A Preoccupation with Beauty

In my last post I examined one of the reasons more and more women may be evacuating their marriages: the need to be independent from men. In this post I want to examine a second reason women may be leaving their marriages: a preoccupation with beauty.

Women in our culture are OBSESSED with beauty. Practically flawless models are airbrushed in magazines, and women spend millions of dollars each year on products ranging from wrinkle cream to spankx. Beauty is a highly valued commodity, and the Christian world is no exception. If you ever walk through the women’s section at a Christian bookstore you will see title after title dealing with beauty. We are just as obsessed with beauty as the culture around us. We may veil our obsession with language about “true beauty” but the fact of the matter is, we can’t get enough of it. We desperately want to feel beautiful.

Now let me be clear: beauty is not a bad thing. God created beauty. He defines beauty. He gave us beautiful people and beautiful things. However, we too often flirt with the line between good and ultimate good. C.S. Lewis described this distinction as follows:

“Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made…You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”

In other words, there are many partial goods, but there is only one total good: Christ. However, many Christian woman draw dangerously close to treating beauty as a total good, not a partial one. They do this by placing an inordinate emphasis on beauty, as if the Christian life is ultimately about responding to this desire of your heart. As the teaching goes, God created women to be beautiful, so we will always have a desire to be beautiful, a desire that is constantly attacked and manipulated by the Enemy. The only One who can make us feel truly, irrevocably beautiful, is God.

And all of this is true. But it’s only a small part of the picture. First and foremost, it’s not even about us. It’s about God. And second, it’s not about feeling beautiful, but being in right relationship with God. Yet it is easy for these truths to get lost when we only want to read and hear about beauty, beauty, BEAUTY! Pretty soon, Christianity is just another type of makeover.

So what does all of this have to do with marriage? Between a culture that urges us to be outwardly beautiful and a religion that tells us to be inwardly beautiful, it is easy to make beauty into an idol. And when we do, we can face great disillusionment when marriage gets ugly. While marriage can certainly have its moments of romance and bliss, it’s also hard work. You don’t always look your best, and neither does your husband. He burps and farts. He doesn’t hang up the wet towels and they sour. He doesn’t use coasters. He eats things way past their due date. Then come the kids. You lose control of your body and it’s all you can do to get through the day, let alone take care of your skin, hair and nails. And whose that crazy lady screaming at your kids to quit running around the house? Oh wait, it’s you.

What happened to that beautiful life that the world says you should have and Christianity promises to give? Where did it go? How did it escape you? If you signed up for beauty and instead got struggle and strife, it’s easy to feel short-changed. It’s easy to yearn for the days when you had time for yourself. It’s easy to miss the times when you got dressed up for a night on the town with your girlfriends. Back then you just wanted to get married, but now that freedom seems glamorous. Why didn’t you appreciate it when you had it?

While not all women may struggle with these thoughts, I suspect that many do. And when we struggle with these doubts, we are sabotaged all the more by an anemic theology that emphasizes beauty but says little about the ugliness of suffering. Yes, God heals us and restores us, pursues us and ravishes us. But the call to follow Christ is also a call to suffer. It is a call to take up your cross and follow Him. Suffering is not a possibility but a guarantee, and this aspect of discipleship is generally glossed over when it coms to conversations about beauty.

The Christian life is not all about beauty. Beauty is good, but feeling beautiful is not God’s ultimate goal for your life. His ultimate goal for you is holiness, and that may come as a result of very ugly circumstances. We must therefore be wary of making beauty, a partial good, into a total good. If you are motivated by the pursuit of the beautiful life, then you will abandon whatever hinders your pursuit, whether it be your faith, or your marriage. So be sure that beauty has been properly prioritized. Beauty is good, but the total good, the first thing, is Christ. Christ, not beauty, must drive women’s discipleship.