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Discerning True Beauty

by Meredith Stokke

[photo credit]

I work with a lot of young girls and women, and inevitably have daily conversations about weight, bodies, the media, beauty ideals, etc. I’m not sure if it’s just a coincidence that Victoria’s Secret models have been a hot topic in my office these last few weeks, as there has been increased coverage in the media recently with the new ‘Very Sexy’ line out in stores.

The Victoria’s Secret Angels have been touring the country to unveil and promote the collection, increasing the presence of their scantily clad bods through advertisements in print, images published online and TV commercials. The discussions that I have been having with friends and clients alike have raised a lot of questions for me as a Christian. How are we called to view our culture’s standards of beauty? How do we view ourselves in light of some of the images that we are inundated with daily? How do we work towards being transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Romans 12 says?

Statistics indicate that model type bodies occur in 2% of the population by nature, and it is probably fair to speculate that in spite of knowing these statistics, the majority of us still struggle with comparing ourselves to an unrealistic and often very unhealthy ideal. In doing so, we put ourselves down, focus on parts of our bodies that we don’t think are good enough or pretty enough, and covet the bodies of others. I have to believe that this grieves the heart of God, as we each bear His image.

It says in Psalm 139 that He knit us together while we were being formed, and that He made us fearfully and wonderfully. The same God who made the Alps, the Great Barrier Reef, and Victoria Falls (to name a few) also made YOU. He did not make any mistakes. What a thought!

So, when we see Victoria’s Secret models (or anyone else for that matter!) and are tempted to compare ourselves, we need to remember who knit our bodies together! I think we also need to meditate on the difference between how the world defines beauty, and how God defines beauty. The world tells us that our value and beauty come from our waist size, the number we see on the scale, and how we look in a bikini. God says in His Word (1 Samuel 16:7) that while man (aka-the world) looks at the outward appearance, He looks at our hearts. This means that he cares about our character, how we treat others, what our thoughts are like, and how well we love and serve others—that is what makes us truly beautiful.

A godly character makes us shine, and makes us more beautiful than anything else could. I do want to be clear that this doesn’t mean we must ignore our outward appearance. One of my favorite pastimes? Manicures and pedicures. Not to mention that I also love jewelry, and enjoy wearing cute shoes and clothes. We just need to know in our heads and hearts that our inherent worth and beauty do not come from our bodies or these things.

One last thought I have pertains to our witness as Christians. I think Christ might be made evident to those in our lives depending on how we talk about our bodies and our appearance. How often do you bond with other women by bashing your bodies or talking about how fat you feel? Perhaps as young women who are exposed to a lot of conflicting and damaging messages in the media about beauty, the ways in which we talk about and think about our bodies might allow us to showcase values rooted in something, or Someone, more substantive. No fat talking, no body bashing, no comparing.

While it is certainly important for us to take good care of ourselves (this means something different for all of us), how we approach this has the power to point to Christ. Because our culture is saturated with lies about beauty, we might have the opportunity to demonstrate that real beauty is about more than just our bodies.

Do you compare yourself to others? How might you feel differently if you ascribed to God’s definition of beauty rather than the world’s?

Meredith Stokke works as a counselor treating body image and eating disorders. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and blogs at Food for Thought.

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