Most conservative Christian women may have the tendency to look down upon dressing up, make-up, beauty products, and other activities assumed to be frivolous. This perspective that is pejorative towards placing effort on improving outward appearance also bleeds into the purchase and use of expensive brand name items. I remember a friend commenting in a conversation how he was disgusted to see a pastor drive around a super nice, new Mercedes Benz, as if expensive items and holiness are incompatible, like oil and water.
The topic of female beauty is similarly overshadowed by the vestige of asceticism in our culture, and thus, it is both interesting and very pertinent to ask how far can one go in self-beautification and remain “ok”. Especially now, with the prevalence of plastic surgery (in particular, in my motherland: South Korea), this subject goes deeper than just “you can” or “you can’t”. It strikes at the heart of our desire to be mesmerized by beautiful things and our desire to be desired. Mary Kassian writes “Female Beauty Matters” on this rather touchy subject, and mentions several interesting points:
It’s even a touchier subject for women, because as Evans points out, “many are so burdened by the impossible standards imposed by our culture that they feel as though their efforts will never be enough.” Like Evans, I have never in my life met a woman who did not want to be beautiful for her husband.
When it comes to beauty, women react against the burden of expectation, the fear that they will fall short of the desired standard, the inevitability of decay, and the resentment that the script is different for men than women. A woman wants to be loved and accepted as she is. From a wife’s perspective, a husband’s attraction to/desire for beauty can magnify her feelings of personal inadequacy and insecurity, and she may fear that his love/acceptance depends on her ability to measure up.
And her tentative, working conclusion provides practical insight for both sides:
So girls, let’s give the guys a break. Let’s stop condemning them for feeling attracted to beauty and wanting us to make a reasonable and sustained effort in that department. And guys . . . give us a break. Please understand how very personal and painful this issue can be for women. It’s very difficult to stay engaged in fighting a battle we know we are destined to lose. The beauty of our youth will inevitably fade. And most of us don’t have a hope of even remotely resembling the airbrushed model on the cover of the magazine.
The whole article is a worthy read, in particular for men (and one thing to note is that Kassian speaks to the married couple, does the discussion change for single men and women?). Coming from the male side of the discussion, one thing that can help is for guys to realize the potential for hurt, not in the sense of the dumb “guard-your-heart” nonsense (if you don’t know what that is, don’t ask), but hurt they can render to a real human being. Pain to a person’s sense of worth and being, which goes deeper than romantic heartbreaks.
It is good to want to be beautiful. It is good to want to behold beauty. The question is “For whom?”