Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Women: Designed for Beauty?

So at last we turn to the unavoidable topic of women, in this brief series on beauty. As I mentioned in the last post, the word is beauty is somewhat synonymous with the image of a young, pretty women. According to the world we live in, the ultimate representation of beauty is a woman. So why is this? Why do women long to be beautiful?

The answer, according to some Christians, is that God designed and created women in order to manifest beauty. According to John and Stasi Eldredge,

She is the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God. Woman.
In one last flourish creation comes to a finish not with Adam,
but with Eve... Given the way creation unfolds, how it builds to
ever higher and higher works of art, can there be any doubt that
Eve is the crown of creation? Not an afterthought. Not a nice
addition like an ornament on a tree. She is God's final touch, his
piece de resistance... Look out across the earth and say to yourselves,
'The whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation reached its zenith in me...There is something uniquely magnificent and powerful about a woman. We tried to reveal the immeasurable dignity, the holiness of your feminine heart by showing that it is God who longs for is God who reveals beauty as essential to life. You are the image bearer of this God. That is why you long for those things too. There is a radiance hidden in your heart that the world desperately needs...she is captivating, uniquely glorious, and he cannot be. She is the incarnation of the Beauty of God. More than anything else in all creation, she embodies the glory of God. She allures the world to God.

-- selected quotes from Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul

In other words, God designed The Woman to reflect his image and likeness in a unique way, to make known and reveal the Beauty of God. Women are beautiful because God is beautiful.

As wonderful and empowering as this might sound, not all agree with proposal. Of course, some without faith in the Christian God might simply suggest that the attractiveness of women has something to do with biological evolution. But beauty transcends sexual attraction, and in my mind is something entirely else. However other Christians have critiqued this beauty theology. For example Shawna R. B. Atteberry, a pastor and writer, blogs thus:

We live in a society that idolatrizes its version of beauty to the extent that girls and women suffer from various eating disorders in order to try to be “beautiful.” I do not believe this is the advice Christian authors should be giving to their readers...this is a finicky femininity. I also think it is a dangerous one. The church should be giving a different view of beauty, and what makes a woman beautiful. Although they encourage women not to listen to the culture, it sound like in the end the Eldredge's buy into culture’s definition of “beauty.”
-- blog post: What is Beauty?

Whilst Shawna has a point, I do wonder if she is throwing the baby our with the proverbial bathwater. Yes, as I recently blogged, young girls do suffer eating disorders, but this is because they are trying to lose weight. Here we see a rhetorical slight-of-hand. The Eldredge's said nothing about skinny girls. On the contrary, if young girls could learn that they are beautiful in God's eyes, and they are to display his beauty and celebrate their femininity, that would surely prevent all this weight-loss nonsense. You see, the problem with the contemporary culture is not that it teaches girls that they should be beautiful, but that it constantly tells them that they are not beautiful yet, because they are too fat one minute and too skinny the next. It also prescribes a very narrow vision of what physical feminine beauty is.

Therefore, for the avoidance of doubt, let me say what I believe: God created all women to be beautiful and to radiate His glory, in body, mind, soul, character, personality, and spirit. This has nothing to with physical preferences (short, tall, skinny, slim, curvy, fat, blonde, brunette, whatever!).

There's so much more to say on this topic but I think I've said enough for now. Perhaps my readers can keep the debate going.


Sensuous Wife said...

I'm not one for debate, but I can offer my thoughts.

After walking this out for the last 3 years, praying, meditating, seeking wise counsel, and doing the push/pull, 3-steps-forward-2-steps-back dance of discipleship, I have come to believe that embracing beauty, savoring it, and offering it to my world does matter to God.

Sarah Groves said is so well in her song Why It Matters, "sit with me and tell me once again of the story that's been told us, of the power that will hold us, of the beauty, of the beauty why it matters"

That's all flowery and Hallmark-cardish and nice, but I'm cognizant that you're a software engineer and a man, Alastair, so I'll try to make this practical and clear. When I speak of offering my beauty to my world, what does that look like in behavior?

* Going for long walks or jogs along nature trails and drinking in the 200 shades of green with my eyes, listening to the birds singing and believing that with my sneakers pounding the pavement I'm praising God too.

* Caring for and cherishing myself enough to adorn myself in clothes that fit and flatter the body God gave me and taking a few minutes to care about adding some cute jewelry because it makes me feel good.

* Walking into the my sleeping children's bedrooms to check on them when I get home late from dance practice because I know they need my mother touch on their forehead and my kiss on their cheek even though their Daddy is the greatest and I'm sure he tucked them in just fine.

* Experiencing the freedom and discipline and joy of Christian sacred dance with a roomful of women of every color shape size and athletic ability.

