Some may say I’ve “let myself go” lately. My toenails have been bare for months, my gray roots are showing, and I’m at the heaviest (non-pregnant) weight of my life. Yet, I’m surprisingly OK with it all (most days). I’ve been on a slow but steady journey to undo what I’ve been told is beautiful—the unachievable ideal that I must be actively pursuing lest I be labeled as one who’s given up.
For me, personal beautification began in junior high. One day in class, a guy friend brought it to my attention that I had a mustache. Years later in high school, one boy suggested I “put some color on those naked toes!” Another winner (this one a boyfriend) told me that he and his best friend had decided that I would be the prettiest girl in school … if I wasn’t so white. In each instance (and in countless others), I immediately put together a plan of action to remedy my beauty faux pas. And so I began the pursuit of physical perfection.
Twenty-five years later, I am still affected deeply by my appearance (and the comments I receive from others about it). It is a constant fight to stay in an emotionally healthy place and to hold it all in the light of eternity. For way too long, I have been guilty of paying more attention to the way I look outwardly, with little-to-no efforts spent toward my spiritual life. And I know I’m not alone in this struggle.
However, what we look like does matter. If we stopped showering and roamed around in our pajamas all the time, it would certainly hinder our gospel-productivity. There is a stewardship involved when it comes to our bodies—and the older I get, the more I see and feel the implications of neglecting my physical body.
So, where’s the line? Where does taking care of myself cross over into vanity? When does a holy pursuit to discipline my body for useful service to God turn into a resource-wasting obsession to stay as young-looking and beautiful as possible?
I am far from having this figured out, but I am deliberately taking more and more steps to free myself from the chains of beauty—without completely letting myself go. Here are a few questions I am being more intentional in asking when it comes to my actions in this area.
Is this distracting my heart and/or mind?
- Is my desire for ____________ (a pant size, a hair color, a wardrobe look, etc.) greater than my desire to spend time with and honor my God?
- Are my moments dominated by thoughts of how I look to others around me more than how I can serve and glorify God in those moments?
Is this devaluing the image of God within me?
- Are my actions (or inactions) harmful to my body and/or my witness?
- Do my pursuits of the “ideal” keep me from being content with who God has made me?
Is this divesting the resources God has given me?
- Is this pursuit keeping me from being actively engaged in sacrificial, cheerful giving?
- Is my schedule hampered by beauty appointments and vain pursuits which keep me from using my time and energy for Kingdom purposes?
So, yes, I have been letting myself go. I’m letting go of the part of me that thinks about how I look way too much. I’m finding ways to free up funds for better purposes and I’m choosing not to obsess over the metabolism that is continually slowing down. Having recently reached the milestone of 40 I’m realizing more than ever it’s all downhill from here. My body is inching more and more toward disease and decay and while I want to steward the body and health God has given me, I don’t want this body to distract me from the mission.
Ladies, there is hope for change! Let’s ask God to make us more concerned about the state of our hearts than the shade of our hair. Let’s be women who spend more time in the Word than we do in front of the mirror. And let’s let our pocketbooks pour out cheerful giving to Kingdom causes more than we spend on our hair color, our complexions, and the contents of our closets.
Men, help us. Be aware of how your seemingly small comments about our appearance affect us. Yes, it is ultimately our issue. Our insecurity. Our self-centeredness. But just like we women need to be aware of what we do or don’t wear around you, it would bless us for you to build us up for things that have nothing to do with the way we look, but who we are. (Dads, be aware of this with your daughters, too!)
God, direct our hearts to Your eternal purposes. Open our eyes to the futility of our pursuits. Help us to free up more of our time and money for that which is imperishable: the winning of souls, the building up of your church, and the glory of your name among the nations. Show us where we are neglecting the disciplines of the body, but also where we are obsessing over things that just don’t matter in light of eternity. All for your fame.