A short time ago blogger Rachel Held Evans wrote an article titled “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go?” She looked to Mark Driscoll, Dorothy Patterson and Martha Peace and pointed out how each one of them has at one time suggested that a woman has to be careful that she does not “let herself go” as she ages.
Evans spent a month studying everything the Bible says about women and beauty and at the end of it all “found nothing in the Bible to suggest that God requires women to be beautiful.”
It is an interesting question: Does God want a woman to seek to remain attractive to her husband while she grows older? Evans believes that emphasizing physical beauty, even as a woman ages (or perhaps especially as a woman ages), points to a new kind of misogyny. But after long reflection, I am not convinced.
I agree that when the Bible speaks of beauty it largely downplays physical beauty in favor of inner beauty. According to the Bible, a beautiful woman is not one who is perfectly proportioned (by whatever society determines to be perfect) or one whose face is stunning. Rather, a beautiful woman is one who is genuinely godly, who reflects “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”
But I think Evans may draw something of a false distinction between the inner and the outer as if these things are entirely disconnected. I would suggest that these two things are actually inexorably connected: the outer is a reflection of the inner. And this means that the outer person matters too. What a person wears has spiritual significance because what a person wears or how a person treats her body reflects her heart.
When Martha Peace and Dorothy Patterson and others speak of the importance of outer beauty, I do not think they are pointing to a Barbie doll figure at 50 or a perfectly flat stomach at 60. Instead, they are acknowledging that there is a connection between what is outside and what is inside. When I read Peace and Patterson, I read less about the inevitable changes that come with years and pregnancies and illnesses and more about those things that can be controlled: dress, appearance, hygiene, care. This is about brushing the hair, about choosing an attractive sweater instead of the stained Mickey Mouse t-shirt. It is about those things that display beauty, availability, respect.
1 Corinthians 6:19 seems applicable here. This is where Paul writes about the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit. That temple must not be abused through sexual immorality, but neither should that temple be neglected to fall into disrepair. We are to be faithful stewards of these outward bodies, even though they are wasting away.
It should be noted that in this way a man can let himself go just as much and it would be just as much of a sin. I know of women who have become utterly disgusted by their husbands - husbands who have given up, who do not show their wives the dignity of seeking to remain attractive to them. It is not just women whose clothes and whose appearance make a statement. It is not just women who ought to make a continued effort to be attractive and appealing and dignified.
So does a woman need to remain beautiful to her husband? Yes, she does! But this does not mean that she needs to remain beautiful in the way society understands beauty. She ought to seek to remain attractive to her husband, to allow the outer to reflect the inner. Her outer beauty, though it is diminishing by worldly standards, will be a reflection of her increasing inner beauty as she becomes increasingly conformed to the image of the Savior. Many a man will tell you that his wife is more beautiful on their 50th anniversary than on their first. And he is speaking the truth.
(Photo courtesy of Esra/Wikimedia Commons.)