* Sitting on a park bench watching our children play on the slides and swings while listening to one of my girlfriends share her struggles and really listening, squeezing her hand when it feels appropriate.

* Flirting with my husband by "accidentally" bending over to pick something off the kitchen floor thereby flashing him some cleavage and enjoying his goggle-eyed stare and delighted grins.

* Getting all muddy while coaxing color out of the ground in my garden

Nowhere in this list am I competing with Barbie, or defining myself by my waist size. And while doing these normal everyday things, do I feel I'm offering beauty that matters? You bet I do! (grin)

Shawna is a good woman, and a sister of mine from Emerging Women, so let's make it clear I have no axe to grind, I just have my own point of view on this subject.

I've written so much about this subject on my blog, but I've never catalogued it as such. (makes mental note to add keyword beauty to several articles)

Thanks for raising this topic, Alastair. I just found your blog today and I look forward to reading your earlier articles.

Alastair said...

Thank you "sensuous wife" for your thoughtful and well-written post. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject.

For the rest of my readers, check out her blog: Emerging Women.

Just to clarify: I have no axe to grind against Shawna (I don't personally know her at all), but I picked her thoughts as a "pushback" against my proposal, and representative of the common critique against Captivated.

Lastly, do you have a link to an online version of that Sarah Groves song? I'd like to hear it!

Sensuous Wife said...

(smile) You're welcome, Alastair. Thanks for being such a good host.

You are right, Shawna's objections to Captivating echo similar concerns raised by others.

We live in such an image-concious culture. One of my girlfriends has a 10 year old daughter, a perfectly made, perfectly normal girl who has started talking about going on a diet. Anytime someone raises the topic of beauty, many women cringe, thinking, "Good Lord! This is where eating disorders come from!".

But as you said, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I'd venture to say we live in a world that is over-focused on image while being beauty-deficient.

But again, beauty can be a scary word. So many women have had the soul-draining experience of being seen purely as a hood ornament with their considerable talent, heart and brains being ignored. I'm very protective of Shawna's heart when she voices her concerns. Because it is true that 'man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart'. The same God, the same Bible also tells the story of Esther who prepared herself with a year of royal spa treatments before she offered her beauty to the king and offered her bravery to save Israel. Beauty and strength both matter.

Having said all that, since I have received such profound healing and restoration from God while reading and hearing all that Stasi and John poured into Captivating, I wanted to share my story.

I'll talk to Delighted Husband and see if he can help me find that Sarah Groves somewhere where I can embed it in a blog post.

Oh and thank you for the warm welcome. (smile) I can't claim Emerging Women all for my very own. There are a lot of bighearted smart beautiful women over there. My little corner of blogdom is

PS I wish I knew how to do nice short url links like you did! Would you be willing to send me an email and tell me how?

Howard said...

Alastair wrote: "The problem with the contemporary culture is not that it teaches girls that they should be beautiful, but that it constantly tells them that they are not beautiful yet, because they are too fat one minute and too skinny the next. It also prescribes a very narrow vision of what physical feminine beauty is".

You have touched upon a major issue here. As a fine art photographer, I spend a great deal of time working with young women who are seeking to create portfolios for the purpose of breaking into the modeling profession, and what is so clear is so much of this desire has to do with personal confidence and a need to confirm their own value. I have certainly discovered that photography is a valuable tool here, sadly so often miss-used by aspects of my profession that are motivated by the lowest common denominators (pots of money and exploitation). There is a real opportunity for us to use such medium to express and in measure clarify our being made in God's image - certainly something, I feel, that needs to be encouraged.

Shawna Renee said...

That was just part of my argument Alistair. My next paragraph said: "I like how Tennant went on to broaden the definition of beauty into the aesthetical realm–literature, poetry, and paintings. Her expansion reminds us that beauty is all around us, and is not the sole domain of how women look. Beauty can quicken our hearts and make us catch our breath. It can make us see the world as it should be, and help us to work harder to make the world the way it should be. It reminds us that all that God created is good. May be the Eldredges should have been encouraging their readers to pursue their gifts in writing, painting, sculpting, and the other arts in order to show their own inner beauty with a culture desperately in need of true beauty."

I went on to expand beauty. I didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And like Sensuous Wife, I find beauty in my everyday life, love dressing up, and decorating to add beauty to my life.

Thank you for linking to me, and for writing on this subject. I do think the church needs to do a better of job on the beauty front. For years I was a Christian who "fasted" to maintain and lose weight. I know how this myth has worked its way in and is a normal part of church life.

Alastair said...

Thanks for your comment, Shawna. I appreciate you taking the time to clarify what you were saying.