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Biblical Beauty and the Culture Beast


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Biblical Beauty and the Culture Beast

I was nine years old the first time I looked in the mirror and really evaluated my appearance. In a yellow sundress that my mother loved, I stood at the mirror, sides of my long, dull blonde hair pulled back by a beret. “What a chubby face,” I thought. My stomach seemed so round, my…

Biblical Beauty and the Culture Beast

I was nine years old the first time I looked in the mirror and really evaluated my appearance. In a yellow sundress that my mother loved, I stood at the mirror, sides of my long, dull blonde hair pulled back by a beret. “What a chubby face,” I thought. My stomach seemed so round, my teeth looked so gapped and crooked. “I’m ugly,” I said to myself, and I’ve struggled with those words for over two decades, regardless of how many compliments I’ve received since.

Humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, Psalm 139:14 says. Yet, for many women, men, and even young girls and boys, physical attractiveness is a never-ending, sometimes unwinnable battle made even more difficult by cultural trends and philosophies. And is the fight even biblical?

The Culture Beast Emphasized the Fleeting

From magazine racks, department-store mannequins, TV commercials, and Hollywood, the message resounds: women should be thin, young, and beautiful.

From magazine racks, department-store mannequins, TV commercials, and Hollywood—including family-friendly films from Hallmark and even Christian studios—the message resounds: women should be thin, young, and beautiful.

Historians have traced beauty culture all the way to the Ancient Greeks, who believed that a beautiful face is one with perfect symmetry—including a unibrow! They searched for formulas that equaled beauty, devising what we know today as the “Golden Ratio.” In Medieval Japan, women dyed their teeth black and plucked off their eyebrows, then repainted them in high arches closer to the hairline. Renaissance women wanted receding hairlines. Elizabethan women preferred pale faces, and Victorian women strived for tiny, rosebud lips.1 If beauty culture is ever changing and redefined, why is it so heavily emphasized?

Since nearly the beginning of time, it was essential in most cultures for a woman to marry because she often couldn’t work, own property, or hold a respectable role in society without a husband. Often, if a woman wanted a husband and didn’t have an appealing dowry or title, her appearance helped show that she was worthy of his matrimonial hand—that she was healthy, fertile, and desirable. The original beauty culture was simply putting one’s best . . . or prettiest . . . foot forward to attract a husband.

But women in much of the Western world today don’t need to marry to survive and function. Of course, women looking for a husband still try to look attractive, but the cultural obsession with beauty stems from something far different from natural attraction. Today, it stems from society’s adulterated expectations.

Now, a person’s sensuality is a cultural measure of beauty, with an emphasis on youth and vitality. Women of childbearing years (18–35 years old) have always been more employed by Hollywood and advertising industries. Many women are resisting such a ridiculous standard of beauty—while simultaneously adding to the problem. Rather than deny that beauty is merely outward appearance or peak childbearing potential, they miss the point and argue that women over the age of 35 can still be attractive and therefore worthy of admiration. This deception has been furthered just recently in the media—by the overwhelming praise of the provocative 2020 Superbowl halftime show featuring two women over the age of 40, and by the increasing demand for women over 50 in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Biblical Beauty Is Ageless

But biblical beauty is more than outward appearance—and even culture knows this truth deep down.

But biblical beauty is more than outward appearance—and even culture knows this truth deep down.

In the beginning of Walt Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast, the enchantress warns the prince “not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.” These words ring hypocritical in a movie that then stars a young woman so beautiful that even her name, Belle, means beauty and whose proclaimed appearance has “no parallel.” But the sentiments echo 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

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Humans should know that their worth is so much more than what they look like and how old they are, but it’s difficult not to cave to outward pressures, especially considering that humans are not God and therefore have no visual access to each other’s heart. So, what does God expect of women—and men—who have a desire to be beautiful in a world full of eyes that can’t see the soul? Is it a sin to desire beauty? How does God define beauty? What should Christian parents tell their sons and daughters about physical attractiveness?

We must understand that many times beautiful character is not a consolation prize for a less-than-Hollywood face.

First, we must understand that beautiful character is never a consolation prize for a less-than-Hollywood face. Too often, we hear perhaps well-intentioned lines such as, “She’s not much to look at, but she’s got a great personality!” These reversed values are unbiblical, for Proverbs 31:30–31 tells us, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

Second, beauty is not a sin. Humans crave it, and we mimic our Creator by creating beautiful things, including hairstyles, modest clothing, and tasteful adornments that accompany a God-fearing heart. While there is a Hollywood standard of appearance, beauty overall is very subjective—even among celebrities. Everyone prefers certain leading ladies and men to others. And who’s to say who’s the most attractive? It’s noteworthy that God didn’t provide detailed descriptions of Eve, who was created perfectly and untouched by sin; Bathsheba, whose noted beauty was enough to attract King David’s attention; Mary, who was chosen to mother God’s only Son; or any other person, comely or not, in the Bible. Apart from relevant details for some characters—Samson’s hair and strength, Zacchaeus’s wee stature, Moses as a pretty baby, metaphors of King Solomon’s lover, and so on—the Bible rarely dwells on or even mentions physical appearance or beauty except to make a point. One point it specifically does make is that Jesus himself was not comely (Isaiah 53:2)

Third, we must remind ourselves that all of us, men and women alike, are image-bearers of God and that we were created to bring him glory and fulfill his purposes for our lives:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

“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” (1 Peter 3:3–4).

These verses don’t indicate that we shouldn’t care at all about how we look. We should appear clean, orderly, and respectable as a testimony to our Creator (1 Thessalonians 4:12). But our emphasis should not be on fleeting cultural beauty standards meant only to satisfy ourselves and the lusty appetites of others. Our focus should be on pleasing God alone (Galatians 1:10).

Finally, we must recognize that a woman’s and man’s outward appearance is not the measure of their beauty or worth. Being made in the image of God is that measure, and it makes all of us equally valuable, from fertilization to death, regardless of age, ability, or appearance. As Paul told the church, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Women and men don’t lose their beauty as they grow older when they look for it in the right places. Yes, skin will wrinkle and sag, hair will gray, and bodies will lose their shapeliness. But a woman who fears God, who has a gentle and quiet spirit—her beauty is “imperishable,” and her worth is more than precious jewels (Proverbs 31).

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