A Question Of Beauty

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In my adolescent years, I looked like a boy. Seriously. As in people asked me what sex I was. Not to hurt me, they just really couldn’t tell.

One time I was entering the women’s bathroom and a woman said “You can’t go in there!” And I said, “Why not?” She replied, “Because it’s the woman’s room!” “I am a girl!” I answered. She looked shocked, I felt stupid, and it has been stuck in my psyche ever since.

After my boyish years, I grew to be pretty confident about my looks. I am not a stunning beauty, but I think most people would say that I am pretty. I know this isn’t the norm for most women, but I didn’t think about my looks that much, even in my teenage years. I had fleeting thoughts about my ample child bearing hips or the annoying white eyelashes that are bestowed on most redheads. So I just covered up my thighs with flowing skirts, my lashes with mascara, and went on with my life.

But the last few months, things have changed. I have been taking a medication for sleeping that is making me gain weight. I have gained about 15 pounds in the last 6 months, and most of it is in my stomach. My stomach! My flat stomach! Why have you left me, oh sweet belly of mine?

I can’t believe how much I have been thinking about this. It is on my mind often. I don’t like looking down to see my precious little muffin top protruding ever so slightly over my jeans. I have had a really hard time looking at pictures of myself, making sure to delete ones on Facebook where I look fat. I pull back the skin on my face to see what I would look like if I had my cheekbones back. “There are children dying of starvation and you are obsessing about fifteen pounds!” I say to myself. “Stop being so self absorbed!” And yet, for some reason, I can’t seem to shake these thoughts.

The problem is exacerbated even more because I was so skinny when I was sick with lyme disease a few years back. I was 35 pounds lighter, but I was sickly skinny. And yet, I felt powerful when I was skinny. People who didn’t know I was sick would say “You look better than I’ve ever seen you!” I wanted to say “dude, I am practically on my death bed!” But for some reason, skinny equaled beautiful in their eyes. And I liked that, even in my sick state.

Now that I’m healthy but heavier, am I still beautiful?

The truth is, I am beautiful, but I have forgotten that I’m beautiful.

I am not alone. We Americans spend a lot of money to feel attractive. The average American woman will spend $15,000 on make up in her life time. Americans spent $10.4 billion on plastic surgery in 2011. That is more that the gross domestic product of nations such as Chad and Suriname. The weight loss market is an even huger number. It is worth nearly $70 billion dollars. That is $200 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

Some of these investments make sense, when you think about how much beauty is put on a pedestal in our culture. Would any of us read People magazine if it was filled with stories about ugly people? No one would bother. If Ryan Gosling’s character in The Notebook was ugly and fat, we would not think that his gestures of love towards Ally were romantic. We would think that he was a stalker.

In Khaled Hosseini’s book And the Mountains Echoed there is a character named Thalia whose face has been hideously malled by a dog, so she always wears a veil on her face. Her best friend Marcos, who is appalled by her at first, gets to know her and sees how beautiful she is. She slowly feels more accepted by him, until finally, she takes the veil off her face permananently. Marcos grows up to become a plastic surgeon. He says

“I learned that the world doesn’t see the inside of you. That it doesn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams and sorrows that lay masked beneath skin and bone. It was as simple and absurd and cruel as that. My patients knew this. They saw that much of what they would be or could be hinged on the symmetry of their bone structure, the space between their eyes, their chin length, the tip projection of their nose, whether they had an ideal nasofrontal angle or not. Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly. ”

He’s right. Beauty is something we have almost no control over, and yet it is something we judge other people with on a regular basis, something we judge ourselves with so harshly.

What do we do with this insatiable, sometimes ravenous desire to be beautiful?

In Psalm 45:11, it says “The King is enthralled by your beauty. Honor him, for he is your Lord.”

The dictionary defines enthrall as “To hold spellbound, captivate.” God is captivated, spellbound, with our beauty. And what are we to do with that? Tell him that he is wrong? Tell him that he did a bad job when he created us? No. We are to honor him.

When you honor someone, you stand in reverence of their perspective. You take that perspective as your own. Therefore, it honors him when we say “you think I’m beautiful? Then I will believe that I am beautiful, no matter what the world says.”

If I were to see the painting of an artist and say “That is the ugliest painting I have ever seen!” would that glorify the artist? Of course not! The painting is a reflection of the heart of the artist. When we see and say that the painting is beautitful, we honor the one who painted it. The same is true of us. When we see ourselves and others as beautiful, when we even use our words to reflect the truth that we are beautiful, we are glorifying God.

