Over the past few years I have found myself thinking often about beauty. I suppose my interest in the subject may relate to the fact that I am the father of two girls. Though they are still young, they are already being exposed to so many messages about the importance of beauty and the kind of beauty society expects from them. They already know they will be judged on the basis of it. For this reason I want to equip them with a knowledge of what the Bible says about beauty. But what does it say? What should I be teaching them?
Beauty is the subject of a new book from mother-daughter team Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre. In True Beauty they go looking beyond society’s perceptions and misperceptions of beauty and attempt to bring the Bible to bear. They do it well.
Before I had two daughters I had three younger sisters, and for years I heard them grapple with being beautiful, looking beautiful, feeling beautiful. I heard them as they asked questions about the appropriate standards for beauty and as they doubted all we tried to tell them. I saw them try to deal with the false gospel of beauty: that beauty equals happiness, that more beauty brings more happiness, and that to be without beauty is to be without hope and fulfillment. What they didn’t want to hear is the too-easy message that outer beauty is meaningless while inner beauty is everything.
They could have used this book. Speaking for both authors, Mahaney says, “My hope is that you too will be encouraged to bring every question about beauty and every struggle with your appearance to God’s Word. My prayer is that you will trust in his Word and submit to his Word, finding hope, freedom, and delight in the beauty of his truth.” It is only God’s Word that can direct us to the deepest and sweetest beauty.
The authors begin by grounding beauty in the image of God. Because we are all made in God’s image, we all have inherent beauty. If God is beautiful, then so too are we, having been made in his image. “We are not beautiful because we fit the popular ideal of beauty, and we are not ugly or unattractive because we don’t measure up. Our beauty as human beings is not derived from ourselves. It comes from a beautiful God.” From Creation they go to the Fall and then to the gospel, showing that the gospel lays a double claim to our taste for beauty, first through creation and then through redemption. True beauty, they say, is to behold and reflect the beauty of God.
From the source of beauty, they go to the heart, showing that human beings are glory thieves, eager to steal the glory that is rightly God’s. A woman who wishes to use beauty to draw attention to herself, is robbing God of the glory that is his. From the heart they move to the body and deal with common issues—body image, weight, and the like. They speak here of stewardship, they encourage women to care for their bodies in ways that serve the Lord, and they warn against grumbling and dissatisfaction. They move outward again from the body to the clothing, discussing the importance of modest dress and rightly showing that clothing is simply an outer reflection of the inner woman.
As the book begins to draw to a close, they look at two important New Testament texts that speak to inner beauty and outer beauty. A helpful appendix provides guidance to parents who want to help their children understand God’s perspective on the subject.
What you will not find in True Beauty is the all-too-common attitude that frumpiness is next to godliness. You will not find the authors trying to convince you that beauty is a problem, that Christian women ought to be ashamed of the beauty God has given them, that they’d better not do anything to enhance it. You won’t find them saying that character is all that matters. What you will find is simple, clear, practical teaching on the nature of beauty and the sheer goodness of beauty.
Society gets beauty all wrong. As we examine the messages we see and hear all around us, we quickly spot the presence of idolatry. The beautiful are worshiped, while the plain are ignored or even reviled. Beauty is a cultural god. Mahaney and Whitacre do an exemplary job of going to Scripture to bring God’s wisdom to bear. And, as we would expect, his perspective is infinitely better. This is a book for any woman—an especially any young woman—to read and absorb.