Digital Beauty

In the last few weeks, I’ve tried to help several different female friends through some bumps in the road. One friend is a precious college-aged girl who is anorexic. Another is a young teen who is cutting herself, and yet another is a married friend who has discovered pornography on her husband’s computer.
Fifty years ago their foremothers in America were making some decisions. They decided it was demeaning to be “just wives and moms”” and, thus, in large numbers, they left the daily routine of cooking, cleaning, packing lunches and helping kids with homework, to be office workers, law partners, executives, doctors, nurses and workers in all levels of industry. They used words like liberation, emancipation, power career, and even self descriptive “feel-good” words like fulfillment, esteem and success a lot more.
And about that time, Hollywood, whether a cause or a reflection of this movement of American women from home to the workplace, iconified the Barbie doll look as the model for all American teen girls. She came along with specific measurements, flowing hair, straight teeth, olive skin and she was on commercials advertising everything from make-up to beer. She was always the center of attention in these ads and there was always fun music playing wherever she went and she was laughing and loving it all…and women all over America wanted to be her.
But not all American women would or could be exactly…her. Some women had inherited thighs that, no matter how many miles they ran each day, would always look like their mother’s…not like Barbie’s. This woman had her father’s Italian nose and that one had Aunt Jeanie’s propensity for large and awkward feet (not those teeny tiny little Barbie feet that never come down on their heels). And some of the dimensions were right, but just not in the right order–on some women. And there were women whose skin was more orange than olive and, even worse, had freckles. And everyone knew that a beauty mark was not that. And then personal trainers, cosmetologists, plastic surgery, tanning beds and cazoodles and oodles of beauty products that cost out the wazoo became part of the daily lives of American women.
And, by this time, there was no excuse to be anything BUT Barbie. And, sadly, with this excuse, there was no time to be anything BUT Barbie, either. There certainly was precious little time left to be mom.
But that was okay, too, because there were plenty of “experts” to go around too. Someone behind every microphone and every psychologist’s desk, it seems, was telling Mrs. Modern America, that it was okay–even healthy–for your kids to learn early to “make it” in the real world of “communities” of children rather than at home where a mom was nurturing, disciplining and, in short, being there for the children she brought into the “real world.” Worst of all, some of the Mrs. Moderns began to realize that there really might not be a way to “have it all” and, since the marriage had already pretty much crumbled by then,anyway, it was one of the first things to go.
And so the day care babies have grown up. Many have beat the odds, because that’s another thing psychologists will tell you…”Kids are resilient.” But sadly, many of them are not THAT resilient. Some of them, for all the self-esteem lessons, the psychologists’ doctrines of resilience, the tolerance training at school, and the “you- can- have- it- all” mentality did not end up with a very good self image, have not bounced back yet, and don’t think they have anywhere near gotten “it all.” They are becoming less and less tolerant and more and more angry at the expectations and at their own shortcomings and the absence of a family support system. They mutilate themselves in response to their feelings of worthlessness. To sum it up, they feel a bit left behind in our “no-child-left-behind” world that is anything but. They skip meals for months, but still don’t think they look thin enough. Perfection is always illusive and no amount of money can sustain superficial goodness or beauty forever.
If I sound a bit angry this morning as I write, it’s because I am. I am inundated with messages from girls who are the victims of this society. They cannot remember a time when being a keeper of the home was exalted as the high calling that our maker intended it to be. It’s way past time for mothers, especially those of us who claim allegiance to the Word, to stop the selfishness. It’s time to be what we claim to be. Calvary was all about sacrifice. It calls us from living profligately for the consumption of the lusts of the flesh and to the agape kind of love that bears all, believes all, hopes all and endures all. That’s the kind of sacrificial love that holds marriages together, chooses spiritual riches over material things, reserves time for the eternally important rather than the fleeting and urgent matters, and values good character more than athletic prowess, outward beauty, academic success or financial profit. I think we need to raise the bar for our girls. As you will notice in the video below, any girl can be billboard beautiful for a moment. It takes a lot more time and effort and time and love and time and teaching and time to make a girl beautiful with the kind of “pretty” that needs no digital enhancement…ever. What if you and I just decide that our homes are going to be blissfully independent of the cultural norms that call women to plastic perfection and determine to put real wholeness: goodness, virtue and the calling to care for others in the hearts of our children? If that’s the goal they get in their sights, they can be real achievers.
Please watch. Please also note that my inclusion of this film does not imply endorsement of everything the Dove Foundation may promote.

