I help run a youth club for nine to 12-year-old girls. Last night two of the girls were discussing people’s appearances and then, somewhat randomly, one of my girls started talking about how ugly she is and how she needed to wear make‑up to look pretty. The other girl similarly expressed her unhappiness with her appearance. She said she gets sad because she doesn’t look like ‘girls in magazines’. It was an almost surreal conversation. This is the kind of stuff people hold up as stereotypes of female thought, not actually what young women say and feel. But these were their words.
I love my youth group girls and it upsets and angers me that they live in a world in which they are told (explicitly or otherwise) that how they look isn’t good enough. I don’t think we should minimise the psychological impact that feeling ugly or undesirable has on a person. They made me think back to the self-esteem struggles I had as a child and in fact, still do experience. A lot of my problems were about being a minority in a predominantly white neighbourhood. The thing is I’m reasonably confident that even if I’d been born white I would have found something else to feel ‘othered’ by. In my mind this is inherently due to the fact that we live in a culture that doesn’t value who we are. We believe the lies that say that we’re ugly, useless, awful people and these lies are sometimes confusingly compounded by the Church’s message of the sin and iniquity of humanity.
It’s important that we don’t get these messages confused. Yes, without Jesus we are sinners, for all intents and purposes dead in our transgressions, but even before Jesus died on the cross for whoever might want salvation, God wanted us. He pursued us. We are precious and valuable because we were created and are loved by the maker of the universe. Yes, we mess up but God loves us the same, we are just as beautiful and valuable to Him. He decided that we were worth dying for.
Ultimately, the use of make-up is symptomatic of our obsession with ourselves and our own beauty. In this world physical beauty is highly exalted. We are transfixed by celebrities who seem, to us lay folk, impossibly and unattainably beautiful. Apparently, we’re even more likely to vote for political candidates we consider attractive. How much money do we spend honing our appearances? How much time and effort could be better spent elsewhere? How much of our lives is wasted worrying about how we look?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:26)
Jesus, the perfect man and son of God, the only human whom it is reasonable to worship has this said about him in:
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
I’ve been reading Proverbs recently and it has a lot to say about women – particularly wives. The ‘wife of noble character’ mentioned in the end Proverbs 31 is many things: industrious, generous and compassionate but her physical appearance isn’t mentioned once. Not to say that being attractive is a sin but maybe it isn’t the be all and end all. We all know this. Why don’t we live this out in our actions, our words and how we present ourselves?
Recently, I’ve been talking a lot (as I am wont to do) with my female friends about their choice to wear make-up. I choose not to wear make-up, not because I love the way I look but because I decided a while ago to at least try to love myself. As I am. With as few alterations as possible. There are many reasons my friends choose to wear make-up but I’ve yet to find a reason that convinces me that make-up is more a force for good than for evil. I’ve decided that if I wear make-up, it doesn’t matter what my reasons are – by wearing it I would still be contributing to a culture that tells my girls that they are not good enough and that they need to cover up or enhance themselves in order to be considered
(image via sxc.hu)