Monday, June 3, 2013

Why We Are Preoccupied with Physical Beauty {Imperishable Series}

We look in the mirror and we see that flaw. That blemish. We see every feature we consider unattractive. We compare ourselves to the world’s current idea of beauty and without fail we come up short.

The world leaves no room for the teen with acne, left-over pregnancy weight or hair that grows coarse and gray. From the young girl to the old woman, today’s women face intense pressure to conform to a perfect physical ideal. Many women will take drastic measures, as millions submit to the knife each year, in order to conform to the world’s definition of beauty.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons website there were 14.6 million cosmetic surgeries performed in 2012 and the number has been steadily climbing each year. But there is nothing new under the sun. A quick Google search with keywords “historic beauty treatments” turned up evidence that for centuries women have mauled and manipulated just about every body part—eyes, nose, lips, waists, feet, necks—anything that didn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold of their society.

Consider: In the upper class of China in the 18th and 19th centuries, young women had their feet bound, crippling them for life with three or four inch feet. This was prized as a mark of beauty.

In central Africa women wrapped the heads of their female infants with giraffe skin to ensure an elongated, cone-shaped skull, taken to be a badge of beauty.

Or how about the women of Burma in the early 20th century, the Padaung women? They desired greatly elongated, stretched-out necks. They fitted their little girls with heavy rings around their necks. They began with five and by adulthood, were wearing as many as twenty-four, piled on top of eachother. The weight of the rings crushed their collarbones and broke their ribs and vertebra. They were left with no choice but to wear them round-the-clock because without them their necks could not withstand the weight of their heads.

I discovered histories of women who put leeches on their faces to achieve the beautiful pale complexion they desired, or others who swallowed tapeworms in order to lose weight. I read of Victorian women whose maids tight-laced them into corsets so restricting, they cut off their oxygen and displaced internal organs, for want of an eighteen-inch waist. Or how about the flappers of the 1920’s, who folded their breasts into bizarre constricting devices in order to get a boyish appearance to their torsos?

Yes, all of this seems quite primitive, I know. But I fear we have not really come so far in our quest for beauty.

Billions are spent on cosmetic surgeries each year. Breast implants are on the rise as high school graduation gifts and one study I read estimated that over a half-billion dollars were spent last year on shape enhancing garments.

The temptation for women to be preoccupied with their appearance has always existed, and due to digital media, contemporary women are more driven in their pursuit for beauty than ever. No longer do we face the ten other beauties in our village, but we face the fashion industry with its images of models that have been digitally altered, creating an ideal of beauty that is so narrow, most women feel unattractive by comparison.

But why? Why are we not satisfied with normal? Why are we as women so obsessed with beauty? Why would we go to such extremes to be considered beautiful?

The answer is simple: Our hearts are wicked and sinful, and crave the recognition of fallen man.

 To varying degrees each one of us have fallen for the lie that beauty will bring us satisfaction and popularity.

The lies go something like this:

You will be desired by men and popular among the women.
You will be important and noteworthy.
You will be truly happy, confident and secure.

These are all lies we want to believe because our sinful hearts lust for success and recognition and popularity. But physical beauty does not ensure happiness and fulfillment.

Consider some of the most beautiful women who have ever lived, movie stars and others. Many have lived horrible, grief-stricken lives and many have died tragic deaths. Physical beauty does not deliver and it is therefore not to be idolized in the heart of the Christian woman.

The beguiling voices of our culture put forth a false standard and a false message of beauty for us, but ultimately it is the wickedness in our own hearts that motivates us to listen. We need to ask ourselves if we have been captivated by the voices of the world, in regards to beauty and physical appearances. We need God's perspective on beauty and we need to pass this component of Biblical womanhood on to our daughters as well.

To be continued…


  1. So again I ask, "Why do you bleach your hair?" Do you pray about this? Wearing make up enhances God given beauty, bleaching hair changes God given beauty. What message does this send to our dark haired daughters?

  2. This was a very good reminder, not to mention an encouragement to a pregnant woman who often feels discouraged by the "shape of mommyhood".

    If I complain too much about those annoying 10lbs or whatever, my husband will periodically ask me who I'm trying to look attractive for, because he is happy with me the way I am. That always leaves me fumbling for a response. If I say I want to feel attractive for me because it makes me feel better about myself, he looks at me funny. He doesn't find the fashion industry's standard of beauty and required rail-thinness appealing and I've heard the same thing from other men. So it boggles his mind if I attempt to attain such a worthless standard just to satisfy my pride. It's very humbling to have to admit that I want to be noticed, when I have a husband who is satisfied with me just as I am.

    So this post was a timely reminder to recheck my priorities. I guess as long as I am healthy, my husband is happy, and I am God-honoring...the rest really doesn't matter. Beside, there isn't much better exercise than chasing a couple toddlers around. ;)

  3. Bambi,

    You did a great job laying it all out...very well written.

    What I would give to not have this sin in my heart! And to prevent my daughters from having the interal struggle as well.

    I pray God will continue to show us what real beauty is....that we could look in the mirror and see ourselves the way He does!


  4. Anonymous,

    I did not answer your last comment because it had a rude tone and because I intend to answer it in a blogpost, which is the length the answer requires. Also because I rarely spend my precious minutes answering anonymous comments. If you want a response from me you will have to wait until your comment is highlighted in its own post.


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