Vanity as a Virtue

In 2015 a book was published called, Selfish. It solely contains pictures (selfies) of Kim Kardashian. One commentator states, “She seems proud to show off the manufacturing of image.” “The point of “Selfish”, is Kim’s marveling at Kim.” Girls in New York waited in long lines for her to sign their copy. In her book, American Girls, author Nancy Jo Sales attended a “Selfish” signing and notes a teenage girl saying, “You’ve inspired me to be hot and famous.” Sales also heard a mother say, “You are a role model for my daughters.” When I read this mother praise Kardashian I had to stop and take a deep breathe. To what are we aspiring? To what are we encouraging our daughters? When did it become a praiseworthy endeavor for girls to look hot and sexy? In all of our cultural feminism self exploitation has ironically become something worthy of pursuit, something good. A virtue is defined as, “a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a principle.” It has become good for girls and young women (ages 9-14) to pursue attention based on hotness and sexiness and they have dozens of role models to choose from.

Statistics demonstrate the irreparable damage such a pursuit causes. Eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and isolation are a few of the social consequences of vanity becoming a virtue. Vanity is defined as “having excessive estimation of one’s self, abilities and looks that makes them have excessive belief in their own abilities.” In other words, vanity makes us think of ourselves more highly than we ought. It also causes us to think of ourselves more often than we ought. Vanity encourages girls to pursue what is temporary and false rather than what is good, true, and beautiful. We were not created to pursue fleeting falsehoods, we were created to participate in a story much much bigger than our own. A pursuit of vanity will never bring about contentment or flourishing. If we want young women to truly flourish we will direct them away from lies and empower them by the truth.

The description of the woman in Proverbs 31:30 includes, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Other accounts describe beauty as fleeting. Both words signify a temporary and meaningless endeavor. The woman described in Proverbs is investing in what will last, relationships. She has a faithful walk with God and a loving relationship with those in her care. Notice the passage does not say beauty is bad or evil. Physical beauty is a real, wonderful aspect of being a woman. What the passage does teach us is the futility of pursuing physical beauty as the primary means of identity, significance and influence. In the verses preceding, her children and husband praise her and at the end of the passage her works praise her. No doubt she is noticed and admired. Those that have been blessed by her life recognize the gift that she is. She models a life of service and sacrifice, creativity and care. The whole of who she is is beautiful. Vanity, as a heightened view of one’s self, pales in comparison.

The truth is we only have so much time in a day to focus on what we value. If we encourage young women to pursue identity from their appearance they will inevitably not focus on other things. In October of 2016 the Today Show discussed a survey called The Today/AOL Ideal to Real Body Image Survey. According to over 2000 women surveyed, women worry more regularly about their appearance than they do about their finances, families, health, or professional life. This is an eye opening statistic that reveals how misplaced our virtues have become. We live in a time and place where pursuing vanity is not only acceptable but good. There are Instagram accounts filled with hundreds if not thousands of selfies.This cycle causes us to think more of ourselves and rather then care for others it leads us to compare ourselves to others. This evokes continual discouragement, struggle with identity, and sense of worth. Our girls deserve something altogether different.

I want my daughters to flourish. I want them to live a life of beauty. I want them to recognize their blessings as opportunities to bless others. I do not want my daughter to aspire to publish a book of selfies. She was created for so much more beauty. I want her to marvel at God and aspire to a life of humility, faithfulness and beautiful virtue. The second chapter of Philippians says, “He(Jesus) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took the nature of a servant and humbled himself, even to death on a cross.” When we communicate the gospel to our girls, beauty will be shaped by the One present at Creation. By the One who beautifully created them. By the One who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. By the One who beautifully and humbly loved others more than Himself. The lens of their heart will be shaped to recognize what is true, right, and good and they will be empowered to use their gifts of beauty and grace to bless others. When they see a book of selfies, they will recognize the fleeting nature of vanity and it will no longer be a virtue worth pursuing.

How do we practically accomplish this? Part of parenting/discipling our girls is being one step ahead of these messages. Our role is to give them a lens with which to view culture. When they are exposed to messages and images that train them up in “virtues” we want them to recognize what is true and what is false. Below are some suggestions for you to do with your girls this summer.

  1. Read scripture with them. Select passages that speak of identity, beauty, and what is true. The more regularly this occurs, the more normal it will feel, and the more it will shape our girls.
  2. Read a biography of a woman who seeks that which is not fleeting. Some suggestions are Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom, I Am Malala, Coretta Scott King, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, Katie Davis, or Amy Carmichael.
  3. Limit social media outlets. It is difficult to stay ahead of what all they see on apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
  4. Seek out other women to invest in her and model virtuous character. The more they see the truth modeled the greater the vision they will have for themselves. I have a friend who asks another woman to mentor her daughters for their senior year. This is a great way for girls to spend time with other godly women.
  5. Find creative ways for her to use her gifts. My daughter loves to bake. She is always looking for new recipes. I encourage her to bake for our neighbors and teach her younger siblings to bake along with her. As she learns to give and to teach others, her ideas expand beyond herself.
  6. Expose them to need and brokenness. Brainstorm ways to serve together and empower her to meet those needs. This helps them act their way into thinking. They will grow to think about others.
  7. Have them do chores and participate in the life of your home. Humility and service go hand in hand. Studies show that children have a greater sense of identity and value as they participate in the responsibilities of your home.
  8. Celebrate the beauty you see in them! Take them shopping, for a walk, or to get a treat. Invite another mother and daughter to come along. Partner with others to raise daughters together. My oldest daughter loves to go to Starbucks and then for us to get a matching top at Target. We look forward to this simple time together with no agenda but to enjoy each other.
  9. Have fun! As girls enter the tweens they desire more and more to be with peers. Create venues for them that are fun and phone free.

May the young women in our lives see a virtuous life in us that reflects what is good, true and beautiful!

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

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