seeing by light: redeeming beauty to God’s standards
Judy Lee | OCTOBER 9, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
We look in the mirror. We see all the little imperfections on our faces. Then we scroll through the photos of models, celebrities, or friends in our lives who seem to have better hair, better eyes, and a better body.
We sigh and ask ourselves: Why did God create some people to be beautiful and not others? More specifically, why didn’t He create me to be beautiful?
By What Standard?
Before the Fall, all things were once “good” (and in the case of humans, “very good”). God defined beauty in and through his creation. But sin greatly distorted that standard. Certain things and people are still beautiful, but our hearts are not.
We do not see the good that God has created, nor do we seek the good things He has provided. Instead, we create our own standards to fulfill our lusts and desires and deem God’s standard incomplete. Just like Adam and Eve decided in the garden that they knew what was good and evil, we decided what is beautiful for ourselves. We then believe that it is unfair that God put more care and effort into crafting the bodies of others. But it is we who have distorted beauty, not God.
When it comes to physical appearance, much of these standards are created from societal values and expectations. Features that indicate a certain status or identity, a certain level of fitness and well-being, and even youth are what make you “beautiful.” With beauty steeped in such specifics, it’s unsurprising that we become discouraged when we don't meet these standards.
But the most significant indicator that beauty standards are faulty is their transience. Just a few centuries ago, European beauty ideals were fair skin and plump, curvy bodies that indicated wealth and lack of manual labor. Now, it is bronzed tans and stick-thin figures inspired by Victoria’s Secret models. Even beauty standards between different cultures vary and morph drastically.
The changing nature of what our society considers “beautiful” is in complete opposition to God’s unchanging nature. If He designed and fashioned each human being to be perfectly “good” in His eyes from the beginning, His standard of beauty isn’t what’s changed. Instead, it’s our sinful hearts that keep warping and molding beauty to meet our own expectations. We fickle humans love to decide exactly what we think will make us happy, only to change our minds to follow the trends based on what we see.
The Standard We See
This visual component of commodifying and monetizing beauty is what drives our society’s current standard of beauty. What we see on ads, TV, and social media is often highly sexualized and commercialized to sell, sell, sell — from products to the latest Hollywood blockbuster. And what sells is what’s “beautiful” to our eyes.
It’s no surprise that eating disorders have been on a rapid rise within the last few decades. Twenty years ago, we weren’t bombarded by images of the “perfect” body on a daily basis on our phones. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders warns against the triggering effects of social media on a poor and distorted body image. That’s because what we see is greatly influences our thoughts and emotions. Eve saw that the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). It’s subtle, but it goes to show how much we prize what appeals to our visual sense.
Matthew 6:22-23 also reminds us that our eyes influence our bodies: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Let’s not kid ourselves. What we see on our social media feeds and Netflix shows matter. They can distort our views and prevent us from loving ourselves and others as we were created. Instead of asking why we don't look like that model or actor, maybe we should be questioning whether the spotlight that makes them dazzle in our eyes is in fact darkness. Perhaps we don't see the beauty in our fellow creation — or ourselves — because we are not seeing by the proper light of God’s love for all humanity.
We are beautiful not because we follow a set of standards created by our eyes to please us, but simply because we are made in the image of a beautiful God. He is the same God who gave each of us a unique face, body, personality, and interests. Furthermore, He created us not only to be beautiful on the outside, but also to be adorned with “good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10) — inner beauty that God can see when the world may not.
Unfortunately, the fallen nature of humanity seeks immediate gratification and pleasure in what is seen on the outside. If we believers also get stuck in this mentality, we can just as easily believe the lie that we need to conform to the standards of this world instead of turning our focus to where our identity truly lies. To see God’s beauty as He intended in His creation, we need good vision and the light of His truth to guide our eyes. Amidst all the darkness of this world that tells us what we should and shouldn’t look like in order to please people and ourselves, we need to navigate with sharp discernment and true sight.
What does seeing by this light look like? How can we distinguish true light from the darkness that the world tries to sell us? One simple answer Jesus provides us in Matthew 6:33 is to alter our vision: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We need to shift our gaze, physically and mentally, away from the false message that looking a certain way will make us satisfied and accepted.
Seeing Beauty Truly
If you are struggling with our physical appearance, perhaps it’s time to unfollow those accounts or take a break from Netflix. Pray for discernment about whether what you are seeing on a regular basis is contributing to a “healthy” or “unhealthy” vision. Ask God to show you that he had made you “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14). And accept that these changes won’t happen overnight; recovering mental health is a long process. It takes intentionality, time, and most of all, a heart change from a power greater than our own.
That’s because turning away from the things that look appealing in this world isn’t easy. There are too many distractions to count just on our phones that constantly try and limit our vision to culture and society’s standard of beauty. As humans, we always need to focus our gaze on something. To look away from these things, we need to fix our eyes upon a different object.
One of my favorite hymns that always convicts my heart gives us an answer of what this should be. Let us, like it says, “turn our eyes upon Jesus” towards the ultimate picture of perfect, divine beauty.
By mimicking Christ, the unblemished, beautiful Son of God, hanging on the cross for our sins, we, too, will begin to emit godly beauty through the very nature of being His disciples. When we see Christ reflected in ourselves and in one another, we will see true beauty illuminated by the light of His humility and glory.
Judy Lee is a English Writing major at Biola University. She serves for the Youth Ministry at New Life Presbyterian Church of Orange County, and is a lover of all things Shane & Shane, iced coffee, Asian food, and the color peach. She is currently working on her first novel. Her fashion blogs and writing can be found on her Instagram and website, The Urban Royal.