I will end with this last story. One day I was going through some difficult memories in my mind, trying to ask God where he was in those memories.  The memory came to me of kids in my fourth grade class making fun of me because I looked like a boy.  I said “God, what did you see when you saw me then?” I thought he would tell me that I looked like Angelina Jolie in his eyes or something. But no. He said “you were so so very beautiful to me, Kate. Exactly the way you looked right then. You were and are so beautiful.”  I had a hard time believing him.

But faith is all about believing things that can’t see, right? Maybe I can’t always see that I am beautiful, but I need to have faith that it is true.

Why? Because the King is enthralled by my beauty. If he says that I’m beautiful, it is the truth. I am beautiful.

Let’s have some discussions about this. What kind of insecurities have you gone through about your looks? Why do you think looks are so important to us as human beings? For those of you who have been told you are physically beautiful your whole life, how has that shaped the way you acted or seen yourself? Do you feel like you always hade to keep up the way you look or people will reject you?  For those of you who have felt ugly or fat, how do you think your life  would be different if you were “beautiful” or slimmer?

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34 thoughts on “A Question Of Beauty

  1. KT, I always love your posts and your thoughts that come from a different angle.

    I have, for most of my life, struggled with insecurity about my looks. As a child, I was worried about my high forehead and what seemed like a big gap between my front teeth. As a teen, I didn’t like wearing glasses, and was always jealous of my taller, thinner friends. As an adult, I still struggle. Weight, in particular, has been and probably always will be an issue. I think that insecurity and dislike of ourselves is part of being female, and it is not at all helped by the pressure the media and movie stars put on us (whether intentionally or not) about what physical “perfection” is.

    One thing I am trying to teach my children, and remember myself is that true beauty is not what shows on the outside, but what is present on the inside. Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

    Thanks for your thought-provoking and encouraging words. You are a beautiful woman, inside and out, and you are allowing God to use you to bless and minister to others!

  2. Lovely post. our society programs us to be critical of our appearance from a very young age. If only as much money and time was spent on inner beauty than outer!

  3. Wow, I was just speaking with someone the other day about how even though I am losing weight now, I dont want to keep losing once I get to a healthy weight. I was at 325 and now am at 240, still more to go… but I have made a conscious choice to eat better, exercise, but to only weigh myself after a workout and I workout 4-5 days and that is it. I know my body needs to rest and anymore I feel would begin to be unhealthy physically and psychologically.

    Thanks for sharing your story and I am sorry about your past, but we have to remmeber it is not the past but the present and future that truly defines us, our past is only part of that story. My past has been that I was a big and therefore, mostly unattractive male to females. Now that I am losing weight, I am getting some more attention and I feel better overall, but after being big for so long, I am not sure what it will be like to be a healthy weight. I kind of feel like I am wasting away sometimes, but it is because I had so much extra on me for so long. Now I am being freed of that “burden” but have to reorder myself in a way. God bless you on this journey Kate!

    p.s. – I read and really enjoyed your book!

  4. Thank you for this post. It is such a crazy head game for girls constantly critiquing our looks and comparing ourselves to others. And, let’s be honest, guys (at least outside the church) aren’t exactly helpful in combatting it. I feel like I have become more concerned with looks as I get older instead of less, which is not what I expected. I remember I used to think, “Gosh, I can’t wait til I’m 30 and no one cares anymore because they evaluate me on different things.” Ha! Now that I’m past 30 by a few years, I find myself more concerned than ever about my appearance. Of course, being single has a lot to do with that. My biggest fear is that someone will think “Well, of course she’s single.” No; it needs to be a baffling mystery that no one has scooped me up. lol I sometimes feel like it’s a trick either way. Working with many young guys who don’t know the Lord, I sometimes feel I am always invisible. If I’m not looking cute, then I’m invisible because of all the girls who are. And if I am looking cute, I’m invisible because all they really notice is the packaging. Anyway, I’ve been developing a theory about my own concern with appearance. I think it has to do with a fear of death and a desire to cling to this life. In America, life is pretty darn good compared to the rest of the world. Consequently, we’re more prone to find our happiness and reward here and to want to cling to this life–a problem I suspect is less frequent in places where this world does not glitter and sparkle like it does here or where this life is much more tangibly a dead end. I find myself not wanting to fail at being beautiful, or overlooking guys who are less attractive because these things remind me that I’m getting older, that whatever physical beauty I have now is fading. And that’s scary. I realize it shouldn’t be, since I know the Savior I will be spending eternity with and His love for me is not based on the culture’s evaluation of my physical appearance (or even my own). But, it’s hard to face the fact that time is going by and that I’m not as young as I feel, and that I’m nowhere even remotely near where I thought I would be by this time in life–financially, relationally, ministerially. So, I think I try to control my looks as some form of really futile denile, so I can just pretend I am in fact still in my early 20’s with my whole life ahead of me rather than what I actually am–in my 30’s and back at the starting block with a lot less time to accomplish the things that still haven’t happened. Lately, Jesus has been reminding me that His purposes for my life have not been thwarted by the turn of circumstances that landed me here, that He is still being glorified through my life, and that I can’t even imagine how great my glorified body is going to be, and I get to spend an eternity in that body. Oh, and I will never be invisible in heaven. None of us will be, not even to each other.

