When I finally upgraded my cell phone, it came with a new feature: a “front-facing” camera designed to take “selfies.” Though I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, I was kind of excited to make a few attempts, even though the smartphone only contained a minuscule 1.3 megapixel camera. Well, it turned out that my phone’s camera was not only smart, it was a little too truthful . . . especially in poor lighting. I took A LOT of selfies before I could find even one I wanted to share on Facebook.
As I peruse my gallery of selfie attempts (the few that escaped the “delete” button) it’s easy to be self-critical. “I don’t like that one because it emphasizes my tall forehead.” “That one makes my jawline look too heavy.” “My hair is so thin and limp.” I find myself searching intently for a photo that magically minimizes my “problem areas” . . . like the dark under-eye circles that never go away, or the furrows between my brows that make me look unintentionally stern. Even when I find what I consider a flattering shot, I realize there is no way to hide the reality (short of airbrushing or Photoshopping) that I’m not in my thirties . . .(or even forties) anymore.
I suspect I’m not the only one who struggles to feel beautiful. After church one day I chatted with a couple of friends who are in the same age-bracket. One shared about a new beauty product meant to perform anti-aging wonders around the eye area. Next she sang the praises of mascara. (She, like me, has invisible lashes without the help of Maybelline.) Finally, to sum it up, she said, “I’m just a hag without makeup.” “Aren’t we all?” was my reply.
I now regret that response, as it wasn’t a reflection of how God wants me to view myself or others. When I focus on what I see on the outside as the measure of my appeal, that’s a problem. In those moments I am allowing the world’s view of beauty to dominate my thinking. Granted, women (and men) have been admired and rewarded for their physical attractiveness since the beginning of time. Something in all of us is drawn to visual loveliness. And interestingly, every culture (and time period) seems to define beauty a little differently. Yet one thing has remained constant–the pressure to conform to that outward standard. And therein lies the problem.
Regrettably the measuring stick for beauty in American culture is pretty narrow. How often have you seen a plus-sized Miss America or an “average-looking” super model? Check out the magazines when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. The cover photos have been so “enhanced,” even the celebrities will tell you they look nothing like their own pictures when they get up in the morning!
We are assaulted daily with media that tells us we need to improve (or at least preserve) our appearance. The ads tantalize us with the promises that if we do, we will find happiness, success, and of course, the perfect mate. Products claim to give us a slim figure, erase age spots, remove wrinkles, shore up sagging, and create a luscious mane of hair (with all grey concealed). If every product I’ve tried fulfilled its promise to help me “look ten years younger in six weeks,” I should look like a preschooler by now! But I don’t. I’m me—a middle-aged woman who never did and never will look like a Victoria’s Secret model, a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, or one of the beauties paraded on “The Bachelor.”
The reality is that most of us can’t reach society’s narrow standards for “beauty,” leaving us feeling as if we don’t measure up. Our insecurities trigger a fear we’re not worth as much. We worry that people (especially men) might not find us attractive. We feel threatened by the younger, better-looking person in the room. And we tend to spend too much money on clothes, make-up, and hair appointments, trying desperately to look better.
Worst of all, we overlook what truly makes us beautiful.
First and foremost, we bypass the fact that all of us are made in the image of God. This alone makes everyone inherently valuable and beautiful. Our Creator could have made cookie-cutter Barbies and Kens to populate the earth. Instead, he designed us with one-of-kind features in a diverse array of sizes, shapes, and colors. Psalm 139 reminds us that God himself “knit us together in our mothers’ wombs.” Even before we were born, He saw our unformed substance . . . and fashioned each of us to fulfill a unique role in this world. And He calls his creation GOOD.
Secondly, fixating on outward appearance neglects the most powerful beauty of all. We’ve all heard the phrase “real beauty is on the inside.” While I doubt that the guys who left me standing on the sidelines at junior high dances were thinking about my inner qualities, as I mature, I’m beginning to see the truth in that statement. Scripture supports the concept in I Peter 3:3-4 “Let not your adornment be merely external . . . but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God.” (NASB)
I like the balance in that translation. It says to not let your adornment be merely external. It doesn’t say wear a potato sack and only wash your hair once a month. It’s not wrong to make ourselves presentable, or even take a stab at outward “prettiness,” but it does remind us that we should place a greater focus on cultivating the deeper qualities our heart. Some of these surely include exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These attributes will attract quality people to us, the kind that look beyond the superficial.
Even people born “gorgeous” eventually discover it takes more than their looks to get by. There’s an old saying, “beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes to the bone.” An outwardly stunning person may wield their charms for a time, but if their character and personality are foul, they will ultimately be unattractive to people of substance. As Nancy Leigh DeMoss puts it, “Physical charm, physical beauty—those things are an illusion. They’re fleeting. They’re momentary. They can lure, but they can’t last. The thing that lasts is a relationship with God. That’s got to be the number one focus and priority of your life and mine.” Proverbs 31:30 sums it up well when it says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
In the long-term, it’s our inner qualities that will stand the test of time, even as our bodies decay. It’s tempting to lament the loss of our outward “looks.” But 2 Corinthians 4:16 provides an encouraging word for those of us seeing an older person reflected in the mirror: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Our true beauty is not dependent on our outward appearance, but on a continuously renewable, vibrant relationship with Christ. As we daily find our security in Him, we can cease comparing ourselves to others and be the unique, authentic beauties we were designed to be. Daily abiding in Christ is the best beauty treatment available. When we reflect His love, we create the most beautiful selfie of all.