What is beauty? The dictionary calls it “a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight1.”  However, the message that is continually reinforced through media and popular culture is that beauty is monochromatic. The fair skinned, skinny woman with straight hair is lifted as the standard of beauty for women of every color and body type to aspire to. Sadly, whether intentional or not, we perpetuate this false narrative when for example men place a premium on “yellow bones”, or when people meet my 2nd child and express disappointment at the fact that her skin tone is darker than her sister’s…or when young women are body-shamed for having wide hips or an extended posterior…Our beauty as African women is measured by proximity to whiteness, and the further you are from this standard the less beautiful you are deemed to be.

 

Because we submit ourselves to this unattainable standard, women have become enslaved to destructive habits such as skin bleaching, plastic surgery and lip dyeing. And other insidious habits such as dieting and contour make-up to make our features look more European and thus more acceptable.

 

Full figure and discontent

I am a full figure, dark skinned woman with kinky 4c hair but I have spent my entire adult life trying to attain this impossible standard of beauty mainly through starving myself (what others call dieting). I was teased about my body as a teenager and in an effort to conform I starved myself, so I could stay thin. And that worked for most of my adult life until I had children. In the last 3 years I have gained 3 dress sizes and I have struggled with discontentment. I look in the mirror and I hate the woman I see because she doesn’t measure up to the standard that I have come to believe is the measure of beauty. I feel ugly and my confidence and joy shrivel under the gaze of this full figure African woman.

 

How is it that as a Christian woman, I have derived my sense of worth from the size of my jeans and allowed my joy to be held captive by a number on a scale? Why do I turn to dieting and exercise for joy instead of Christ? Why is it easier to starve myself instead of praying and asking God to renew my heart and mind and give me contentment?

 

The simple answer is idolatry. I yearn for man’s approval more than God’s.

 

Beauty is God’s idea

”The world could possibly exist without the variegated colors that are painted on it, but God meant that this should be a beautiful world; that it should appear well; that there should be something more than mere utility.2” And so when we get up in the morning and wear a pretty outfit, do our hair and wear make-up to look beautiful we are responding to a desire that has been imprinted on us by our Maker. God created his universe full of various expressions of beauty – you and I are evidence of that. But when we corrupt that desire we are guilty of idolatry.

 

A higher standard of beauty

As I seek to reboot my thinking about beauty I am learning that there is a higher standard of beauty. I want to be that 1Peter 3 woman whose beauty does not come from outward adornment but comes from the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. I want to put a period, not a comma in front of Psalm 139:14 when it says I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

 

And I will have to teach my daughters too how to ward off the lies that the world tells us about our identity, and teach them to treasure God’s voice, over Hollywood’s. It is not enough for them to know that they are beautiful by design, because beauty is fleeting. The voice of popular culture is transient, but Gods eternal voice lasts forever. But before I can teach them I must first believe these truths.

 

Notes

1 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/beauty

2 Quote taken from Barnes commentary on 1 Peter 3:4

 

 

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