BY JAMIE HAR
Celebrate female bodies by shining spotlights on their slopes and valleys, caressing them with our eyes and hands! Praise beauty icons by imitating their meticulous makeup, painting them as beacons of light (only flattering lighting, though) to lead average, less-confident women!
Emphasis on self-beautification by women for women pervades the air, especially during National Women’s History Month (which is right now in March, by the way). Subtle yet omnipresent, this idea of beauty cumulatively bombards women at a force even harder than walking into the wall of perfume at a Victoria’s Secret entrance.
At first, empowering women by enhancing and magnifying their physical appearance might seem paradoxical, yet this is precisely what we preach. Why? Because for better or for worse, the reality is that women understand much of their confidence “through/within the body,” as USC Annenberg School for Communication Vice President and Director Sarah Banet-Weiser stated in her article, “‘I’m Beautiful the Way I Am’: Empowerment, Beauty, and Aesthetic Labour.” So, the modern woman tries to wield self-beautification as both a sword of strength and a shield for her ugly insecurities.
The success of women’s efforts is proven by how we present ourselves. Through our manicuring, we uphold image as an important, valid part of our identities. No doubt, this is better than whittling our worth down to mere appearance. But, is this battle plan actually achieving what “empowered women” claim to fight for? Is it not yet another mission to please someone, whether that be yourself, other women, or society overall?
Beauty remains defined by humans, stuck in the body and mind. Even if the mission is “not about others” because “who cares what they think,” it is all about me and what I think. I am certainly guilty of this. Laboring to prove my worth by meeting my private expectations, I become the master of my own prison, locked from the inside. And, quite honestly, I know that my goals are influenced by and often relative to others. It is almost inevitable, given that we are social animals in community. So, I stay trapped in the same cage as before — just slathered in new paint.
Alas! Should we keep running this rat race? Well, no. That would be the same as lying down on the battlefield, sealing your loss while the fight continues on. Where should we look, then, to find the key and charge through that prison door?
The answer is this: the key to freedom lies outside, and to get it, we must break the confinement of our human bodies and realm of thought. To get outside, we must start outside.
But Jamie, I can’t be in two places at once! You’re right. However, if someone outside the cage gives you the key, escape is possible. Lucky for us, someone has been dangling the answer to “real beauty” in front of our faces all along. We just have to grab and use it.
This beauty is one that comes from God, not from ourselves. It arises from knowing and chasing Jesus and living in His spirit, so that from our core, His glory radiates. Manifested so deeply and abundantly, it cannot help but ooze out. People are awed by this unique radiance, even if they fail to put their finger on what it exactly is, and it draws them in; I can testify based on women I know. This pursuit of relationship with God is not to meet another set of standards; our actions could never justify ourselves as “perfect” beings. Rather, it is our fervent response to God’s gift to us — his endless love and glory, offered and sealed by Christ’s death and resurrection.
From shambles of bricks, we are rebuilt into lovely temples¹ by Jesus, who pays all the costs with His life. New structures yet still made from broken pieces, we maintain our shape because Jesus stays with us as our constructor, our foundation, and our mortar. Without him, we cannot be.
Like all buildings, we need constant fortification. As His precious creations, we must treat ourselves with the respect and care that He showers us with. This means that we work to remain holy and healthy, not only in body but first in spirit by growing closer to Him. But everything, even our maintenance, points to glorifying Him. As temples of God, we are not worshipped like gods but are precious vessels² for His worship. In knowing us, people recognize God because He fills us and redefines our identities.
In fact, it is only because of God that we even know beauty at all. Our physical bodies, our makeup and fashion, our ability to use them — all were given by Him. By offering us salvation through Jesus, God goes a further, final step of beautifying us; His beauty can become our beauty. Yet, while worldly beauty fades with our deaths, our beauty from Christ never ends because we gain eternal life from an everlasting God.
In 2 Corinthians 3:11 (ESV), the Apostle Paul said, “For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.”
To that, I say, “For if [our worldly beauty which will be] brought to an end came with glory, much more will [our beauty, from and in Christ, that] is permanent have glory. For if [we who will be] brought to an end came with glory, much more will [He who] is permanent have glory.”
No longer must we fend for ourselves, for Jesus becomes our faultless sword and shield. No longer are we restricted to our bodies and minds, for God gives us new, eternal identities.
By embracing His glory, we become beautiful. With His master key, we are freed.
¹ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
² Isaiah 64:8; 2 Corinthians 4:7