Friday, 20 April 2012


Many have low self-esteem because they think they lack good looks.

What is the biblical view of beauty in a world obsessed with something merely skin deep?

By Carmen and Dr Lim Poh Ann

Beauty seems to give one the edge in so many areas of life, including better job and marriage prospects. Is it wrong to desire to be beautiful? If so, to what extent should we seek outward beauty?

From whitening creams to botox, from slimming therapy to nip and tuck, the pursuit of beauty has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. Advertisements keep reminding us of our inadequacies through the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images. Many nowadays are even bold enough to go under the scalpel, putting high hopes on plastic surgeons to transform the ‘ugly duckling’ into a ‘graceful swan.’

What constitutes beauty varies with time, culture and place. In the East, fair skin is sought after while in the West, tanned skin has become increasingly popular. In the past, a large frame woman was deemed fertile and attractive but nowadays a waif-like figure, a la supermodel Kate Moss, defines modern beauty.

Such perceptions of beauty have disturbed many, including 27-year-old May Lin who had difficulty accepting herself. She admired those gorgeous models who graced magazine covers. They seemed to have it all--svelte figures, flawless complexion and sparkling eyes. She often wondered if Kent, her current beau will seek for another woman. After all, she was a plain Jane whereas Kent’s athletic physique often drew attention from other girls. She decided to “fix” her deficiencies in the upscale Apkujong shopping district in Seoul where almost every building has a cosmetic surgery clinic. First, she requested for a double eyelid operation. Pleased with the result, she went back again for a rhinoplasty (nose job).

“I have always believed that a kind soul who works diligently is what counts. But judging from my present experience, I’d be a fool to continue believing so,” says Jenny, a 30-year-old tax auditor. At her workplace, a glamorous young newcomer was given the promotion despite her deplorable performance. Indeed, people do place a premium on outward appearance.

The apostle Peter reminds us that inner beauty is to be valued over and above outward beauty: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 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” (1Peter 3:3-4).

What does this mean in practice? Does it mean we should be unkempt or frumpy? Does it mean we do away with personal grooming and makeup? Is it wrong to go for dermabrasion or plastic surgery? There are no pat answers for these questions but only principles to guide us.

Now what are some of these principles?

First, we need to cultivate a sense of gratitude. We may not have the dashing looks of Brad Pitt or natural beauty of Catherine Zeta Jones but we can still be grateful that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Secondly, we need to understand that ageing is inevitable. Whatever we do, we cannot stop the relentless march of time with its attendant toll on the human body and face. The wrinkling, the sagging and graying will definitely come with advancing years. We can only delay its progression through personal care and cosmetic enhancement.

Thirdly, we should not be hung up on external beauty but focus on developing our inner selves. By drawing near to God in quiet devotional study and prayer, we are cultivating a sweet spirit which only God can bring about. If we spend time with someone sufficiently long enough, his good qualities will inevitably rub off on us. This is true both in the natural and spiritual realms. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18).

When the prophet Samuel was looking for a king for Israel, God told him not to focus on appearances--height and handsome looks doth not make a man. Man looks at externals but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

We are often attracted to someone based on their looks only to be disappointed when the tall, muscular hunk curses and swears or the charming girl refuses to give up her seat to a 8-month pregnant lady in the bus. Indeed, what is charm and beauty without character?

Jesus was the antithesis of beauty. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him…he was despised…we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2, 3). Yet Jesus is precious to believers. We are attracted to Jesus’ beautiful character—how he took the punishment for our sins on the cross, thus restoring our fellowship with God. Do we still measure a person’s worth based on externals alone?

However, beauty has its place and purpose. We cannot imagine a bride who is not donned in the most beautiful white gown on her big day. She’ll definitely cover up any blemish so that it will not mar her radiance. When Esther was brought before King Xerxes after a long period of beauty treatment, she must have been so beautiful that she just stood out from the rest of the ladies (Esther 2:15-16).  Esther, who was made a queen, later saved the Jewish nation from genocide because she won the King’s favour. Who says God cannot use beauty?

A optimum balance is needed. We need to be neat, well-groomed and decently attired. (And do not forget to mask body odours). Cosmetic enhancement has its place though we should weigh the benefits of invasive cosmetic procedure against the possible attendant risks.

God made Man with eyes to appreciate beauty in creation, art, dance and countless many other things. And, of course, the beauty of the acme of His creation as well--Man. To deny this innate capacity to appreciate beauty will be sub-human.

 Let us assign beauty to its rightful place; not to be hung up on outward beauty which fades by the day. Instead, let’s cultivate inner beauty.
Checklist: Are you obsessed with beauty?
1. Do you spend a large proportion of your waking hours thinking about or attending to your own external beauty?

2. Do you spend large sums of money to look beautiful and attractive?

3. Do you compare yourself unfavourably with others whom you think are more beautiful than you?

4. Do you judge--accept or reject--a person based primarily on looks?

5. Do you often lament that you are lacking in something which will make you more attractive?

6. Do you make it a point to expose yourself constantly to books, magazines, internet sites and friends so as to make yourself more beautiful?

7. Are you willing to part with huge sums of money and take undue risks to make yourself more beautiful and desirable?   

 The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, Feb 2009, issue 41.1

Related article: DIVINE MAKEOVER

No comments:

Post a Comment