In a previous post, I presupposed that we humans are somewhat obsessed with physical beauty. We wrap up the firm and the youthful in the stretchiest and clingiest fibers the modern textile industry can manufacture, photograph the result, photoshop it for good measure, then publish it with all our might and to every available channel. In that post, I was referring to both men and women, and I believe it is true for both. However, I believe there are several amplifying factors that make this obsession a particularly pernicious peril for women. The factor that I would say is closest to the microphone is this: We lie to her. Continually. Powerfully. Subtly. Reality-erodingly. We lie to her.
Listen in on some of the lies with me.
When she was born, her parents promptly wrapped her up in a snug onesie with the words Pretty Like Mommy hand-lettered across the front. It didn't say, Adorned with a Gentle and Quiet Spirit. Equally absent, Indestructible Image Bearer of the Living God. No, it was a cliché plucked from the grab bag of pretties, princesses, and other equally physical platitudes.
As she grew, she quickly learned the ropes in the temple of the Baals of beauty. The pretty girls, the ones with fashion-sensitive moms and skinny waists, the ones with the perfect curls or cute dimples—they got fast-tracked, complimented, and asked to prom. Then she listened with rapt attention to the gospel of Disney, where salvation for the unpopular girl somehow always came in the form of a makeover and revenge on the cheerleaders at the perfectly manicured hands of her suddenly blossoming beauty.
Then the lies graduated from grade school, and what maybe looked cute to the uncritical glance became manifestly monstrous. Maybe by accident she discovers this new, malignant lie when she opens daddy's laptop one day to look at her Facebook and instead discovers his digital harem. She finds that the men in her life look at young, naked women. Her dad looks at porn, and likely he'll hand the baton to her brothers, who will look some more. Someday she marries a man and finds that he does the same, just like his daddy taught him.
What do you think this says to her? What do you think a wife hears when she finds that her husband looks at naked strangers online? Something like this, I think:
"Your beauty is measured every millisecond against a whoreish harem of photoshopped, airbrushed, and naked women saved to the hard drive in my head. Your worth is measured against theirs. Your beauty is measured against theirs, and you have been found wanting. Why else do you think I'd be doing this? I'm bored with you. In 20 years and after three kids, when your body is not quite as firm in hand or fine of view, I'll still be measuring you against 19-year-old digital prostitutes."
We lie to her. We lie to her with internet porn and we lie to her with sidelong second glances at other women, that up and down sweep of eyes trained to process the sight of an eternally-enduring image bearer as an object to be packaged, consumed, and discarded. We teach our girls to locate their greatest and most enduring beauty in their breasts, butts, and willingness to bare more.
And God's answer is to locate the worth of a woman so differently. God locates the crown of feminine beauty and worth in more enduring places than fallen bodies and firm thighs. He locates her worth in his own lended image (Genesis 1:26–27). He locates it in the imperishable inward beauty of a God-entrusted heart (1 Peter 3:1–6). He locates her worth on the cross, where the Father put forth his beloved Son as a ransom—not to save a sinless damsel, oh no. She is as much a sinner as her father and her brothers and her husband—a wounded wounder, a victim offender. No, Christ comes to ransom scarlet sinners with scarlet blood. At the cross, sinners are wrapped in the white raiment of his own resplendent Beauty, which is to say, his righteousness.
So listen, husbands. Listen, fathers. Your wife, your daughter, she is a refugee of this culture. Just start there. She's been breathing these lies into her lungs from birth. Your job is to take your words and your affections and your attitudes, which have been fell weapons wielded to her wounding, and beat them into a shield for her from the lies.
Remind her often of the nature of biblical beauty. Assure her that the flower-fading valuation of this world's quixotic, magazine-cover sorcery has no power in your home. This is what Ephesians 5 looks like when it walks around with husbandly feet in actual homes. Wash her in the water of the Word. Relentlessly remind her of the wellspring of her true worth, the location of her deepest, most enduring beauty. Relentlessly resist the pornification of your verbiage. Let some dust collect on "hot" as an adjective. Take "lovely" for a walk around the neighborhood of your marriage. Find better things to praise than a body.
If you never says these things, never locate beauty where Christ does—if you only compliment her looks, with particular verve when she's in lingerie—then you are sowing fistfuls of lies in her fallow soul and ploughing them deeper and deeper with each day. Such a man will reap a harvest, yes. But it will likely be a harvest of brittle vainglory in the Summer of her beauty giving way to deep-rooted inadequacy as that fleeting season wanes into middle-aged Fall and elderly Winter. Our bodies are frail. They sustain things like physical beauty like a Spring tulip sustains its blooms—vanishingly. Tie not her worth to such things.
She doesn't need one more voice of female empowerment. That won't break the spell. She doesn't need one more "You are so beautiful, girl! You are a masterpiece, honey!" pep talk from a blogging sister. She needs her husband's voice. She needs her father's voice. These voices have the power to make all the other voices fade into a faint background hissing, a stereo stuck between channels in a distant room. Impersonal voices of female empowerment are as pervasive as they are ultimately powerless to uplift a woman whose husband only sees her as a piece of artwork to hang in the living room.
Repent with me, brothers. Believe with me, sisters.