A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity for a day of shopping with my mother. Though I am not usually one to appreciate changes to routine or spontaneity, I went. The other option was cleaning the house, and that simply is never as appealing as the prospect of new shoes.
We camped for hours at one of our favorite thrift stores. I was raised to look for good deals, and this particular store is full of them. For example, I scored a lovely, frothy pale pink and white polka-dotted blouse from one of the stores that the Duchess of Cambridge likes to frequent. Who wouldn’t want to own something like that?!
Our cart was full of items and, of course, the lines for the dressing room were akin to those at the DMV. There is something particularly stressful about needing to try on clothes while hordes of people press in on the door. I found myself hoping that the latch would stay true, otherwise the crowd would be getting an eyeful that they probably didn’t want.
My mother graciously allowed me to sort through my items first. She would take the dressing room after I had finished. (It’s a wonder to me that you can walk in with sixteen pairs of pants, seven skirts, innumerable tops and at least a dozen cardigans and come away with three things. Such is the nature of shopping, I suppose). Treating the try-on as if it were a timed Olympic event, I went through everything as quickly as I could. Flinging open the door when it was all over, I gestured for my mother to walk inside and handed her the first of her own piles.
As she went through her own paces, I noticed two women wandering about the accessories section near the dressing rooms. They were also a mother-daughter duo. The girl was probably sixteen or seventeen. She had gorgeous, thick, honey-colored hair, done up in two fat braids that cascaded down her shoulders. Her skin was dewey and flawless. The mother also possessed that thick hair, though it was fading into gray, and her skin was also enviable.
What saddened me about the pair was the way they were dressed. It was immediately apparent that they ascribed to certain standards regarding modesty. They both work ill-fitting, drab colored blouses tucked into skirts a size or two too big. Their feet were shod in dirty tennis-shoes and their hair was covered, the girl’s with a red bandanna and the mother’s with something that looked like a doily.
I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind.
How women present themselves has been a topic of debate throughout the ages. There have always been diverging opinions regarding dress, hairstyle, jewelry, cosmetics and scent. It is often seen as a mark of frivolity to have an interest in fashion. The underlying thought in society as a whole seems to be that a serious, intellectual woman will not care about her appearance. All one needs to do is glance at any movie, television show, magazine or book portraying a “geeky” girl and this becomes apparent. Her transformation into a popular, beautiful girl always comes with a makeover and perhaps a loss of her previous interests.
The beauty wars have not failed to infect the church. I cannot begin to enumerate the articles and blogs I have read over the past couple of years that try to tell women what to wear, how to wear it and who to wear it for. Skirts can be knee-length, but no shorter. No, skirts must cover the knee. Dying your hair is okay, but keep it subtle. Dying your hair means that you reject God. Make-up is good. Make-up is bad. Your hair should be long and curly. It doesn’t matter what hairstyle you choose.
On and on it goes.
I am not interested in nit-picky standards. A woman is not holier than another if she chooses to wear skirts exclusively. She who loves to experiment with make-up is no worse a sinner than she who goes bare-faced. I won’t go to battle over curling and straightening irons. These surface battles mask the real issues.
Let us first discuss what “modesty” is. A web search will give you several definitions to choose from, but for the purposes of this post I have centered on two forms of the adjective: “having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of one’s merits, importance, etc.; free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions” and “having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.”
For a woman to be free from vanity and have a humble estimation of her merits does not mean that she rejects her beauty. Eve was the final creative act of God in the original creation, the crown of all that He had done (see Gen. 1 & 2). While we have no idea what she looked like, it is safe to say that she had curves in all the right places. Her hair was longer than that of her male counterpart. Her facial features were smaller than his, his limbs slimmer. She was soft, inviting, lovely. God made her that way.
To be free from vanity and to be humble is to recognize and embrace that very God-given beauty. It is to give thanks to the Creator for making woman so beautiful! He is the source of every line, every hair, every tilt of the head and sway of the hips. To thank God for the way woman is made is to give Him the courteous respect He is due.
