When it comes to confidence in my appearance, I’m not exactly oozing over with boldness. Or even quiet contentment. Lately I’ve taken a lot of hits in the looks department. The most obvious is the result of being 7-weeks postpartum. I have 25 pounds to lose: 24 of which decided to ungracefully land in my hips like two little monkeys clutching on to each leg. The nature of the “fourth trimester” is that one sleeps and showers less than usual—two practices that provide great contribution to the act of feeling good about oneself. You see the compounding issues here: a larger, greasier, and sleepier (bags under the eyes included) version of myself with a side of hormones has resulted in feeling less than confident.
Furthermore, I’m still doing time for my decision last year to bleach my hair… twice… after already dying it (insert a shamed-face emoji here). I now have healthy, shiny hair from my scalp to my cheekbones, where my locks become suddenly crunchy and decidedly worthless. I’ve been rocking the ponytail for a long, long time now. There’s also the issue of my skin. I’m one of those people that attracts mosquitos. You know the type: you get one bite, she gets ten. That’s me. I’ve heard many theories on why this phenomenon exists (diet, natural scent, softness of skin, etc.), but here is what I know for sure: at any given time of day when I go outside, I get covered with mosquito bites. Between the fresh bites and new scars from scratching, my legs and feet look like I have a disease. Strangers comment on it.
So here we are. I’m not even thirty yet, but I have found myself in a season where my own skin is kind of chafing (metaphorically speaking). I know what you’re going to say whether you feel obliged to or not: “No, no! You look great! You’re not that big! I didn’t even notice your hair!” Or something like that. And I appreciate it, I really do.
But lately I’ve wondered why do I have to be pretty? Why do any of us? I have always been told that my value is not in my appearance, as I’m sure you have too. If we believe this, then aren’t we exacerbating the problem when I tell you I don’t feel pretty and you assure me that I am? Aren’t we just continuing to hold pretty up on this platform that it doesn’t belong on? I suppose this is where the rubber meets the road for me, where my appearance is not strong enough to hold the weight of my emotional needs.
I have been imagining a time where I can look in the mirror and take myself in honestly without feeling compelled to push out some duck lips or turn my toes in to produce a thigh gap. What if I could look at myself and see what I actually look like and feel content: to see my hair and newly aging skin and dimpled thighs and just feel ok with it because my money’s on a different horse?
Is it possible to feel so utterly loved by God that I don’t need to have a rockin body?
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
I think we all know that inner beauty is a requisite for humanity, but to go so far as to say that your beauty shouldn’t come from accessorizing your outside is radical. And yet if I believe the Bible is true, and I do, then this should come as an enormous relief for me rather than the seemingly impossible feat of putting down the way-too-heavy burden of looking great all the time to everyone. But it is the latter lens through which I see that verse most of the time. I think I so deeply want to be outwardly beautiful that when I read this verse I feel daunted by the task of changing my desires (how do you do that again?) rather than thrilled as I should be.
The way most Christian women I’ve talked to juggle this is to say that it is ok to wear makeup and dress up as long as you’re looking good on the inside too. And I get it. The verse doesn’t explicitly say that you should not adorn yourself outwardly at all. But still, it feels like a copout to me. To just say, “don’t worry, you can have both” feels like a lie after reading that verse.
1 Timothy 4:8 says, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
The Bible literally says that training ourselves for godliness is “of value in every way,” as compared to bodily training, which is only “of some value.” So as long as I’m throwing down hours in the gym and not so much as batting an eyelash at my Bible, it’s safe to say I haven’t mastered the balance of outward adornment vs beautiful spirit.
So if I leave it there, I can successfully transfer my shame from being on how unattractive I perceive myself on the outside to how unattractive I perceive myself on the inside. If leave it there, I am still motivated by shame to try to be the person I want to be. I’m just as screwed because I am imperfect and crooked on the inside too: I yell at my kids; I’m ungrateful; I am angered so easily these days; the list goes on. That passage from 1 Timothy 4 goes on to say in verse 10, “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
The hope set on Jesus is this: we are messed up people. Jesus lived a perfect life and died (the only truly innocent man) to pay for our wrongs. Then he came back from being dead, having conquered death itself. The promise for those who believe isn’t just heaven, it’s sanctification, or being changed and made more and more like God in life. This means that I have confidence that God loves me right now, that he has paid for my sin, and that he is changing me right now—making my inner self more beautiful while my outer self ages. I don’t need to be pretty. Because God is beautiful and making me beautiful, I don’t need duck lips. THIS IS HUGE! I have been making duck lips in the mirror for years! Since before they were publicly called duck lips! YEARS.
In our home, my husband has created a standard for how we use the word “beautiful.” He has explained to our two daughters many times, “beauty is only on the inside.” If they find something good-looking, the word of choice is usually “pretty” (although having a BA in English, I’m a big fan of synonyms). This was a most obnoxious habit to try to change in myself at first, but in light of this greasy/chubby/itchy season, I love that there is a vocabulary in our house that backs what I’m experiencing: that you don’t have to be pretty to be beautiful.
In a year I hope to have chopped off the last of my fried hair and be back to my healthy weight. I will probably wear jewelry and makeup sometimes. I have every intention of showering on the regular. I’m going to buy stock in bug spray too. But I want so much more than to be pretty.
If you want this too, we have to help each other. I have to stop letting my compliments to my friends’ shoes outcompete my encouragements to their heart. I have to remember to praise my children when they are generous, faithful, kind, and patient, not just when I like the outfit they put together. I have to put in time not just at the gym but in prayer. Valuing the inner self in myself and others results in so much more than just self-confidence. It battles the epidemic of human objectification at the front lines of my heart. You want to fight against human trafficking or pornography addictions? Let’s teach each other to see people as humans instead of that hottie in your chem class or your friend with an adorable pair of jeans or that brat with legs you would kill for.
The biggest factor, though, is spending time with God. Feeling daunted, I asked earlier how do we change our desires. The answer is that we can’t. But we can obey and we can act and by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we will change. So to be terribly practical, here’s what I intend to do: to spend more time praying, to ask God to help me value what He values every single time I feel myself yearning to look like a Victoria’s Secret model, to watch what I say about other people (am I treating them like the person they are on the inside or the body and clothes they are on the outside), to intentionally find ways to encourage my children to do what is good not just look good, to shut down the negative, shame-driven self-talk, to spend more time worshiping God through music (ie valuing what is most valuable), and to confess daily when I find myself valuing what is shallow.
Wanting to be pretty is one of the oldest desires I can remember having. It is more than intimidating to imagine this changing, but because it has taken such a throne in my heart, I think it is a terribly worthy cause. I have a lot of room for growth here and I can’t wait to see what happens.