Societal vs. Biblical values concerning beauty

I was in nursing school in the late 1980′s. During that time, I watched a television commercial open with a young girl, possibly age six or seven, lying on a large, colorful towel at the beach.  She was wearing a bikini.  She proudly smiled and began to eat yogurt.  She stressed the importance of staying in shape for the summer season.  My heart sunk.  I was immediately brought back to my teenage years.  My mind envisioned endless hours of running and exercising to stay thin.  Sit-ups were completed by the hundreds. I felt I couldn’t be skinny enough.  My boyfriend would call me “peanut” because at one hundred and ten pounds  I had a very small gut.  Now, with three female children of my own, I felt a strong distaste for the commercial. I pondered how it would affect my daughters and girls like them all over the United States.   I wondered, “Why was there a strong push for girls to be placed in a commercialized box?”  Why are societal values of external beauty so biased?  What does the Bible say about beauty?  What truly invites inner peace and joy; outward or inner beauty?”

The yogurt commercial opened my senses to an increased awareness of media pressure.  Billboards and magazine advertisements held new meaning.  Everyone appeared to be so happy.  Some ads showed lovely young women smoking.  The breeze was blowing through their hair.  They were wearing beautiful clothing and had shiny white teeth. They were completely wrinkle free.  Everyone was slender.  What imagery.  Alcohol commercialism was much the same.  Men and women embracing, shiny hair, attractive attire and perfect manicures.  The message was beckoning – smoke me, drink me! You will be elated, you will find the perfect mate, and you will be glamorized if you simply buy this product!

Conversely, what I remembered from my younger years were friends and even a parent who suffered from alcoholism.  These people did not look like the ads.  Often, their hair was messy, they smelled like alcohol, and their walk was unsteady.  They spent time heaving or vomiting into any receptacle nearby.  Sometimes they embarrassed themselves by becoming openly nauseated in the street or in a room.  Later, I would see patients with liver disease.  They did not need to run for miles or do hundreds of sit-ups.  They had no desire to eat.  Their emaciated frames and jaundiced skin told the tale of their addiction.  Sadly, none of them planned to become addicted when they took their first sip of liquor.  Was this, is this, a picture of true beauty?

Smoking held similar promises.  My father developed a lymphoma.  I took care of many sick and ailing people with smoking induced Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.  I watched as time ticked by and cancer or COPD unraveled their lives.  They did not look like the cigarette commercials I had seen throughout the years.  Yellowed fingernails and fingers replaced perfectly polished hands.  The smell of smoke was stronger than their cologne.  They gasped, coughed, and spit up thickened, yellow and sometimes grayish mucus.  Most became dependant on supplemental oxygen for survival.  Their addiction was so powerful that some would often continue to smoke between every hacking convulsion and shortened breath.

Years later, as I taught High School, I would invite speakers to each class.  One presenter brought the blackened lungs of a smoker who had died from lung cancer. Also introduced were the healthy lungs from someone who had died from another cause.  A hand pump was used to inflate air into the healthy lungs and then the sickened lungs. The unhealthy lungs did not inflate as well. They appeared stiff and unyielding.  I asked the each group of teenagers, “Did these dear people know, when they took their first puff,  their lives would progress and ultimately end like this?”  Each class was completely silent. I answered quietly, “I think not.”  Where was the glamour the ads promised?

Years have passed and I met many people.  The most blissful were those who found a happiness not stored in bottles or sophisticated packaging.  Somehow, they saddled past the pressure of media and found something much deeper.  Inwardly, they found peace and joy in something invisible and eternal.  Somehow they mustered the strength to be different and to profoundly affect the lives of others.  What was this ethereal mystique?  I had to know.  I would know.

I discovered a faith in something greater than humankind.  These individuals held a desire to grasp lasting happiness with internal packaging rather than external , temporal goods.  Words such as virtue, modesty, gentleness, honor, hospitality, love, and charity were their focus.  Healthfulness rather than skinniness was sought.  Moderation was key to all things consumed.  Glowing skin and natural beauty were keystones for these women.  Their eyes shone with a twinkle that was unencumbered by staying out too late partying or drinking too much. Their sleep was not inhibited by worries of a DWI or not remembering who they spent the night with previously.

My daughters grew up.  Their lives were not perfect nor without sorrow or hurt.  But, the placement of value on inner beauty and the desire to touch others lives caused these young women to become successful, professional  ladies.  “Mothers Teach Your Daughters” can have an impact on girls in the community.  Moms and daughters alike may receive mentoring regarding a loveliness  that is more than just skin deep, a faith that causes them to look upward, and an inner strength to forge ahead.

by Abby White, RN