Pretty for a Purpose

cartoon+makeup+girlWhen we first moved to South Asia, I was struck by the beauty of the women all around me. High caste or untouchable, pampered ladies of leisure or struggling servant girls, they all invested heavily in beautifying themselves. Exquisitely draped saris. Carefully combed hair. Bright colored bangles jingling on wrists. Decorative dots displayed on foreheads. Even the poorest of women found a way to beautify themselves with flowers in their hair and rings on their toes.

Next to them I felt plain and ugly, a stripped-down, functional version of womanhood that suddenly seemed less than appealing. Sadly, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Kindhearted neighbors stepped in to adjust my clumsily wrapped sari, to slide a few of their bangles on my empty wrist, to stick one of their bindis on my bare forehead.

“Doesn’t your family feel disgraced that you don’t wear the costly gold jewelry they must have presented you at your marriage?”

“Doesn’t your husband mind that you don’t honor him by decorating yourself with lots of color and a bindi?“

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
Peter 3:3-4

I had never stopped to think of my physical appearance in those terms before. My dualistic, platonic upbringing had taught me to view beauty as vain and fleeting, a pointless distraction from the things that really mattered. The only Scripture references to beauty that I had been taught to notice were ones which warned against putting too much stock in it. And my stunningly beautiful mother had trained me well that what mattered most to God was the beauty of my spirit, not of my body.

Physical beauty is a reflection of God’s glory.

Of course, none of that stopped me from spending time and money on physical beauty. I cared about dressing nicely and looking pretty (more than I would have liked to admit). But I always felt a bit guilty about it, as if this were an area that I was selfishly holding onto, as if God would probably like it better if I invested those resources in His kingdom rather than in my appearance.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18

But all these years later I realize that my South Asian neighbors understood something that I didn’t. My beauty was meant to be a reflection of someone else’s glory. Far from detracting from God, it is intended to display just how magnificent He is.

I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.
Ezekiel 16:9-13

No wonder He portrays Himself as the kingly husband, beautifying His new wife’s body in every way imaginable. Purifying skin treatments. Fine facial creams. Designer dresses. Stylish shoes. But He didn’t stop there. Fashion accessories. Over-the-top jewelry. An exclusive diet, carefully designed to bring out the best in her features. No expense or effort was spared in making this woman as beautiful as she could possibly be. And her Husband was delighted when other men noticed.

And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Ezekiel 16:14

But why would God care so much about physical beauty? Why would a husband invest so heavily in his wife’s external appearance, finding pleasure in a public display of her splendor?

But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute…
At the head of every street you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, offering your body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by.
Ezekiel 16:15, 25

Perhaps the answer lies in what went wrong with the beautified woman. The admiration of others turned her head. Instead of gazing on the Source of her beauty, she began to gaze on its product. The mirror became another opportunity to adore herself rather than to adore the One whose image she reflected. And the more she idolized her own beauty, the more sallow and tarnished it became.

Neglecting our beauty is no godlier
than obsessing over it.

As I reflect on my conflicted attitude towards my own physical appearance, I see that my problem is not spending too much time or effort on it. It is claiming its credit. Downplaying my beauty is just as wrong as obsessing over it, because ultimately it is not mine.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

I am God’s masterpiece, His garden to be tended and beautified. The more radiant I look, the more clearly His beauty is seen. Part of the good work that I have been created to do is to cultivate both my spirit and my body. Both are made in His image. Both are the place where His glory dwells.

And so slowly, I am reclaiming my makeup for God. The time I spend in the mirror is an act of worship, not because I am captivated by the image that I see there, but because I am learning to delight in the Artist who designed it. I decorate and frame His artwork each day, reveling in the opportunity to put His beauty on display. Whether it is one of those ugly days when I need a little extra TLC or one of those happy days when I walk away feeling radiant, my appearance reflects God’s glory.

There’s no room for pride in that. It’s pretty for a higher purpose.

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11 thoughts on “Pretty for a Purpose”

  1. What a beautiful way to look at beauty! My views on beauty have been parallel to vanity. I have never thought about it in this context before! Thank you for this lovely post that I will be reflecting on and praying about!

    1. It’s a pleasure to discover the beauty of our Lord reflected in new and surprising ways. I think you are right in avoiding vanity. At the same time, it is good to embrace the beauty that God gives, celebrating His glory in our bodies without falling into self-worship. As He shines the light of His face on you, may you be transformed from glory to glory.

