Growing up in America in the twentieth (and now twenty-first) century, a girl cannot help feeling distracted and envious by the images blatantly thrust in front of her. It is alarming at how many magazines and television shows are planting noxious weeds into our psyche from a very early age. The tendency to embrace this world view is rampant. But there is also a disheartening pull toward the polarizing side of complete denial. In what sense can a woman retain a view of healthy self-image without compromising either her soul or her wardrobe?
I have been reading and meditating recently on the book, “Unseduced and Unshaken” by Dr. Rosalie de Rosset. A long-time college professor and avid reader, de Rosset presents the dilemma of “dignity” in contemporary society. There are a few contributing writers, but it is mostly penned by her. What she has to say is striking, provocative, heart-wrenching. She speaks of a world in which there is very little encouragement for a woman to have a “strong, chosen, deliberate life, the result of the totality of a person’s choices and worldview.” Her main heroine is none other than the wonderful, Jane Eyre. And being a favorite classic novel of mine, of course I relate to de Rosset’s use of her as a resolute woman, not divided by loyalties, fashion, or external pressures (some of which are even good-natured).
The issue of division in our natures is not a new concept. Paul speaks of it in Romans 7:22 saying, “For I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” We are constantly struggling with a nature that is not dignified, Holy, or like-minded with God. It is incredibly frustrating! And still, we are called to something higher. The expectation for our beauty and self-possession MUST come from our hearts. And if we let ourselves become filled with things of vanity, then our hearts too will be vain.
“If you choose the path of dignity, that means refusing to be a divided self, insisting on theological thinking, moral resolution, self-possession, and courage. It means maintaining a detailed moral sensibility, a sense of voice.” de Rosset could not drive the nail home any harder. This is quite possibly the most difficult lesson we will struggle with in our lives. It is looking in the mirror every day and choosing to be different. Choosing to embrace our strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, dreams, realities. Choosing to submit our foul, selfish nature into the hands of someone who truly has the power to transform us, inside out.
It is said that true beauty comes from the heart.
And not the Playboy, Victoria’s Secret, People Magazine type of beauty. That is born of lust and manipulation. No. I am speaking of the way a woman’s joy can light up a room; the moment after the excruciating hours of childbirth, when a woman holds creation in her arms for the first time. The wrinkles around the eyes from years of laughter, or the poise in which a woman conducts herself after receiving a compliment. Real beauty takes sacrifice and humility. It is not acquired overnight. It is born of pain and difficult life lessons, never compromising in what cherished values are held.
When I moved to Los Angeles, which is notoriously known for it’s obsession with image and self-promotion, I found myself drowning in a sea of pity and self-loathing. I would never be as beautiful as the women I was selling skinny vanilla lattes to. They seemed to have it all: the house, the perfect kids, the handsome husband. Yet upon getting to know some of them on a more intimate level over the span of about a year, I discovered something interesting.
They were just as self-loathing and pitiful as I was!
Their insecurities came out in subtle ways. And through my observant eye and ear, I logged information quietly away in my heart about who these women pretended to be. I realized that to most of society it is not about how functional you are, but about how well you can act. I am continually fascinated by the art of deception when it comes to people. We are all scared little girls (or guys) hiding under years of practiced facades.
I have seen the evidence of this in my own life just as painfully. For years, I have struggled with being overweight and acne riddled. Growing up, I never regarded myself as good-looking and despite the love of friends and family, I never valued myself as a worthy child of God. I covered up my pain and insecurity with jokes, performances, and terrible fashion. I thought that if it seemed that I did not care about what people thought about me that I would be safe.
I was wrong. I had a terrible philosophy of beauty.
In her book, “Breath for the Bones” Luci Shaw talks about beauty in a way that not only challenges the status quo, but encourages believers to embrace it. She says:
“We care about how we look. Appearances often reflect something deeper–something about who we are. Beauty is integral, so deeply a part of who we are and what we enjoy that we may take it for granted. It is perhaps one of the few things that constantly calls us back to God.”
This May I turned twenty-five, and the thought of me living out the rest of my life in frustration and self-pity gave me the motivation to become a healthier person. Not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. This has not been easy. It is difficult to re-train your body, brain, and heart to acknowledge and embrace change; even the greatest, healthiest change. I have seen incredible results since May and that has encouraged me to start sharing passionately what transformation can do. God is at work, and for the first time in my life I am running head-on into His arms and allowing Him to take my life and make it His own. It is an uphill battle, everyday, but it is worth the tremendous effort because I know that my reward awaits me.
I wake up wanting to feel that sense of pride and dignity knowing that I am God’s daughter. I am unique, created with one mold; mine. There is no other copy of me anywhere. The same is true for you. The longings and desires that we have as women to be known and cherished and loved are just a reach away. So close. We cannot keep selling ourselves short for the “newest model” mentality. It is important that we feel beautiful but not that we obsess over an image that we will never be.
Most of the women I look up to in my life are fashionable, but they retain a sense of modesty in their decor. Women who enjoy the embellishments of life, but do not idolize them. Women who pray, laugh, cook, cry, smile kindly to strangers, become frustrated with their children, cherish their husbands, are proactive in their communities, have flaws, love whole-heartedly–even when they know it will hurt. These are real women. They are not air-brushed, tanned, over-made wisps of desire. They are the definition of dignity itself, “worthy, esteemed, honored; (they have) inherent nobility and worth; poise and self-respect; elevation of character.”
It is my desire to see this lived out in my own life, as well as other young women around me. Let’s raise ourselves to a higher standard. We will be ridiculed and misunderstood by the world-at-large. We will be punished by people who find us a threat. We will have many instances to pray for humility and grace, lest our tongue fly out damaging insults. But in the end, we will be beautiful. We will be pure of heart and mind. We will be God’s children, untainted by the desires of this world.
We will be dignified.
Dr. Rosalie de Rosset has taught English, literature, and homiletics at Moody Bible Institute for over forty years. She is a wonderful example of what it means to live a life of dignity and love for God. May she continue to inspire the young women around her for years to come.