  5. After having three kids I have completely lost my boobs. Gone. There are 8 year olds with more boobage than me – no kidding! I can mostly hide this with slightly padded bras, but the other day I decided to join my daughter at her swim meet. Speedos don’t have padding. Everyone would know!

    I couldn’t believe how self-conscious I was at 37 years old. I am a naturally thin, average looking person, so I’m not used to a lot of positive or negative attention.

    In the end most of the other parents looked about how I did – in different ways. They were average looking people with some extra weight. Suddenly, I was glad I didn’t have breast implants. If I did, we couldn’t all be average together. I would be just a little too perfect. Still average looking, but a body too perfect.

    We were a bunch of almost 40 something too flat or too overweight average looking people in swim suits. Yeah, probably too scary for People Magazine.

    But I can totally relate to being mistaken for a boy as a preteen. A mom gasped thinking she had walked into the boys changing room-and I was changing. Not fun. (I even had my ears pierced- I guess I always knew I would be very flat. )

  6. I am 34 and single, and wonder constantly if my appearance is why I’m not yet married. I hate it, but that’s always a nagging thought in the back of my mind. There are things about myself I’d like to change, and the things that are in my power to change (i.e. weight) I am working on….but for the most part, I am confident with how I look. I dress nicely, I fix my hair, wear make-up, etc….I don’t constantly live in doubt or walk around with slumped shoulders looking at the ground. I am confident. But I do wonder….

    • Lindsey,
      I also feel this way. And like you, I am typically pretty confident despite the nagging thoughts in the back of my mind. I know and believe that if God wanted me married I would be regardless of how I look, but since I didn’t take care of my body and gained 70 pounds in 2 years I do struggle with thinking that if I were thinner I would attract more guys. I am also working on my weight, but it’s a slow battle. I struggle to reconcile God’s will along with human tendencies and I am all too aware that weight plays heavily (no pun intended) into male attraction. *sigh* it is something I feel like I have to bring back to Him CONSTANTLY and is frustrating to have nagging at the back of my mind.

  7. Ah, body image. Thanks for posting this honest reflection, Kate! Strikes really close to home for many of us, as I see from the comments.

    One thing I’ve recently been coming to realize for myself (after many, many years of feeling far too fat, too average height, too double-chinned, big-footed, badly dressed, frizzy-haired, bespectacled) is that body image is just one of many images we spend a lot of time manipulating before we present it to the world. We want to be loved, to attract love, and our appearance is the first way to do that. Sometimes I have to let myself leave the house without makeup on, or wearing an outfit I don’t love, specifically to remind myself that I’m not perfect. People can love or hate that as they will — and the people who are worth keeping in my life will love me no matter how I look. The one thing that attracts solid friends for the long haul, and that counts for a lot more in any relationship or interaction, is a good, loving personality. Hands down.

    Granted, that doesn’t make “fat days” any easier…

  8. How does this apply to those who are obese? I agree that at a healthy weight yes, God did create us like that. I’m not saying that he doesn’t think we are beautiful necessarily if we are heavier than we should be, but I’m not sure how that fits in since I think that gluttony is a sin and typically is the cause of excess weight.

  9. I have suffered with an eating disorder that probably should have killed me because I was so weak from malnutrition, got to a healthy weight, then ballooned to obesity due to a combination of binge eating and meds. I haven’t dropped the weight from that, but I’m so much happier with myself now physically. I am working on healthy eating with the help of a counselor and trying my hardest to make wise decisions. When I’m down on myself, I surround myself with people who are positive and encouraging. It’s easier to handle weight issues when you are friends with women who are more interested in getting healthy than getting thin.

  10. I grew up as the ‘fat sister’. I wasn’t fat at all, but my younger sister was tiny and blonde and I was not. I always wanted to be her because she got more attention and (in my opinion) was therefore more loved.

