One of the first things I noticed when I visited Korea three years ago was the surprising number of girls wearing high heels. (My friend joked that they would even wear them with pajamas.) One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Korea 8 months ago was how many advertisements there were for plastic surgery––the bone shaving ones shocked me the most. (I used to think the commonality of plastic surgery in Korea was just a stereotype, but it’s a bit more than that.)
It was hard for my own physical appearance not to be near the forefront of my mind.
About a month after I got here, there was one week in which a bunch of people randomly told me I was pretty, all in a row. People I barely knew said things like, “I was staring at you earlier and thinking about how pretty your face is.” (Excuse me, what..?) New acquaintances from language class, friends from school, people at church… all sorts of people.
At first I thought, “I already know I’m pretty, but I guess that’s always nice to hear.” But then I was a little more honest with myself and decided this cluster of compliments probably wasn’t a coincidence. God was trying to say something to me.
As I examined my heart, I realized that my attitude towards my physical appearance was: I have potential. If I work really hard, lose some weight, clear up my skin, buy the right clothes, figure out how to do my hair right, etc, I could be really attractive. But God cut through that mindset and said, “No, you are beautiful. It isn’t some goal you have to strive to attain; it is part of your identity. You are it.”
The thing is, I don’t think that just applies to me. It’s a truth a whole lot of people need to hear.
When I was young I memorized this verse from 1 Peter:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment… instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
It sounds cliche, but it needs to be said: Real beauty comes from within. Society places way more emphasis on outward appearance than is warranted. But the question remains, What should be done about one’s physical appearance? Should we try to look as plain as possible? Should we pretend that we don’t care how we look? Should we pretend we don’t notice how other people look?
Something a (quite beautiful) girl I met in China several years ago still sticks in my mind. She said, “It’s good to look your best––God is honored when you look your best. My beauty is for Him, just as everything I am is for Him.”
Honestly, that statement blew my mind. Up until then, I had always thought my physical appearance was about me, that if I tried to maximize my prettiness, I was being self-centered. But though society has twisted physical beauty into something we have to strive to attain, causing us to obsess over ways to minimize our “ugliness,” physical beauty––not just inner beauty––is actually something created by God for good. And He has the power to redeem it.
It’s true, inner beauty is a lot more important than outer beauty. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about outward beauty or can’t use it. He doesn’t want us to try to hide our physical beauty, for instance.
(Another lie I have been tempted to believe at times is that I am too beautiful––what a ridiculous concept. Admittedly, it is possible to use your looks to manipulate others, but the idea of being intrinsically too beautiful is just foolishness.)
But, He does want us to stop thinking we know better than Him what beauty is. He wants us to listen and believe Him when He says we are beautiful. And He wants us to use our beauty to glorify Him.
When I stop focusing on the parts of my appearance I want to change and simply let the beauty God has bestowed on me shine, everyone is uplifted: me, the people around me, and my Father who loves and delights in me.