At the same time, woman is to celebrate her form and comeliness within a certain context. Again, I’m not going to come up with some list of do’s and don’ts, but we all know that it’s not appropriate for cleavage to be hanging out there for everyone to see. We all know that shorts that end just beneath the buttocks serve little purpose. While there are places of debate, the exposure of the body in order to entice (and, if you are older than 12 these days, you know that’s what you are doing) is not acceptable.
This brings us to our first issue. It is readily apparent that men are visual creatures. God made them that way. They love to look at women, they love to take her in. We are wise to know and accept this, and to dress so that the next-door neighbor or the grandfather we pass at the mall isn’t picturing himself in bed with us. (Ladies, we know that men do this). However, women are not responsible for the sins of men. If a man is absolutely determined to give free reign to his lustful thoughts, wearing a flour-sack isn’t going to stop him. We can help the men around us by leaving some things for the eyes of our husbands only, but we need not go so far as to reject our femininity and beauty altogether.
Frankly, it angers me that men have passed the responsibility for their thought-lives onto women. Jesus teaches that “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). It is up to the men to bring their struggle before the Lord and to obey His leading, not up to women to deny their attraction to loveliness. (As a side-note, there is nothing in Scripture that gives a man the right to pour his lust out onto his wife, as many seem to believe).
1 Peter 3:3 is often cited in this battle:
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel… (NKJV)
“Merely” here is the Greek monos, meaning “alone (without a companion), forsaken, destitute of help, alone, only.” So, is the author actually telling his audience to forsake physical beauty? No! He is simply saying that a woman should not focus on the outward alone. Before we put on the make-up or try on the new dress, we need to cultivate “the hidden person of the heart. . .the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pt. 3:4). The perfect lip gloss and the peace that comes from spending soul-beauty time in Scripture are both important for a woman.
Though I did not speak to them, I am sure that the pair I encountered sincerely believe that they are honoring God by dressing the way they do. But why do we think that God is honored by ugly? What do we think that He is pleased with lack of attention to and care for the attractive, righteous presentation of the bodies that He made? Consider these verses from Psalm 45, a song of Messianic prophecy:
All Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia,
Out of the ivory palaces, by which they have made You glad.
Kings’ daughters are among Your honorable women;
At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.
Listen, O daughter,
Consider and incline your ear;
Forget your own people also, and your father’s house;
So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him.
And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift;
The rich among the people will seek your favor.
The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace;
Her clothing is woven with gold.
She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors;
The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You.
With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought;
They shall enter the King’s palace. vs. 9-15 (NKJV)
Myrrh, aloes, cassia? Ivory, gold? The King desires her beauty? The royal daughter is glorious? She has dresses of many colors, woven with gold?
One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple. (NKJV)
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us… (NKJV)
Your eyes will see the King in His beauty… (NKJV)
God is beautiful?
Who are we to reject beauty? Who are we to say that it is wrong, sinful, for a woman to enjoy moisturizing her skin or highlighting her lovely eyes with mascara? For that is all that beauty products and well-fitting, appropriate clothes do: They highlight the lovely that is already there. They show the world that this person delights in and cares for what God has made.
And, please, let’s not even go into the Song of Songs!
Ladies, we get it wrong when we obsess about our physical appearance, but we get it equally wrong when we think that it doesn’t matter. If you feel convicted about certain types or styles of clothing, that’s between you and God. But don’t think that He doesn’t want you to enjoy fashion or try a new shade of eyeshadow. Don’t think that your face and form are somehow shameful. He made you! Thank Him for it by living – and dressing – as the masterpiece you are.
Still need convincing that God is into beauty? Check out tonight’s sunset. Go breathe in the scent of a late-blooming rose. Watch the sun glisten off the surface of the water. He made it all – including you! – and He says it’s good.