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The Church and Beauty

I grew up in a family that celebrated an individual's beauty both the outward beauty as well as the inward character. My parents and grandparents never tried to make my sister and me into creatures we weren't. We were taught to dress well, but in clothes we liked. We were taught to be respectful, but not punished for being loud. We were allowed to develop our personalities and tastes in fashions on our own. My parents and grandparents understood that beauty is, and has always been, fleeting.

One of the most beautiful women I've known is my Mommom, and I figured it was about time I showed my mom's parents since I've shown you my dad's parents.

See, beauty is relative. It depends on culture, time and ethnic considerations. What was a true beauty in Georgian England was not a beauty in Japan at the same time. Georgian ideal of beauty is not the same as it is in England today.

Today, women are shown all these forms of beauty, but rarely can every woman be a beautiful woman. We cannot all try to attain cultural norms of beauty. Because of this understanding, the conservative church has focused inward, not outward.

Proverbs 31:30 sums up what I was taught about beauty through my conservative churches:

"Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised."

It's a beautiful statement because for those of us who are attractive, but not beautiful, we can focus on fearing (i.e. showing all due respect) God. I can handle that in my life. I don't have to try to be a size six, and I don't have to worry that the current color schemes don't work with my skin type

I can relax because my beauty is inward out not outward in.

Then comes the frustrations: beautiful characters. The conservative churches focus on creating a beautiful character - a personality that is beautiful. What does that entail? Usually a quiet, gentle spirit. One who is not inclined to cause a ruckus; one who is wise in her speech, does not show anger or jealousy. One who is meek and submissive.

I've tried to be all those things, but I will admit that I struggle with most of them. My personality is inclined to debate because I understand the world better by debate. I'm not necessarily quiet, and I can be brutally honest when needed. While I can control my emotions, passion lurks just below the surface, and my indignation or passion can bubble out. I've never viewed myself as sweet, kind or gentle.

To be someone I'm not seems pointless. To conform to what another decides is ideal beauty whether that beauty is outward or inward also seems pointless. True beauty, I've found, is being yourself. It's knowing how to dress so that you're comfortable in your own skin. It's acknowledging your personality both its strengths and weaknesses. It's finding what drives you, and following it. Beauty is confidence. It's knowing that you are who you are because God created you the way He did. It's realizing that you might be the loud one, or you might be the quiet one. You may be the introvert or the extrovert, but it does not matter.

Beauty is the stretch of peach across a sapphire sky where lavender gray clouds hang after a summer storm. It doesn't try to be something it isn't, but simply enjoys who it is.

If there is one thing that the conservative Christianity can do in regards to beauty it is this: stop defining it. Stop defining it in narrow terms. Submissive, quiet women who fit the modern standards of physical beauty are not the ideal Christian woman - they are one type of Christian woman.

The church needs to realize that it needs confident women willing to step out of the shadows. It needs women who fight, and it needs women who heal. The church needs the women intellects even as it needs the average woman. Not everyone can be philosophers, but everyone can read, discern and teach. We need women who create beautiful pieces of art and music, and those who appreciate it. We need women who are gentle and those that are hard. We need women willing to stand up, and those willing to fall in behind the leader. We need women who are confident in who God created them to be.

What we don't need are women who are constantly trying to pursue an ideal beauty that no one can fit. That ideal might be physical or it might be spiritual. Either way, we need to stop focusing on what isn't, and focus on what is.


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