    1. Thanks, Michell. And from the looks of your blog, reflecting God’s glory through your body, mind, and spirit has long been a core value of yours. May He continue to radiate Himself through you.

  2. Thank you Tiffany. You opened my eyes to a truth that I have never seen in the puritanical church teachings I have heard. So much of what has been emphasized in the past in churches is an offshoot from Catholicism that i grew up in… that holy women (nuns) must be covered from head to toe with the most unattractive clothing possible. Why? So that the “holy men” (priests) would not lust after them. Burka anyone? Funny how so many religions have SO much in common and how little they have to do with things that re REALLY important to God. Things like:

    “For you are ALL the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized [imersed] into Christ [not a mere outward washing] have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, THERE IS NEITHER MALE NOR FEMALE: for you are ALL ONE in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28 KJ2000- emphasis added)

    I love the way you brought Ezekiel ch 16 to light in this context. Thank you my sister! Keep magnifying your Creator with you spirit, soul and body.

    1. Wow, Michael. You add a helpful dimension to my thinking, perhaps the advantage of hearing a male perspective.:) I think you are right in identifying the misguided assumptions of puritanism that ugliness or plainness = holiness. Certainly we should focus on cultivating inner beauty, but that does not mean that we should downplay outer beauty. I think I always bought into the perspective that God cares less about the physical than the spiritual. I’m still working to overcome that, wanting to gain a more biblical understanding of the role of both in His ongoing story. Thanks for contributing to that process.

      1. Tiffany, I have come a long way from my macho up-bringing to finally see that women have something valuable to contribute to the WHOLE picture of who our Father is. Christianity when it is in balance is not chauvinist in nature. Jesus show great love and kindness to women in the gospel narrative, but the religious establishment did NOT. When God created man He did so in HIS OWN IMAGE… “male and female made He them.” So, I have been asking God to let me see the half of God’s character that I have been missing and sometimes my male “left brain” way of seeing and speaking really blows it when communicating with the sisters. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight with us on your blog!

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Susanne. I’m still a work in progress, asking the Lord to re-orient my perspective on the physical realm to line up with His. This is a major paradigm shift for me, but I’m enjoying ride (especially as I know Who is in the driver’s seat!)

  3. Tiffany, I am amazed I found you online thru Floyd. I am overwhelmed by your writings. I have read several of your articles and I am pleased to have known you way back when– at CU. I don’t know your story from then til now. I only know bits,and pieces. I would like to add my 2 cents worth about beaut, however. Even though I agree about some aspects of your talk about beauty, you must remember that many of us are very ordinary looking. The minority of the world are not nearly as beautiful as you are. I always knew you were a true beauty. However, I believe that the hidden part of the heart that loves God (according to I Peter 3) is the real genuine beauty that God is pleased with. And I knew you had that as well! The physical beauty, if given over to God, is secondary. Real beauty, the inner part, is what truly pleases God. There are many cultural issues about beauty as you learned in Southern Asia. That was their culture. When we lived in Honduras, as missionaries, during our Early to mid 20’s in age, I was considered a beauty because I was a strawberry blonde. They were all dark haired, and blondes and red heads were considered by them as simply beautiful. Beauty is pretty relative, and it changes with age and culture. Now, I as an older woman,not young like you are now (I was 36-52 in my days at cedarville, I see that beauty, as scripture bears out, truly fades. Oh, does it fade! Fast! I find as an older woman more and more, that when we offer ourselves to God, striving to please him daily, we are lovely to him. That is truly what matters to him. Since my goal is and has always been to please him, I am very content with his true, inner beauty on my life, glorifying my father in heaven. Bless you and all you for his kingdom. I will read each and every one of your articles and be grateful I knew you “way back when.” With much love, Pam Elmore

    1. Oh Pam, It is lovely to hear from you! And thank you for this thoughtful response. I agree wholeheartedly with your emphasis on the inner beauty of a pure heart steadfastly trusting in God. Your cross-cultural experience and life experience serve as excellent reminders to me that, although the truth remains the same, different aspects of it are more or less needed at different times in our lives. Your message is one I have needed to learn and relearn, and one that I’m sure I will need all over again in the future. My intent with this particular article was to counter the platonic idea that physical beauty is irrelevant or meaningless. Of course inner beauty is of great importance. I have often observed how it transforms otherwise plain or “faded” faces into radiant beauties (and I’ve observed how the absence of it twists the most beautiful physical features into something painful to see). I tried to address the other side of this coin in the article “Faded Glory.” May our Lord continue to shine the light of His face on you, reflecting His radiance in your beautiful countenance.

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