (and he knows them all, as we learn from Luke 12:7. He was the one that numbered them). God appreciates your beauty, Daughter, because God is beauty, and you — a walking pocket of heaven on earth -— bear His image. It’s nothing less than heavenly.
Image: Andrew Wyeth exhibit, Seattle Art Museum, 2018