    I hit my 20s and became super-thin (radical dieting). I bleached my hair blonde. I was suddenly getting so much more attention. People began telling me I was pretty.

    I’d always hated my nose, so in my early 30s, I could finally afford to get that fixed too.

    Now people regularly tell me I’m beautiful. I have the ‘perfect’ body, wonderful (fake) features, shiny (fake) hair. It makes my life so much easier. People are nicer to me and I can talk my way into almost anything because of how I look.

    I feel so guilty and have constant food issues and work out constantly. Looking like this consumes a lot of my energy, but I’d still rather this than the average-weight, average-looks, brown-haired wallflower.

    And how messed up is that?!

  11. I’m going to represent the extreme outlier here, but I think everyone—if they’re being truly honest with themselves—wants to marry the Kate Uptons and Brad Pitts of the world. And if you find someone who denies it, that person is lying to you. In an ideal world, we would always choose to maximize (attraction) utility. Can we be completely honest for a moment? Every guy wants the bikini model with great breasts, and every girl wants the chiseled face with six-pack abs and a great smile. (Exchange theory makes allowances for some wiggle room here, but we won’t get into that at this point.) Sexual attraction and interaction define the uniqueness of a romantic/marriage relationship that is distinct from every other earthy relationship (e.g., familial, platonic, etc.), yet we’re taught to marginalize “appearance” as a component of the attraction matrix lest we betray a flawed and superficial character.

    Please.

    The Bible is teeming with references to unshirted physical beauty. Ever read Song of Songs? There’s very little “spiritual beauty” being described in those chapters, yet we don’t feel convicted that we don’t engender that sort of visceral physical response from our spouses and significant others. Why does the Bible go out of its way to underscore the extreme beauty of some of the women mentioned throughout history (e.g., Sarah, Bathsheba, Tamar, Rachel, etc.) if Christians should be marginalizing attractiveness? (It even reserves a very specific Hebrew word for only a few women of exceptional beauty. Yes, I actually did the word study.) Why is “extreme beauty” one of the blessings of Grace if it’s simply a specious cultural construct designed and corrupted by Satan? Everyone forgets that Sarah was blessed with a physical transformation such that she was subsequently desired by two heathen kings for their harems, not to play chess and discuss the weather—and not to bask in the glow of her “spiritual” beauty. The first time this happened, Sarah was, I think, 60 years old; the second time, she was a nonagenarian.

    Selah.

    So, what does that mean for us “normal people”? It means that when we “choose” a mate or romantic partner—at least with respect to an “ideal world” that maximizes utility—we nearly always settle with respect to physical appearance. (And, yes, I do believe this factors into the high divorce rate and porn use among Christians.) Why do we do this? There are three primary motivations: (1) We do not want to be perceived as superficial (i.e., that we’re somehow more evolved if we claim to look past physical appearance as the primary attractive force); (2) we feel insecure about our own appearance, so we selfishly desire someone who will (claim to) look past our physical flaws and relieve us of exogenous pressure to “look good”; and (3) we’re lazy, and we don’t want to prioritize fitness and do whatever is necessary to maximize the genetics the Lord did give us; we prefer, instead, to invoke “unrealistic standards of beauty” as an excuse to eat cake, complain about “women’s magazines,” and avoid the gym.

    Here’s the truth: Nearly everyone can “be a supermodel” if one is willing to make the associated sacrifices. (Yes, I understand some people are limited by physical handicaps, but for argument’s sake, we’ll limit our discussion to healthy individuals without such impairments.) If you’re healthy and you want it badly enough, you can achieve truly amazing fitness results. You can look like the girl/guy in the magazine. It is possible. Unfortunately, however, we don’t want to work hard. We want the “six-minute abs” routine that will make our bellies flat while we sit on the couch. We want the “cabbage-soup” diet that will ravage our bodies in order to lose those 15 pounds before the reunion—so we can give a false impression of prioritizing fitness and betraying a healthy self-respect. We get angry at the beautiful girl trying on the bikini in the store or the poster of the male underwear model in the mall as we lick our three-scoop cone of Ben-and-Jerry’s ice cream and drive our SUVs to the store that’s three blocks away. It’s easier to point fingers and complain about others who have prioritized health and fitness because they make us feel badly about ourselves. It’s not their fault. It’s our fault, and it’s ridiculous we’d prefer model X gain p-pounds so we can feel a bit better about eating fast-food meals for lunch.

