The other day I was looking for a book at a Christian bookstore, and whenever I go I like to swing by the “Women’s Interest” section just to see what women are writing about these days. On this most recent visit, I noticed how many of the books dealt with the topic of beauty. A surprisingly large percentage of the books addressed the issue from varying perspectives: what is true beauty, what does it mean to be beautiful in the Lord’s eyes, how to fight for your beauty, etc.
Another large percentage dealt with what I call “survival issues”–healing, managing a busy schedule, overcoming hard times, bad marriages, difficult kids, etc. Between self-help and beauty, I’d say those topics constituted about 80-90% of the women’s section.
This ratio made quite an impression on me. It also led me to reflect on whether this trend is spiritually healthy, given that it so thoroughly dominates the teaching that is out there. I’ve addressed the self-help phenomenon in previous posts, explaining why an over-emphasis on self-help can actually be spiritually detrimental–the solution is self-forgetfulness in God, not a greater focus on self–but what about beauty? For all the Scriptural interpretations that encourage women to embrace their God-given beauty, is it healthy to be SO focused on it?
To be fair, there is clearly an attack on women’s beauty in our culture. Even after writing a post about airbrushing last week, I still found myself standing in line at Barnes and Noble yesterday, staring at a girl on the cover of Shape Magazine thinking to myself, “She’s airbrushed, remember? She’s airbrushed, she’s airbrushed, she’s airbrushed!” because my body did NOT look like hers. It’s tough out there, and I sincerely believe Satan has a stronghold in this regard. God created women to uniquely reflect his divine beauty, and Satan’s had a field day attacking that attribute. There have been a lot of casualties.
Because of this spiritual war, women have sounded the battle cry. We’ve recognized the attacks, rallied the troops, and fought for our divine image. This advance is definitely a good thing. In a culture where women starve themselves, exercise themselves to death, and hook up with random guys all because they want to feel beautiful, we would be irresponsible not to address this issue. There is clearly a deep need within every woman to feel beautiful, and we ought to take that need seriously.
However, Satan is the great Deceiver. Even in our good intentions, he can creep in and pervert them. Knowing this, I have to ask if, in our desire to address the issue of beauty, Satan has blinded us to a bigger issue. When we focus largely on restoring women to a godly definition of beauty, are we feeding into a culture that ranks beauty, not godliness, as its most valuable currency? I hardly doubt that most of the books in Christian bookstores would argue that beauty is more important than godliness (they likely teach a definition of beauty that equates the two) but is it possible that we’ve allowed our culture to define the terms of the battle, instead of God? We are stopping up holes in a leaky dam, instead of building a dam that will never succumb to leaks in the first place.
Having said that, the real problem is not that “true beauty” is under attack. The problem is that we are not a generation of women who are immersed in God’s Word and captivated by His glory. As I mentioned above, the solution to low self-esteem is not self-help–it’s self forgetfulness in God. We must be so profoundly in love with God and His Son that our own need to be esteemed fades in comparison. My personal beauty only has significance inasmuch as I reflect the beauty of God.
Having said that, I don’t think we need to do away with books about beauty. It’s important to equip women with the tools and knowledge to fight the onslaught of Satan’s lies. However, our primary weapon is not books about beauty. Our primary weapon is God’s Word. We need to cloak ourselves in the truth of Scripture in such a way that makes up impervious to any lie that Satan hurls at us. They’ll bounce off our hearts like bullets hitting Superman’s chest–completely ineffective.
I should also add that I think women like Beth Moore and Kay Arthur strike this balance remarkably well. These two women certainly address beauty and healing, but the bulk of their work focuses on studying the Bible. These women know the Bible, and they’re equipping women to do the same. I applaud them in their Gospel-centered focus, and I pray it is a taste of what’s to come for Women’s Ministry. I hope that one day when I swing by the “Women’s Interest” section I won’t merely see books about overcoming marital problems and rediscovering one’s inner beauty. I hope to see shelves filled with the teachings of godly women about the powerful sword that is God’s mighty, indestructible Word. That is the answer to our beauty problem.