I was reading one of my favorite Scripture passages yesterday. It’s from the Book of Romans, but it was a translation I had never read before. It states “Be aglow in the Spirit; serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:10). Other translations typically state “be fervent in Spirit,” but this line struck a chord with me. I loved the idea of glowing–radiating–God’s love to others. Yet in prayer, for some reason this passage came to mind as I was reflecting on Paul’s letter:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
It occurred to me that there are those moments in our lives where personal care could, in fact, affect our evangelization. How we treat our bodies–or the time we dedicate to our bodies–could be important in presenting the Gospel to others. This doesn’t mean always attempting to look perfect, and it certainly doesn’t mean using our bodies as a means to attract others to OURSELVES rather than to God, but it does mean that we should take the time to care for our bodies and present ourselves, as best we can, in healthy and beautiful ways.
This at times also means using means outside of ourselves (you know, shampoo, a hairbrush, a razor) to care for our physical appearances. This really shouldn’t be such a big deal, especially since there are certain daily habits we each should do to care for our bodies, even visually. So you can imagine how disappointed I was when I read this statement, from a Christian, in the comment section of a popular Christian women’s ministry website:
“I have viewed women wearing make-up as an insult to our Creator. He made us. And HE doesn’t make mistakes. Perhaps some women need to accept who they are and not who they think they should be.”
I am going to assume this man had the best of intentions, that he genuinely loves the women in his life and desires their good. That being said, there is so much about this sentiment that i could talk about, but I’m going to focus on three points.
1. My first and primary concern with the rhetoric we use in the Christian worldview is that it could, in some way, not only draw one away from the Lord, but could potentially be harmful to their person. I kept thinking about the young woman, perhaps with a past filled with shame and hurt, reading such a statement. Imagine how damaging that could be, how detrimental that could possibly be to her healing. This statement, like so many others I’ve encountered in the Christian sphere, tend to be so zealous that, perhaps, they forget to utilize the best of modern psychology and approach topics with prudence and charity. We must NEVER forget that our words, though well-intentioned, could have possible psychological consequences that could be more damaging than we realize.
2. I suppose we should also address the obvious double standard concerning men and women. It seems a bit odd that men are allowed to alter their physical appearance (haircuts, face shaving, perhaps even muscle enhancers) without it offending our Creator, and yet women put on eye shadow and it’s an act of the evil one? Weird. Or what about the simple double standard of ANY altering of our physical appearance. Should women not shave their legs? Cut their hair? Pluck their eyebrows? I’m curious which is exactly an acceptable form of physical alteration according to this commentator.
But the thing is, he’s not alone. I’ve had MANY conversations with friends (men and women) who view make-up in the same way. For years I stumbled trying to articulate that, in fact, women wearing make-up is not indicative of some Divine disobedience. It isn’t even necessarily indicative of insecurity or thinking about “who they should be.” Most women I know who wear make-up have an incredibly healthy view of themselves. So, you may ask, why the make-up? Why not just bare all imperfections or natural appearances for the world to see? This brings me to my third point: the purpose of make-up.
3. I am not a make-up expert by any means. In fact, most days all I wear is a little bit of eye-liner (to fool people into thinking I actually got some sleep the night before). I do, however, remember (thanks to my momma) the number one rule of wearing make-up: “the secret to wearing make-up is to make it look like you’re not wearing any at all.”
It seems like such a strange concept: “Why bother?” the bystander may ask. Here’s the thing: when used in a healthy way, make-up is meant to draw out the things that we like the most about ourselves. In a way, it truly honors our Creator, by recognizing there are certain physical attributes that are exceptionally beautiful. I, for example, like wearing eye-liner. Why? Because I have crazy beautiful eyes, and wearing eye-liner allows them to stand-out in a way that makes me look less tired and draws people in.
Even the make-up used to cover up certain imperfections (blemishes, scars, etc) doesn’t imply insecurity. Again, why couldn’t it simply be a matter of personal care? And why is this individual so certain that such blemishes are a part of our Creator’s plan in the first place? I would be curious how one with such a view would explain acne to a teenager. “You shouldn’t be so sad, fifteen-year old girl. These pimples are from God, you should just love the skin you’re in.” Um…ok? Isn’t it at all possible that such blemishes were in fact NOT a part of God’s original plan for humans, and possibly a result of our disordered nature in the fall? Just a thought, perhaps stretching, but the point is we shouldn’t be so quick to assume desiring to cover up these blemishes in anyway goes against God’s desire for our physical bodies.
It seems appropriate to address the obvious objection that far too many women do use make-up as an attempt to change who they are. I am no stranger to such insecurities. In fact, despite being a make-up novice, there was a period in my life when I was wearing lots of make-up every day. It was at a time in my life when I had just experienced a break-up and was preparing to make the transition out of college. I can honestly say that my intention for wearing make-up was to attract others (mainly men) to me because I didn’t think I could be attractive otherwise. There were even certain points of that year when I would apply make-up many times during the day, worrying that the smallest of blemishes could ruin my chances of happiness. Clearly, this was unhealthy, but luckily for me, I had a wise spiritual director who was able to pinpoint these insecurities and help me through them. In fact, that Lent I gave up wearing make-up, not because make-up is an inherently evil thing, but because how I used it was unhealthy.
In its absence, I not only gained a greater love of myself and self-confidence in who God created me to be, but I also saw how lovely make-up is intended to be when used correctly. I saw good friends putting it on every day simply to care for themselves and make their beautiful features stand out. Throughout this time in my life, one bible passage in particular stood out:
“For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”
I realized that I was so obsessed with my outward appearance that I was severely neglecting my spiritual life. It is not that wearing make-up was wrong, it’s that my priorities were.
And so I come to a close on an article I shouldn’t have had to write in the first place. The idea that something like make-up, which not only encourages daily habits in personal care but could also potentially help our physical appearance in matters of evangelization, be anything like the commenter implies is, frankly, just silly. And it points to the greater point that we tend, even with the best of intentions, to assume insecurities and faults in others that aren’t there to begin with. Perhaps it is a great reminder that we must simply worry about our own journeys and less about what I assume to be God’s judgment on another.