At the young age of fifteen I eagerly traveled to Miami for my first fashion photo shoot. I had always loved style, fashion, and color and enjoyed the artistry of a picture of a beautiful person in a beautiful location. When I arrived on set I was ushered into a trailer situated on the beach. Some stylists slapped a bathing suit on me and casually pulled back the leg holes revealing my backside. They sprayed something to make the suit stick and placed it back in position. The stylists then added padding where they felt necessary and pinned the suit in various places. Leaving the trailer I stepped onto the beach and was surrounded by cameras and reflectors and photographers who poked and prodded a bit to make sure the suit was to their liking. My contract explicitly said no bathing suits, yet here I was feeling like a prop to be handled.
After the shoot, I went to lunch with another model. She ordered black toast with a slice of tomato and black coffee. The coffee served as her diuretic, she explained. She was older than me and definitely more experienced in the fashion world. Surprisingly, the entire conversation convinced me she did not see herself as attractive. I found myself staring at a young woman with jet-black hair, huge dark brown eyes, and striking cheekbones and no confidence in her appearance.
I walked back to my hotel room with my head spinning. This was not exactly how I envisioned my first magazine shoot. We were hired because we were pretty, right? This should make us feel good about ourselves. Yet, on that day, instead of celebrating my “success”, my definition of beauty and identity were challenged. Many experiences would follow similar to the one my first day in Miami. Soon after the shoot my agent asked me to walk for 45 minutes a day to slim down my hips. I was 5’9” and 115 pounds but not quite perfect. Friends and fellow models began having surgery to enlarge parts of their body or diminish other parts. Rather than beauty being captivating and inspiring, it seemed contrived, exhausting and a means of enslavement. In many ways, beauty seemed more like a haunting, demanding beast.
Years later I taught middle and high school and witnessed how self-image and appearance drove my female students. A seventh grade girl in one of my classes would bring lettuce every day for lunch. This was worrisome and one day I asked her to remain after school. She began to cry and explained her mother was worried about her weight and would give her nothing else. We began to eat lunch together and I would make sure I packed plenty to share. We talked about our bodies but also discussed our hopes and our desires. I desperately wanted her to see beauty as much more than being skinny or gaining of approval and recognition.
If you Google the word “beauty” it is defined as the “quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind.” This definition proclaims freedom, joy and hope. It brings to mind lavish color and shape, but also strength and even meaning. So how is it that something that can bring such deep satisfaction can also be so destructive and enslaving to a woman? All of these experiences led me to consider how we should understand physical beauty and our bodies.
Drawing on faith, I began to search the Scriptures and over time found freedom to enjoy true redeeming beauty and see it as the gift that it can be.
There are stories of several women we can look to in scripture for understanding. As we reflect upon their situations our perception of beauty will be transformed to bring about deep satisfaction and enjoyment rather than discontentment.
From the beginning we see that our bodies are very good. (Gen 1:31) The Bible teaches our physical bodies were hand crafted by God. Further, we were created in His own image. This significant and weighty reality defines beauty in a profound way. From the beginning our ability to reflect the Creator is what made us beautiful. Every single woman is beautiful by this definition. Our beauty is secure in our ability to reflect the beauty and power of God. Oh how we have settled for such a lower ideal!
When sin entered the world, all aspects of creation, including beauty would be distorted to glorify the creation rather than the Creator. The powerful stories in Scripture demonstrate the result of sin in our relationship with God and with others. We find tension, struggle, and blessing that physical beauty brings within ourselves and within relationships. In Genesis, Abram chose dishonesty because he fears that his wife’s beauty will cause him harm. In the Book of Esther, Queen Vashti was banished from the Kingdom because she refuses to allow her beauty to be exploited. Subsequently Esther is chosen as the new queen in part due to her physical beauty. In the Songs of Solomon, a man delights in the physical beauty of his wife and in the Book of Proverbs a young man’s parents warn him of women that use their physical beauty to seduce them leading to their destruction. In the final chapter of Proverbs, beauty is described as vain yet in other passages it is celebrated.
These stories reveal to us that beauty is a pleasurable reality that God created for our good and his glory. God created us as noticeable, desirable creatures and this can be celebrated. These stories also reveal the beast that beauty can reveal: self-glorification, vanity, comparing ourselves to others, exploitation of the body, using the body and beauty for selfish gain, and finding our identity in our looks. We see this played out in the role and function beauty plays in our culture. It is used to sell all kinds of things to men: cars, food, alcohol, shoes, video games, movies, vacations, restaurants, and the list goes on. Furthermore, it is used to sell an ideal, happiness, and contentment to women. There are entire marketing plans developed to create a sense of discontentment with our bodies and our faces so that we will find our satisfaction and identity in looking just a little better…purchasing more lipstick, another work out video, or a pair of slimming pants. Who knew that the girl we see in the magazine was struggling with her image? Regardless of who we are or what we look like, if we are putting our hope in our image rather than our Creator, beauty will become a beast in our lives.
As we spend time reflecting on what is true, we will see ourselves and others as He sees us. The beauty of His creation including our bodies will cease to be a beast and instead be a means of enjoyment and deep satisfaction. My hope is that Redeeming Beauty will provide a lens for women to embrace and restore a right view of beauty in a broken world. Let me guide you to the tools and resources needed to live faithfully and enjoy beauty in a world that so often distorts its meaning and purpose. Go with grace and beauty!