Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

A while back I attended a Bible Study our Pastor's wife was leading.  I was tired. My three hour writing class was held the same day, and I'm usually worn out by the time the evening rolls around.  Looking back, I am glad I made the effort.  The book being studied was called "Damsels in Distress".  The topic that evening: beauty vs. vanity.  A lovely group of ladies were gathered around a soup supper and Bonnie, as always, did a marvelous job with the study.  It was provocative and I've been thinking about  it ever since.  She began the subject by using the 1828 Webster's Dictionary to define the two words.
 Joy and gladness. Order, prosperity, peace, holiness...Beauty is intrinsic, and perceived by the eye at first view, or relative, to perceive which the aid of the understanding and reflection is requisite. Thus, the beauty of a machine is not perceived, till we understand its uses, and adaptation to its purpose. This is called the beauty of utility. By an easy transition, the word beauty is used to express what is pleasing to the other senses, or to the understanding.
1. Emptiness; want of substance to satisfy desire; uncertainty; inanity. 2. Fruitless desire or endeavor. 3. Trifling labor that produces no good. 4. Emptiness; untruth 5. Empty pleasure; vain pursuit; idle show; unsubstantial enjoyment. 6. Ostentation; arrogance. 7. Inflation of mind upon slight grounds; empty pride, inspired by an overweening conceit of one's personal attainments or decorations.
Being a lover of books, my mind immediately turned to a story we all know.  Perhaps one of the most vivid pictures of beauty and vanity is embodied in the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, by the Brothers Grimm .
"Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Who’s The Fairest Of Them All?"

Each day the wicked witch must confer with the mirror—her reflection of self—to feel good about her life. When someone else comes along who may shatter her self image, her response is annihilation of that person--namely--Snow White.
Hmmm, I think I may have done that a time or two when comparing myself to someone one else!
Beauty Fades We all know beauty is fleeting—as fleeting as the lilies of the field--and it can not, in the outer sense, indefinitely be maintained.  Sooner or later The Fall kicks in and our flesh goes South, no matter what we do to try to stall Father Time.
Transparency Let me be transparent here! These days, as I look in the mirror, two words cross my mind that have never crossed it before--face and  lift. (Don't worry, it will never happen, but the fact it has crossed my mind is telling, indeed!) I do realize that facelifts, like everything else in this fallen world, need maintained and are not lasting.
But the honest truth is, I look at my beautiful daughters and daughter-in-law and sigh for those good old days, when I could buy just about anything--quality or cheap--and no matter what, it looked pretty good on me.
The Great Cover Up However, now-a-days, as my friend Cindy says, “I’m melting by the minute.” Which means that now-a-days I am in the "cover up" mode of life--cover up those fat arms, those out-of-shape ankles and that flabby tummy from too-many-babies-and-not-enough-exercise! And the cheap  clothing I used to be able to wear?  Well, let's just say it now needs to be that specialty designer jean that fits “the mature woman's figure”... (at a mature woman's price tag, I might add!)
Suddenly, I slap myself back to reality with the words, “vanity, vanity, all is vanity!”
Aging Gracefully I am reminded that as a Christian woman, part of my responsibility is to grow old gracefully, with as much dignity as possible. At age 21, I never dreamed it would be so hard—but at 58 I'm commited to learning to be content with it.

