She was a timid and frail girl that made her way into my makeup chair for her appointment with my makeover skills. I noticed first that her hair was gorgeous and straight with a glossy natural brown that was enviable. Her skin was smooth and clear, with hardly a blemish or freckle. Good, I thought, easier for me. She kept her eyes downcast and whispered sullenly, “Can you fix me?” It was only when she closed her eyelids completely did I see the jagged raised scars running the length of those perfect almond orbs. Until that point, I had only heard rumors of the new trend in Asian communities of “creating” an eyelid crease through surgery. The money her parents had given her for college this young girl used for eyelid surgery instead, and now she wanted me to continue helping her in her quest to “fit in” by covering her scars with makeup.
As a non-Asian, I met this discovery with shock, confusion, and subtle horror. Why would anyone do this? I wondered aloud after she’d gone from my chair. Who told her that her eyelids were wrong? This girl stayed on my mind for weeks as I pondered the various cultures I’d personally witnessed and the price some are willing to pay in pursuit of ideal beauty. In high school, I joined a team on a missions trip to the Philippines, and we Southern Californians were hard-pressed to find any sort of lotion or sunscreen that did not have a skin-lightening agent in it. While we teenagers were begging to know when we would be getting our day at the beach in order to properly brown up, the Filipinos we visited were applying strong chemicals to their bodies to effectively de-brown themselves—as lighter skin may be a sign of wealth—and neither side could understand the other.
Years later, during another missions trip to Haiti, the village we stayed in was extremely rural, even by Haiti’s standards, and I may have been the first American the town’s children had seen, not only with chemically bleached hair, but also a tattoo of a butterfly on my ankle. I am a curvaceous girl, who had spent many years hating that part of herself, but found during this trip that I was equal parts fascinating and envied by the malnourished and emaciated town. All day, every day, children and adults alike would come over to pinch my belly, examine my white hair, shake and jiggle my arms, and attempt unmercifully to scratch off the mysterious paint stubbornly attached to my ankle skin. They could not get enough of what a strange creature I was! My personal attempts at what I thought was attractiveness—dyed hair and tattoos—were to them both foreign and slightly scary. What I was most embarrassed about—my tummy and my chins—they loved, and believed me to be a princess. At least several times a day, a small child with huge, starving eyes would stare at my body and tell me in Creole, “Ou Gwo,” which lovingly translated means “You big.” It stung me each time as much as you might imagine a girl from an image-obsessed culture would be stung. In their eyes, I was wealthy, happy, and went to sleep at night full and satisfied. In mine, I was a constantly hungry failure with thick thighs.
And I imagine our loving Heavenly Father gently implores us with a similar question: “Who told you there was anything wrong with the way I created you?”
There are several key verses in the Bible on the topic of outward versus inward beauty, and because, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, lets see what it has to teach us on this subject of our bodies and our attitudes towards them:
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born” (Psalm 139:13–16 NLT).
“Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” ( 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NKJV).
This is usually the part of my article where I sum up my thoughts neatly, and I exhort my readers to turn from their ways and to walk in freedom from the bondage of this world.
But this one is personal, and thus harder to wrap a nice bow around. I struggle with this topic, as I imagine you do too. What I may agree with in Scripture, and publicly at Bible Study, and what I see at home in the mirror, and how that makes me feel, can often be wildly contradictory. I don’t have all the answers here, but this is what I do know: If God, in His infinite, miraculous, and totally unbelievable love for us, formed each part of our bodies with the skill, care, and pride of an artist, and in His baffling grace and mercy sent Jesus to die and buy us back from darkness and despair, and in His ultimate wisdom and sovereignty continues to use all things—even our bodies—for good and for a purpose, then we have no right to hate, abuse, mutilate, condemn, degrade, or deprecate that which our Lord paid for with His blood. I would argue that even joking casually about what you dislike or need to change is not glorifying to God, either in body or spirit. Ladies, please don’t confuse self-hatred for humility. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and the Creator of the universe cares for us just as we are.
I ask that we pray for one another, that we would encourage, trust, and lift up one another, and that our eyes would be opened to these truths, so that we may revolutionize this world and be a kingdom of women who see themselves the way our Heavenly Father does: with adoration and lovingkindness.