Finally, for today, the women in my congregation recently hosted a seminar to promote women of real achievement and the protection of our homes from the devil’s deceit. The program was entitled “This is War” and we have just a few t-shirts remaining from the day. Does anyone who attended (or who just wants to show support) still need a t-shirt? If you want one of these, please email me at byhcontest@gmail.org and let me know what you need. I will be sure you get the shirt, and upon receiving it, you can send a check. There is no profit for anyone involved. We’re just attempting to end up in the black. Thanks!
This price is cost plus shipping. The following shirts are available:

Large – $8.00
X-Large – $8.00
3XL – $12.00

She’s Just so Hard to “Be Around”…

I recently heard about a Christian who expressed how difficult it was for her to be around one of the other faithful people in her congregation. She said something about it being hard “just because of the way she is.”  I don’t really know what “way she is,” but as I reflected on this sentiment I thought about how difficult it must have been for Jesus to “be around”  people like me….I mean just because of the “way” I am.
God did not love us or open communication to heaven with us because we were fun to talk to. He did it when we were unlovable, hard to stomach, and unworthy…basically despicable. While we were yet sinners…God talked to us? God looked at us? God was willing to “stomach”us. No. He commended His love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). What’s ironic is that the only way I can do any of this for Him, in return, is when I do it for the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46)—the unlovable, the one I don’t really want to “be around,” the one who is unseemly in appearance or the one who is even my enemy (Romans 12:19-21).  So there we have the unpalatable truth. We were all unpalatable to God, till Jesus came to let us get inside of Him…to put Him on, so we could be fit for heaven. 
As a parent, I have to think of it this way to get the full import: God gave His “Caleb” in order to have a relationship with and save ____________ (the most despicable person I know). And God’s Son was Deity!  He was not a mere unworthy human, like my son. That makes me want to go and be kind to and teach, if I can, that person, who is hard to “be around.”  May the Christian who said this (and I’m sure it’s been me, at times), grow, as she studies this concept. May she grow to be humble and see that she is not “good enough” to disdain anyone who has put on Christ—the Christ who left a perfect heaven where he had been for eternity with the Father, to walk the dusty roads of Galillee with people who were “yet sinners.”
And remember… if you can’t stop a negative thought about a sister somewhere between your brain and your mouth, you may be one of those people it’s just hard to “be around.” 

Questions and Answers: Is it Okay to Want to Look Pretty?

Cindy,
We met recently and have talked a few times online. My husband is the preacher at the __________Church of Christ….anyway, I have been struggling with some things and wanted to get your input or see if you could direct me to some literature on the subject.
I grew up in a small town in south Alabama where beauty is #1. I’m talking tanning beds, fake nails, makeup, major hair-dos, beauty pageants, etc., etc. Now that I have moved away from that area, grown a lot spiritually, and hear my husband’s perspective on these things…..well, I don’t really know where the fine line is between what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to girls wanting to be pretty. I realize that tanning is bad for your health (don’t do that anymore), too much decor can be immodest, and that your inward beauty is of much more value to God. My questions come in now that my daughter is getting older and wants to use things like hair straighteners, lip gloss, jewelry (she wants to get her ears pierced), and the like. I am afraid I may be going too far in the other direction, but I really do not want her to get caught up in the same things I did when I was younger. I have recently come to realize that my lack of self confidence stems from the idea that since I was very young I was praised for physical beauty instead of spiritual beauty. Thus, that was all that I worked on and all that I became in my younger years.
However, it seems that there is something inside every girl that makes her like pretty things and want to be pretty. It is just a part of being feminine, right? So how do you find the right balance? My husband said he just could not relate to the “pretty thing” and that I should talk to another lady about all of this. I just want to do what is right and more than anything I want to lead my daughter in the right direction.
Thanks so much for helping so many of us young moms 🙂

Response:
Well, I think all of us agree that the inward spiritual beauty is the one that has the price that’s far above rubies (Prov. 31) and that the part of us that God looks on is the heart ( I Sam. 16:7). So our emphasis at home should be on the spiritual. I think we do have to work hard to remain in a state of nonconformity to the culture, since the media has turned our society on it’s nose in quest for the right “look.” I think, at the same time, there must be a balance between our determination to be spiritually focused and our natural and good instinct to look our best. Even the Holy Spirit speaks of distinguished looks or outward beauty several times in scripture. Joseph, Sarah, and Esther are some examples that come to mind. There are many references in a favorable light to outward beautification in the Song of Solomon. We don’t want to raise our girls to care nothing about the way they look. This is counterproductive to making a good first impression, which is sometimes, in turn, counterproductive to evangelism or the availability of other productive opportunities. Jesus also used the customary expectation of being dressed properly for a formal occasion in Matthew 22 in His construction of the Parable of The Wedding Garment. He would not have used such an analogy if it were wrong for us to be considerate of proper decorum for certain occasions. Thus, striving to look nice or pretty, is not sinful. The scriptures even show God calling for garments for his priests that were specifically for beauty:

And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty (Ex. 28:40)

Having said that, I believe our largest problem in raising girls today, is not putting in them the desire to look their best. I believe our culture has pretty much taken care of any deficiency on that end of the spectrum, albeit with worldly definitions about what “looking your best” might be. It’s the other end of the spectrum with which we generally have our parental struggles. It’s the desire to look beautiful at the expense or to the neglect of spiritual beauty that so often assaults the character of our girls in an ever more materialistic world. It’s the relegating “seeking the kingdom” to some spot below “seeking outward beauty” that gets girls (and many of their moms) today. It’s a whole lot easier to think of passages that tell us that outward beauty is nothing to even be compared with beauty of the spirit than it is to even come up with verses that put any emphasis whatsoever on physical attractiveness. Here are a few:

Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price I Peter 3:3, 4)

Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised (Prov. 31:30).

Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.
Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.
All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more (Ezekial 28:17-19).

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him.
But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. (I Sam. 16: 6,7)

I know the issues that surround the quest for the perfect body and the most fashionable look are complicated and dangerous. I have personally known too many girls with eating disorders, self mutilation tendencies, personality disorders, suicidal propensities and problems with promiscuity, all of which problems were strongly linked to childhood feelings of physical inadequacy. I want every girl to be able to grow up with a healthy “Christ-in-me” esteem. If our “selves” are truly operating in complete submission to Jesus, how can we help but love the “selves” into whom we are transformed (Romans 12:2)?

Here are a few precautions we took as parents with our daughter, Hannah, in our best attempt at relegating physical beauty to a position far down the list of priorities. But we were far from perfect as we strived to do this. These are just suggestions. They are certainly not biblical injunctions. We’d love to hear yours, too.

1. If you compliment the outward beauty of your daughter always include a true compliment about the heart even as you are speaking. Always verbalize the truth, that, although God made her beautiful on the outside, the “insides”—the part that she controls—is what’s vastly more important.

2. Go ahead and say the pithy statements like “Pretty is…is pretty does.” My mother and grandmother often said this and it is still impacting me.

3. Avoid beauty contests at all ages.

4. Never say to your daughter (or allow anyone else to say) “ You’re getting chubby’” or “My, you are gaining weight.” or anything of the sort.

5. When she first wants to get her ears pierced set an age you think is appropriate and stick with it. (We decided age 11, I think.)

6. When she is small, preschool and elementary, refuse to allow her to wear the Brittany Spears, Hannah Montana look, even though her little body is not developed enough to incite lust. Keep her “look” sweet and innocent, and child-like for as long as you can.

7. Allow her to choose what she wears (from the clothes you’ve put in her drawer and closet) part of the time, but you be in charge of Sundays. This rule saved a lot of Sunday morning stress at our house and kept Han looking like a little girl when we went to worship.

8. Just don’t go to the tanning bed. Come live with my cousin, who is doing some phenomenal suffering because of melanoma complications and you will think this one is a no-brainer.

9. Set an age early on when the first make-up can be worn (except for playing dress-up) and stick with it. (I think we were 13 on this one.) Then start out with the foundation and powder for the 13th birthday. Add lip color for 14. Then eye shadow for 15, etc…(This helps avoid the Tammy Faye look at 13, which is inevitable when they are given the works at age 13.)

10. Look for parents and daughters who are on the same page with you about preserving the innocence of kids and choose these girls to have over for sleepovers, etc… it is wise to choose younger girls for your daughter’s close associates, rather than older ones who are already into the full blown teen look.

11. Have a zero tolerance policy in your home about making fun of others because of the wrong brand of clothing or an unfashionable look. This should never be allowed. Get James 2 on your lap quickly for a lesson about what really counts.

12. Pray often in front of your girls that God will help “our family to always remember what things are really important, and if we let outward beauty outrun our desire to be godly, take our physical assets away, because they are so relatively unimportant.”

13. Never let immodest clothing get in the closet or the drawer.

14. Severely limit television in your house. It is a catalyst for materialism and premature loss of innocence. Be very judicious in allowing its use. (Apply the same concern about internet use.)

15. Don’t order teen magazines for your daughters, unless they are Biblically based (Kiao, for instance). Have you looked at Seventeen lately? It is the devil coming in the mailbox!

16. If you find your daughter morphing into the “worldly girl” in regard to her “look”, consider a conservative private school or home education if you are not already doing this. Be sure you understand, though, that the buck stops with parents. It’s your job to make the difference, at home, in her character.

17. Get the Pure on Purpose DVD series for your daughter at age eleven or 12. Watch with her and do the workbook together.

18. When she is old enough to be a wage earner (even at lemonade stands or baby-sitting), sit down as a family and help her make good and serious decisions about stewardship rather than being free to spend all of her earnings on clothes, frills and electronics.

19. Take her on a mission trip to a third world country.

20. Take time and time and more time with her as her mother. This is your best insurance against the insidious influences of worldliness in her appearance.