A Disney Version of Beauty So, what does real beauty look like anyway?  Certainly, Disney's version of "Snow White" is shallow, at best, but even they kind of got it right. Disney's rendition of "Snow White" certainly portrayed her as physically beautiful, but to give them a little credit, they also portrayed her as having more than just good looks.
Why else do we see her in the woods communing sweetly with the animals, who instinctively have no fear of her? She is kind as well as beautiful. In the cottage with the elves, she treats each one as an individual loving them for who they are. She is helpful, cleaning up their untidy woodland abode, and she does so cheerfully and contentedly.
Each night the dwarves are anxious to come home to her, and when she eats the poison apple and dies, her loyal little band are so fearful someone will harm their beloved Snow White, they post a constant vigil over her glass coffin.
The Christian View of Beauty For the Christian we know beauty has a deeper connotation.We've all heard the Bible verse:   "Your adornment must not be merely external-- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God."  (I Peter 3: 3,4)
Teaching our Daughters True Beauty But as one wise woman--a mother of four beautiful little girls--also attending the Bible study asked, "how do we teach true beauty to our girls in a society consumed with self and outer looks? Even we parents are in the habit of telling our little girls how beautiful they are or how pretty their dress is," she confessed.
No Easy Answers The question is a good one and there are no easy answers in today's world.  Certainly, I believe in looking as good as we possibly can within reason. To deny that beauty exists and that God didn't intend it so would be a bold-faced lie. Sadly, my own mother grew up in a legalistic home with a severe father who strongly disapproved of  make up or colorful clothes.  When my mother challenged him by asking, "But Daddy, if color's so bad why did God make all those different colored beautiful flowers ?" He had no response.  
Finding the Balance The question is not so much about beauty but finding the balance and cultivating the beauty of the inner-woman.  Perhaps one of the greatest ways to do this is to raise girls who are secure and self-confident.  But that is often easier said then done! 
Providing security in the home  Still, the challenge is a worthy goal.  First and foremost, one of the best ways I can think of to do this is by providing a secure home for our children where the father demonstrates an unconditional love, affection and appreciation for his wife--even when she may not always act in ways that seem lovely.  (Ephesians 5:28,29)
Naturally, kind words and showing courtesy go hand-and-hand with this.  This is emulating Christ, who died for his bride, The Church, when she was still covered in rags (as C. S. Lewis puts it).  
That kind of love is caught by a father's children.  And that kind of love makes a mother stronger. Plus, girls  (or boys) with that sort of father reap additional benefits, because he will naturally be that way with his childen as well.
Beauty's Handmaidens  But really, how can we talk about beauty without including her handmaidens, Truth and Goodness?  And therein lies the key:  we must teach our children that the two go hand-in-hand with beauty, providing a holistic picture. 
Further, we need to teach them to find beauty in all of life--the beauty of thrift and economy, the beauty of simplicity, the beauty of form, the beauty of the natural world, the beauty of routine... and the list goes on.  We need to point these things out as we teach our children along the way. Calling attention to such simple things as the beauty of a well-turned table leg or the intricate, lacy pattern of a spider's web; for instance, are all subtle ways of teaching about beauty.
An Enlarged View  Another way to instill true beauty is to teach our girls to have a view larger than themselves--that others are more precious than they.  ( Philippians 2:3)
Give them ample opportunities to see that life is so much bigger than "self" by serving others. There are any number of ways this can be accomplished--from volunteer work to caring for the poor and down trodden. 
One friend I know often took her children with her when she went to help her drunken neighbor.  Her children watched one night, wide eyed and silent, as she cleaned him up in his incontinence and got him back to bed. Not surprisingly, there were multiple lessons learned watching their beautiful mother in action! Likewise, something as simple as caring for an animal can teach them about caring for others.
Intrinsic Beauty and Discretion are Soul Mates Like the father in Proverbs pointing out the fool to his son (Proverbs 7:6), teach your girls along the way by showing them the counterfeit and its consequences as well as the authentic. How many of us have met a beautiful woman who looked lovely beyond compare until she opened her mouth? This is the woman who lacks discretion. (Proverbs 11:12). And, of course, teaching our girls discretion is another way to instill intrinsic beauty.
Teaching Discretion But how to do that?  I would like to suggest that though we often would like to present only the positive in life, shielding our children from the bad, it is sometimes necessary to acknowledge the opposite of beauty-- which is vanity. It too has handmaidens:  pride and envy.  Pointing out the counterfeits along the way is necessary as well.
Great Literature as a Tool  One practical tool for teaching is to steep them in great literature.  An all time favorite book of ours is "Laddy", by Gene Stratton Porter. In my opinion-- for many reasons-- it should be read by every Christian family!  One of the strongest reasons to read it is the fact that it portrays a physically, lovely mother who embodies every virtue necessary to  becoming a beautiful, lovingly contented  women.
Mothers Need to Model Contentedness As mothers, modeling contentedness goes a long way to helping our daughters to do and be likewise.  A fabulous book on the subject, by Jeremy Burroughs, is called "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment".  The practical advice it gives and many Bible verses makes it a reference work that you can turn to over and over again. 
Consider the Company you Keep Lastly, the company we keep is a great influence on our daughters. That fact puts a whole new light on "it takes a village"! And brings me right back around to our Bible study.  As I sat in that study I looked around, thanking the Lord I could be in a company of such truly beautiful ladies--any one of whom could easily have been a mentor to my daughters and are. Here, I have been truly blessed. In that looking around I realized anew that we have no idea how far reaching our influence can be, and at that moment, I was thankful for the opportunity to be reminded--once again--of the importance of discerning between beauty and vanity. 
~the end~


  1. I've been waiting for you to do this post! One thing that an older woman told me once, which I thought was just brilliant...she said, "We are representing the gospel wherever we go. Why wouldn't we try to look lovely? When we adorn ourselves, we are adorning the gospel in the eyes of unbelievers. When we let ourselves go, what are we saying about our faith?" All that being an encouragement to strive for beauty, I love your point about vanity's handmaidens being envy and pride. If our "adorning" is inspired by envy and discontent, then obviously it has fallen into the other ditch.

    Good discussion. Thanks for all the thoughts.

  2. I like this post, Mrs. Hostetter. I think it is an incredibly important distinction to make particularly in our outrageously "appearance is everything" minded culture. It makes portraying true Biblical beauty all the more necessary for Christian women.

    Thanks for a great read and thought-provoking material!


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