Friday, January 17, 2014

Paper Bags and Lipstick

By Rebekah Randolph
A Mad Tea Party

Are human bodies good or bad? Glorious or shameful? Nobody knows anymore, and our culture's confusion leaks into Christian attitudes towards modesty, including how it relates (or doesn't) to a woman's beauty.

Modesty is a thorny topic and believe me, I don't intend to define it; for some useful opinions, you might want to read Simcha and Challies. I am more concerned with the extremes to which we go as we pursue virtue.

On one end you have the prevailing message we know so well. A body is meant to display, to manipulate others with. Work it, girl. One the other end you have paper bags; if we assume that godly people should aspire to the world's exact opposite, we all end up in shapeless sacks. Yet that is not godly either! The Lord loves beauty. I wrote something on that way back when, but you don't have to take my word for it. Just read the dang Bible. Beauty's goodness—even feminine physical beauty, forsooth—pops up everywhere.

I am pretty passionate about this because when I was younger, I somehow came up with the idea that beauty equaled blatant sexuality, so to glorify God with your appearance, you probably shouldn't try to make your body beautiful. That might be an exaggeration (it is) but more or less, that summed up my attitude towards physical attractiveness. Though nobody actually told me that I should look askance at beauty, I inferred it from what I did hear about modesty.

I'm not accusing anyone, nor am I bitter about the unbalanced ideas I absorbed; they were well intentioned. I understand how it happened. Sincere Christians saw immodesty invading the church, and they responded by emphasizing purity and self control. That was a necessary corrective and I am still grateful for it, because otherwise I might be wearing bandage dresses to the grocery store, and . . . well, we're all glad that isn't happening. So please do not read this as a diatribe against my family or my church. Nothing of the sort.

However, despite my gratitude for the high value put on sexual purity, I believe that teaching on modesty did inflict some damage. How? By omitting any positive message about beauty. Nobody outright said "pretty is bad!" They simply didn't say anything good about pretty, so I figured that it must be less-than-holy.

Ten years later I figure differently. I think it's possible to promote virtuous behavior without throwing beauty under the bus. After all, that's what the Bible does.

Mostly, I want young girls to understand the huge divide between celebrating beauty and celebrating "sexiness." We should avoid immodesty, no doubt. Yet we are simultaneously free to enjoy the loveliness of the world, including that of the human body.

I don't find that easy to do these days, since our culture does equate beauty with sexuality. (Skim a magazine cover. Get a new haircut, lose ten pounds, and find stylish clothes so you can get the cute guy!) But the culture is dead wrong and I want to fight back. I'd like to show my daughter that she should be grateful for the beauty God has given her, and that she can do it in a pure, joyful way.

Julian Freeman gives some great reflections on this topic in "Let's Not Knock Beauty”:
Clearly we don’t want to abandon the priority of the heart that fears the Lord and the life that is clothed with good deeds; but at the same time we also don’t want to devalue or denigrate beauty as something merely worldly. If we lose our desire for beauty, it will only serve to diminish our desire for our beautiful God. The balance, I suppose, is learning to long for the beauty that matches his character and reflects his beauty. And then, once we find it, we give praise to the one who gives beauty to all that is beautiful.
I love putting on a shiny necklace and pink lipstick, not for the purpose of seduction, but because I believe that beauty is an objectively good thing, and I like being able to participate in it. Further, I believe that any beauty you may see on the outside can work in tandem with—rather than distracting from—the “gentle and quiet spirit” God so highly prizes. That kind of physical attractiveness is the kind everyone should be able to see and love, rather than something I need to hide shamefacedly behind a paper sack. So I don't hide anymore.

Rebekah Randolph is a wife and mommy who also happens to be a world-class nerd. (She was the kind of kid who read the dictionary for fun.) In 2009 she graduated from Hillsdale College with a degree in English, then proceeded to teach online writing classes to homeschooled students around the globe. In her spare time Rebekah listens to NPR, forgets to do the dishes, and blogs at A Mad Tea Party. She lives with her husband and baby daughter in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania . . and no, she is not Amish.

1 comment:

  1. My biggest problem with this topic is knowing how (or whether?) to say anything to Christian ladies who are blatantly, embarassingly immodest.


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