It would be interesting–horrifying?– to discover exactly how many “beauty” messages we are subjected to every day from advertising alone. The general consensus is that it’s in the thousands. And if we know anything about advertising, whether specifically for a beauty product or not, it relies heavily on “beauty” and “sex” to sell. (Which goes to say, we are told thousands of times, daily, what beauty is and should be.)

We know this, right? Media literacy was part of our school curriculum growing up. I can remember dissecting a page from a Sears catalogue to see the 101 ways they used sex to sell a twin set!

Even with such awareness (and in some cases, hype), I believe I have become an unwitting adherent to the dogma of beauty as it has been presented to me in all its printed and digital  media over the past 40 years. Without thinking, I’ve wanted to buy what they’re selling; namely, eternal youth, flawless beauty. Give it to me.

Mirror Reflection

I am in cahoots with beauty ideals from media as truth – mixed with the formative messages I’ve received via my family, friends, and the current cultural norms. They yoo-hoo at me and I follow. These ideals are what motivate me every day to style my hair, put on makeup, and select my clothing (or gripe when “I don’t have anything to wear”). They are what make me colour my hair every four weeks to hide the ever-creeping grey. They are what have me buying and applying decadent creams with Glycolic Acid and Retinol and AHA and any other anti-aging chemicals I’ve been told I should slather on my fine lines and sun-damaged skin. I hoist the anti-aging flag!

At the same time, I am deeply discontent with this “truth.” It would have me dread every passing day as my treasured youth pulls away from my grasp simply because I’ve lived to see another day. It would have me begrudge certain physical traits I was born with and others I’ve “earned” over time.

Oh, and let’s talk about “earning” signs of aging because here comes the pendulum swing. There’s that defiance we muster up when we just can’t keep up any more. We ask to a sympathetic ear (ourselves), “How long must I fight this losing battle?” Or we declare, “My wrinkles are my war wounds!” We become aggressively, falsely proud of our slowing metabolism and sagging skin. Fine, we’ve been found out! That’s how we wanted it to be anyway! Ha, fooled you, I’m not young and I don’t want to be! (Not today, anyway, mostly because I can’t be.)

All the time we’re receiving these messages of beauty, we’re doing the tough (albeit subconscious) work of categorizing them or embracing them obsessively or discarding them aggressively.

Thousands of messages, coming at us daily, telling us who we should be and what we’re worth.

Dare I say, there has got to be a better way!

This is a recent track I’ve been on, looking for the foundation of my own dissatisfaction, trying to figure out where the truth resides. All this searching has me getting excited (uh oh, there’s that word I like to use!) about what I’m learning.

That is, God actually cares about beauty.

We tend to relegate discussion of beauty to the shallow end of conversation and things to think about. But God’s got a beauty message for us to rival all the others, one that runs deep and brings healing. I don’t know about you, but that’s SUCH a relief to me.

So I say we look into this. By the fact that God has written about this, we are invited to adopt a foundational, God-infused understanding of beauty. I want to be beauty-marked with this understanding, so that it becomes the filter by which I see myself, others, and those thousands of messages coming at me everyday. This new and true understanding could and would have the effect of making swift work of our insecurities by settling our minds about where true beauty/our worth is found, and–importantly–what that looks like.

Over the next little while (weeks? months?) I’ll be exploring the topic of beauty/physical appearance from a biblical perspective. I hope you’ll dig deep with me!

Naked and unashamed

Our women’s group decided to tackle the topic of love and sex in response to media coverage, especially leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Sex hasn’t been a popular topic of discussion in Christian circles.  God’s love, yes.  Sex between a man and a woman is a discussion to be avoided.  Marketing and media have had free reign to discuss sex and saturate our culture with their messages, with hardly a peep from the church.  Granted, we aren’t often able to get a word in edgewise as a Biblical viewpoint is no longer seen as credible, but we also haven’t done ourselves any favours.  Christians can be seen responding publicly with offence and lots of finger-wagging and verse-bombing.

But we need to talk about sex in the church because, guess what, God created it.  He even created orgasm. He meant it to be wonderful in the context of an intimate, God-honouring (and partner-honouring) marriage.  And no surprise here, it has been twisted and torn and turned into an obsession that leaves us feeling empty, devalued and broken.

Some things I’ve discovered from conversations with women of different shapes, sizes, ages and circumstances of life are:

  • We have all struggled with this issue.  We all have things we’re not proud of, that we regret. We have acted sexually in ways we wish we could take back.  Whether we’re married or single, we do not have it all together.
  • We are often governed by fear in this area.  We are taught to fear STIs and pregnancy when we engage in sex before marriage.  We’re afraid to get caught in extra-marital sex.  We’re afraid to leave bad relationships because of loneliness.  We seem to make our choices based on the “lesser of the evils” instead of making positive choices.
  • A lot of our poor understanding about sex comes from our upbringing.  Unhappy mothers said it was something to be “endured.”  Discontent fathers looked elsewhere for love.  We either discussed sex in whispers as a shameful act or witnessed parents who didn’t honour a marriage commitment.  No one to exemplify a great, fulfilling love left us with a lot of  questions and deep hurt.
  • We justify our actions by comparing ourselves to others.  This came up in our study that we always seem to be challenging the rules in this area – how far can we go without getting burned. It’s easy to do when we look around as see others doing “worse things” than we are.  This applies to everything from our thought life to our behaviour. We can easily reason our way into, out of or through anything.  But what are the consequences?
  • We have separated our sexual lives from our spiritual lives.  Do we pray to God about our sexual struggles?  Do we pray with others about it? Do we listen to what God has to say to us about it? Do we believe our thoughts or “secret habits” are hidden?  Do we cope with our issues when we try to do it on our own, or do we thrive with the help of the Holy Spirit?

What I learned from this study:

  • God has a better way. To follow God’s will is to know deep fulfillment on every level, even sexually.  To trust in the plan he has for us is to take any fear out of our decision-making. God created man and woman in the garden naked and unashamed.  From the moment that man and woman sinned in the garden, a barrier was created both spiritually, in their relationship with God, and sexually, in their relationship to each other.  They were naked and ashamed.  But through the power of Jesus, we can live life the way God intended, free from fear, free from condemnation, free from shame.  Why wouldn’t we choose this?

This study is extensive.  We hoped to tackle issues of lust, marriage, divorce, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality in 6 weeks.  What were we thinking?  Every point, every verse could be opened up and contemplated for hours.  This is officially a starting point.  We approach the topic now without fear, but excitement for the life-changing truths God will show us.

Let me quote a passage from The Message (a paraphrase of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:16-20), age-old scripture that is so poignant for our time.

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.