On a post last year about the growing expectations on young woman to look physically perfect (and increasingly generic), a commenter wrote:
Quick thought from a guy –
Know what really hurts? When a girl spends a mountain of care and attention trying to win over exciting but unsaved “bad boys”, but then discovers the comfort of no-makeup and mom-jeans when she decides to “settle” for goodguy hubby.
Sorry, I insist on getting her best efforts too. I will not have my wife have primped and preened in college for other men, only to get the “used station-wagon” version of her appearance later. …I will not be given her half-hearted efforts, conveniently re-purposed as “natural beauty”. I do NOT insist on marrying a raving beauty. I DO insist on her making the most of what she has.
My first thought was, “Man, this guy sounds bitter!”
That said, even with the overarching tone of bitterness, he made some points worth consideration. I’d like to propose that we set aside the acidic nature of the tone and use his ideas as jumping off places for provoking thought in us, as Christian women (some of whom are wives, and others of whom may one day be a wife).
- “A girl spends a mountain of care and attention trying to win over exciting but unsaved “bad boys”, but then discovers the comfort of no-makeup and mom-jeans when she decides to “settle” for goodguy hubby.”
True or false, ladies?
I’d say, there can be truth in this. I have seen this play out, some; it does happen.
One significant thing I see is that this girl has committed false advertising. It seems that she’s viewed her beauty and physical form as something merely given to her to *catch* a man, and not as something given to her, for her to steward well through every stage of life. Truthfully, too, this is a girl (and guy) whose ideas about beauty have been shaped by the world.
So what’s the truth about beauty? How can we counter the wrong beauty-focused idea the commenter presents, but also counter the opposite extreme that the outside doesn’t matter at all? Let’s see if we can find balance in the middle.
- Beauty has been inherently a part of womanhood since creation. Though I don’t speak Hebrew, my understanding is that Adam’s reaction to seeing Eve was a guttural equivalent of “WHOA!” As women, God has made our physical form attractive. In Song of Solomon, we see how beauty of the physical form is an integral part of the joy and intimacy that exists between a husband and wife. Beauty itself is not sinful or worldly.
- Beauty is not just about ourselves. It reflects God’s creativity in making beautiful things. Also, because, when we marry, our bodies each belong to the other, Christians are not people with a battle cry of “my body, my rights!”
- Beauty is something commented on in Scripture, sometimes positively… (like in Song of Solomon)
- …sometimes negatively… (the seductive woman in Proverbs, the idea that “beauty is vain“)
- … and sometimes as a factual statement… (Rachel, Esther/Hadassah, Abraham’s wife Sarai, Queen Vashti, Abishag the Shunnamite, David’s daughter Tamar)
- …but ultimately with caveats.
BIBLICAL CAVEATS ABOUT BEAUTY
As Christ-following women, while there is nothing sinful or worldly about outward beauty, outward beauty should not be the focus of our efforts, nor should it be the most beautiful thing about us:
- INWARD TRUMPS OUTWARD BEAUTY. “Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
- LIPS AND FEET THAT BRING THE JOY & PEACE OF THE GOSPEL ARE BEAUTIFUL. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7
- THE THINGS WE DO FOR OTHERS, AND THE WAY WE LOVE AND SERVE OTHERS WITH OUR PHYSICAL FORM, MATTER MORE THAN THE APPEARANCE OF OUR PHYSICAL FORM. “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10
Put simply, instead of:
- elaborate hairstyles
- wearing expensive jewelry
- wearing fancy clothes
God wants us to focus on:
- what is inside our heart
- the things that don’t fade, like a gentle and quiet spirit
- sharing the liberation of the Gospel
- affirming the truth about God’s power
- respectable attire
- being self-controlled
- proper behavior for a godly woman
- good works done for Christ
BEAUTY IN MARRIAGE
So then, with our cultural focus on the beauty of youth, do women tend to “let themselves go” once they’ve actually entered into marriage? Sometimes, it can appear so, right? I mean, let’s be honest. Sometimes it looks that way.
But there are unquestionably valid reasons for some of it–
- Body changes come with pregnancy and breastfeeding. The nausea, hormones, and exhaustion often overwhelm, not to mention that new things happening to your body sometimes leave you uncertain and insecure about your appearance. And with this I don’t only mean the way your body gets bigger, although it does. It also changes shape. Clothes that used to fit don’t fit the same, even if you do get back to the same weight and size. Your body is not the same. As a postpartum woman, your hair may fall out in clumps up around your temples. The quality of your teeth and your glasses’ prescription may decline. Our tummies and breasts go through sometimes-shocking changes in size and shape. These changes aren’t imaginary or insignificant. A woman’s body goes through profound changes each time she gets pregnant.
- Metabolism slows down. The older we get, the less calories we can eat and not gain weight. But then, sometimes that is happening right alongside things like pregnancy, breastfeeding, and chasing toddlers… when we’re extra hungry from using up MORE calories. These are legitimate challenges. Sometimes these things also happen in a tight budget where there’s not extra money to spend on weight loss, fitness, the right sorts of foods, etc.
- New baby often means a tighter budget. Just about the time you need to buy new clothes because your body is totally different than it’s ever been before, you have a new little baby to provide for that makes the budget tighter. And the ever-changing rules of fashion mean that even if you DO manage to one day fit back in your old jeans, they may no longer be in style. The standard of what’s “beautiful” can change drastically in a matter of a few years’ time.
- Time shrinks with the more things you add to your plate. When you’re chasing kids all day, cooking and doing laundry, or at the office and coming home to care for your family, the number of minutes you have available to focus on your appearance is smaller than at any other time in your life (when single, or married pre-kids, or after the empty nest). Cooking two separate meals (one for the fam, one for weight-loss-focused mom) is a near-impossibility, and taking time away to workout may not be an option.
- We do, in truth, get older… and that affects how we look. In a culture where older women are praised for being “cougars” and looking 20 when they are 55, it can be difficult as a Christian woman to rightly determine: what’s age-appropriate? How can I still look attractive at 26, 32, 35, 41 years old, but not seem like I’m trying to be 17 and also not look like I’m 62? What amount of effort is right? With the effects of gravity and time, we have legitimate challenges, especially in this youth-idolizing culture.
I can identify, well, with all of these things.
I’m currently 4 months postpartum after baby #7. I am intimately acquainted with each of these reasons why maintaining beauty (or feeling beautiful in any way, shape, or form) may be a struggle.
But then, in addition to the reasons above, if we look at this issue with honesty, there are some other perhaps not-so-valid reasons for our tendency to let things go:
- Mom’s identity becomes so intertwined with mothering that she forgets about the wife part.
- If her husband stops noticing, complimenting, and pursuing her as she goes through her “tough spots” (i.e., pregnancy & postpartum months), she may stop trying to win his affection and approval. Perhaps it feels too risky and too potentially painful to even “try” when you already feel rejected and unattractive.
- Mom feels so exhausted or overwhelmed by her new role as mom she can have a “why bother?” approach to personal hygiene and appearance, as it takes a back-burner to all the other things she’s learning
- And perhaps others, too.
What say you?
Have you experienced a decline or difference in your pursuit of physical appearance? What difficulties have you faced in this area? A change in sizes? A change in roles?
Attitude aside, do you see validity in the guy’s comments who feels cheated when his wife puts forth little to no effort?
Do you think there’s value in regularly “painting the barn?”
(Yes, that’s a phrase I’ve heard more than one Texas pastor use, about keeping up the personal appearance, and I think it’s a funny way to communicate this basic idea… keeping things up, even if they’re aging a little.)