Beauty, Part II ~ Beauty and Identity

Have you had the experience of your mood being affected by looking in the mirror and seeing something that you really dislike? I am talking about being so upset by something you see in your appearance that you actually feel distressed or angry even, and it has the power to change your mood and the way you feel about yourself. For some, that might sound extreme or an over-reaction, for others, it is an all too familiar experience.

Maybe you are OK with the way you look. Maybe you keep up with a strict gym or jogging schedule, and a particular way of eating that you do not deviate from. But what happens if something were to break your routine? Maybe a holiday with your family where there are no exercise facilities or hope of calorie control, maybe an injury, or perhaps even pregnancy?

There are other manifestations of this, but what is being highlighted here is basing our identity – who we are, and how we feel about ourselves – on the way we look. The trap of only feeling acceptable when we have met a certain outward standard.

For those of us who have been ensnared in this trap, and for those of us who are currently living it, we know exactly how miserable it is. So let’s bring to light why it is a problem.

Yesterday, I referred to the verse in Ecclesiastes which talks about “labouring after the wind” Ecclesiastes 5:16. It’s a really interesting term. It seems to refer to working and striving towards something that is, by its very nature, always out of reach. If something is unattainable, why would we spend our energy, creativity and focus on it? We wouldn’t!

So why then do we strive after an impossible ideal of physical beauty? And it is impossible for the majority of us. I came across one statistic that said of the three billion women in the world, only eight are supermodels! Aside from the role that genetics plays, the majority of us do not have the time or the resources to afford the personal trainers, the stylists, the time at the gym, the time at the salon, and sometimes even the cosmetic “enhancements” that go into achieving our cultural ideal of beauty.

And does it even deliver anyway? Does physical beauty give us a sense of significance and acceptance as a person? We have our answer from God Himself, who says that it doesn’t. Proverbs 31:30 says that “charm is deceitful,” and ‘charm’ in this context in the Hebrew means ‘bodily form.’ * Our society pressures us to aspire to ‘bodily form,’ but God tells here, that it is an illusion and it cheats us. It is hollow.

We may impress others, we may even turn a few heads, but physical beauty in itself does not translate into a deep sense of being OK, of being loved, of being worthwhile. How do we experience those things? This is some of the good stuff we have in store up ahead on the series.

One last problem of linking identity with beauty is that it is very shaky ground – physical beauty wanes. God tells us that “beauty is fleeting” Proverbs 31:30 and that “all flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades” Isaiah 40:6-7.

Think of the wonderful seasons of life and how each leaves its mark on us as women. The blemish marks of adolescence perhaps, the stretch marks from our growing babies, not to mention the way things droop that are never to return! The greying hair of middle years, the slowing metabolism and the lines. Maybe even the scars of illness or accidents along the way.

This is not to make us feel doomed or depressed, it is just that God tells us these changes are an inevitable part of life. To base our identity on something so transitory then, is setting ourselves up for disappointment and dissatisfaction.

With God there are answers. There is hope, and there is joy. Very soon we are going to hear more of what He has to say to us about all of this through His Word. Before we do though, there is something else for us to consider, which is the topic for tomorrow … The Lengths We Go To. As always, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.

* Reference: Mahaney, Carolyn, in Biblical Womanhood In The Home (Crossway, 2002) 37

© Copyright 2007 Birgit Whelan

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~ by Birgit on August 11, 2007.

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