I remember reading the Sweet Valley High books when I was in elementary school. The books were full of the high school adventures of twin sisters named Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, both blonde bombshells who are described at the beginning of each and every book as “a perfect size six.” Even though I read the books long before I wore a bra or even thought much about my size, that vision of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, size six perfection stuck with me all through my growing up years.
And, that’s not all.
Through the years I have been told a great many things by friends and strangers about what my appearance should be. Back when I was a tiny high school girl, I was told that my hips were too big. I have been told that my lips are too thin. That my eyes tilt downward when everyone knows you want your eyes to tilt upward at the outer corners. I have been told that my freckles are ugly. That my neck is too long. That my chest is too small. When I was an adorable 25 year old, I was told that I look old. I outgrew that perfect size six. The celebrities on television told me that if that happens then it means I’m lazy and undesirable. Or they told me I have bad genes.
And all of these things, plus much, much more, I handled with kidgloves, like they were precious treasures, and hid them away in my heart and mind, safely stored there so that I could pull them out often, reminding myself that I am not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not athletic enough. Not sexy enough. Not cool enough.
At times I have been downright obsessed with my appearance. At times I have despaired about my lack of blue-eyed, blonde-haired size six perfection. At times I have truly despised my own face. My own body.
In women’s ministry circles, we like to talk about self-esteem, about confidence, and we like to tell Christian women that all we need to do is believe that we are beautiful, and then everything will work out fine. But, what about the days when we just can’t believe that? What about the days when we can’t do anything but glare at our reflection in the mirror and wish for a magic pill that will fix everything we hate?
As Christian women, we have been taught that spiritual maturity is achieved when we look in the mirror and see the beauty of Christ in our reflection. But, I can’t think of a more shallow litmus test for Christians. There are plenty of ways to grow into a real knowledge of our worth in Christ, and exactly none of them have to do with liking the texture of our hair or loving our acne. It is entirely possible to hate your nose and still love Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Because this faith isn’t about physical beauty. It doesn’t revolve around who has the most pleasing physical features. Sin and hell and death are not respecters of gorgeous hair or long legs. Jesus doesn’t love only those who have pretty faces and shapely bodies.
This faith isn’t about physical beauty. It’s about soul beauty. And, soul beauty comes from Christ alone.
That being said, at all of those times, in all those days of over-thinking my face, in all those hours of lamenting about what I lack, I went spiritually blind. I can’t obsess over my physical flaws without losing all sense of my faith, of my purpose as a Christ-follower.
The truth is that some of us were born with more physical beauty than others. I doubt you’ve read that on any blogs lately. But, it’s a hard truth of being human. And, the Bible tells us that even if we are gifted with physical beauty, it simply doesn’t last. So, if I cradle every negative thing that has ever been said about my appearance, if I cling to every criticism of my physical body, if I turn them over and over in my hands until they are worn smooth while I obsess over them, then I have turned my entire life into an exercise in futility. I have stunted my own faith because I can’t get past the physical in order to really delve into and grow the spiritual. I don’t have to believe with all my heart that I am physically beautiful. God doesn’t call any of us to do that. But, I do have to let go of my obsession with my face and my body so that I can focus on what is truly the most beautiful of all my features: my rescued, redeemed soul, crafted by God, made rare and precious by Jesus Christ, hailed as lovely by all who get the chance to see the Holy Spirit work there.
The truth is that this world doesn’t understand what real beauty is. It has nothing to do with shape, size, or numbers. We don’t have to love our shape, size, or numbers. But, we do have to realize that physical beauty is much more insignificant than we tend to believe. And, so are all those painful criticisms that we like to keep as pets. Let’s let go of our obsession with our faces and bodies, and let’s dive into an fresh, beautiful love for the One who made us, the One who loves us, the One who sees our real worth.