Empowered or Exploited?

Sometimes unsolicited images or videos pop up on my Instagram account as “Recommended for You”. Because I follow accounts that consider beauty, what is often recommended are pictures/videos of what culture perceives as beautiful. Today I clicked on the recommended video of a young woman in a very small black bikini and silver strappy heels. She walked down what looked like a hotel conference room and stopped in front of a table with a conservatively dressed woman and an older man in a suit and tie. She stopped in front of the table, smiled and photographers took a few pictures. Then she squatted with her legs apart in nothing but her small black bikini. She stood back up and was congratulated. Then, the girl in the small black bikini was embraced by the fully clothed older man in the suit while applause happened all around. There were tears and joyful disbelief in her expression. I think the video was actually some sort of audition, maybe for a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

So this is our normal. This is what girls apparently now aspire to become. She was overjoyed with tears because she can walk half naked down a runway and spread her legs open and be given applause. This is not an adult only website but instead identified as something beautiful on my Instagram feed. The clip had thousands of views and likes. It is posted for anyone looking at “beauty” or “fashion”. Somehow willing self-exploitation has (falsely) become a means of empowerment and recognition and this clip is but a mere taste of the extreme measures we take as a culture to glorify the sexuality of our young women

As I watched the video a second time I noticed everyone else in the room had on a lot of clothes. Like maybe it was cold in the conference room. She paraded down the length of the room to be approved of by a man with white hair, an elder of sorts. This man seemed to be the one with authority. He thought so much of her he stood up and hugged her close to his body. Others in the room applauded with approval. Honestly, she looked ecstatic (I call it deceived) at the whole experience.

I could not help but think about Queen Vashti in the book of Esther. Her husband beckoned her to dance in front of his friends at a party that had been going on for days. The Bible says she was beautiful. Her husband had much to gain by permitting other men to ogle her with their eyes. She refused. She refused to allow her physical beauty to be exploited for the pleasure of those around her. More importantly she refused to use her beauty for her own power and standing in the kingdom. She knew that neither her value nor her beauty should be determined by her willingness to flaunt it. Her refusal cost her something. It cost her marriage, her prestige, her power and her position in the Kingdom. But she would not allow herself to be paraded. She refused for her beauty to be defined by the affirmation of others, particularly, men she did not know.

The deception of the day includes this idea that flaunting physical beauty is somehow empowering and freeing. This idea is everywhere we look. We see the narrative so much that it has almost become true. Sex sells and flaunting one’s physical beauty gives recognition and power. And now it is becoming what our ten year olds aspire to be and to do with their lives. As soon as a young girl gets an Instagram account she is quick to post a selfie of herself in a bikini. Many mothers post pictures of their daughters in bikinis and share them publicly. When did it become good and true to reveal our bodies or our daughter’s bodies as a means of affirmation?

The question we need to ask is whether or not this is a good and true use of physical beauty. Is self degradation actually a form of empowerment? Our culture and our faith see the function of beauty differently. In the 4th chapter of Philippians, Paul is finishing up his letter to the church at Philippi. He exhorts the men and women there to let their mind dwell on the following things: whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is RIGHT, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is of GOOD REPUTE, whatever is EXCELLENT or WORTHY OF PRAISE. Is there and should there be a filter by which we decide what is actually lovely and true? Is there a standard of what is actually worthy of praise? As mothers and mentors do we know what those things are? If so, are we modeling them for our daughters? Are we intentionally training our minds and their minds to ponder what is true and pure and beautiful?

Scripture teaches that beauty is a real, valuable, attribute that moves us and transforms us. Women’s bodies and appearance are described as beautiful in scripture (Sg.4:7, Gn 12:11), as is a reflective spirit (1Peter 2:4), the feet of those who bring good news (Rom. 10:15), serving Christ (Mt.26:10), and ultimately God Himself (Ps.27:4). Beauty functions in its most true form when it is sacrificially loving others better than ourselves. This is beautiful. If we live this kind of beauty in front of our daughters, when they see a women with almost no clothes on in a sexual pose for attention, they will not put a hashtag with the word beautiful next to it. They will not click like and they will not share it. They will see it for the deception and exploitation it is. My dear sisters, whatever is lovely, whatever is pure, whatever is honorable, demonstrate these things for the young women in your lives.

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