    It’s time to stop complaining about the results others obtain through hard work and sacrifice and start empowering ourselves by readjusting our priorities—rather than paradoxically and hypocritically castigating the very ideal to which we would (and should) aspire if we could unzip ourselves and emerge anew.

    • You know, even though this is presented in a way that a lot of women will find offensive, I do agree with you.

      But is it healthy or Godly to make ourselves into these beautiful versions of ourselves? Are we then making beauty an idol instead of working with what we’ve got? I speak as someone with a ‘perfect figure’, because I spend a lot of hours working out every week.

      When I became physically beautiful, I found a boyfriend (who’d gone through a similar transformation). He’s also good-looking and had been looking for an equal. We’re a textbook example of people who didn’t want to settle for average-looking. So we became what we wanted, and then found what we were looking for.

      • I’m not sure why women should find my comments offensive. I made general claims concerning both genders. Fitness represents an equal-opportunity lifestyle. And, no, I don’t think maximizing one’s God-given potential, fitness or otherwise, is a problem—as long as you’re not neglecting the Lord or a spouse or your children (or developing a superiority complex) as the cost for pursuing those goals.

        There’s nothing uglier than a beautiful-yet-haughty human being.

    • I don’t think many Christians would say that it is wrong to want to be with someone we find attractive. OBVIOUSLY we are meant to feel attracted to the person we are going to marry! But if outward perfection in a partner is what we search for above all else, then I am sorry but this is shallow. Feeling physically attracted to someone can often be the initial factor in starting a relationship, and you are right in saying that this is not wrong, as long as there are other factors that indicate your compatibility as a couple. The Bible tells us that “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16v7). If looking primarily at our hearts is what God does, then clearly this is what Christians should try to focus on too, no matter how much we might try to justify judging by outward appearance.

      Since the Fall, there has been no such thing as a ‘perfect’ body (I know that in God’s eyes we are perfect, but I am talking physically). Our bodies aren’t supposed to be, because they won’t last. Personally, I make sure I look after my body, but I don’t see the point in focusing so very hard on perfecting something that will eventually wither and die, and ultimately be replaced by something much better. One day in heaven we will all be perfect, both outwardly and inwardly, but that level of perfection can’t be obtained on earth.

      I agree that people tend to “point fingers and complain about others who have prioritized health and fitness because they make us feel badly about ourselves”. You are right that jealousy and laziness plays a huge part in how we view physicality, but it is important to remember that people who hold fitness as their number one priority are NOT superior to those who have other priorities. Don’t look down on people who occasionally enjoy cake! 🙂 (You made me smile with the three-scoop Ben and Jerry’s thing, though).

      Yes, there are plenty of examples in the Bible of men and women who were very good looking. And yes, God does want us to have a husband or wife who we find beautiful. Desiring this is not wrong or shallow, it is natural, like you said. But does he want us to view our partner as a physical commodity, someone to be scorned if they let the standard we have imposed on them drop even the slightest? I don’t think so. Personally, I find a variety of things attractive on guys, for example then way they smile or are confident, or how they love God. Muscles are great and all, but really I am not that bothered about my future husband maintaining a six-pack, and I don’t appreciate you telling me that I am lying when I say this! (Obviously, I would prefer for my husband to stay reasonably fit, but I won’t impose the high standards you speak of on him because, hopefully he will be more to me than just a lean machine!) ;D

      Also, the supermodels in magazines ARE unrealistic. Eating half an apple for lunch and working out for five hours a day is not natural, and it is not an obsession that God wants us to live with. I think you need to be more careful about saying how obtainable these bodies are. It is a wonderful thing to take care of the bodies God gave us by exercising and eating well. I believe that we can all honour God in this way. But we must be careful that we are truly honouring God, and not merely satisfying our own vanity, or our own need to be validated in the eyes of the opposite sex. We must also be careful that we don’t over-prioritise fitness or health. Like it or not, one day these things will more than likely be taken from us, whether due to age, infirmity, or sickness. If maintaining our physical body has been the foundation for our lives, then how will we feel when this is gone?

      • I’m not saying perfect beauty should be a prerequisite for marriage; I’m saying there is almost always a disconnect between what we secretly desire in an ideal mate and what we choose—and that true faith in an omnipotent God perforce demands the rejection of a barrier between a vision of the ideal and the pursuit of the reasonable.

        But, for various reasons, the vast majority of people “settle” when selecting their mates, and subsequent marriages, no matter how vibrant and powerful, are partially involved—whether you like it or not—with the perpetual management of those internal and unstated disappointments and resignations birthed by the original decision to capitulate to sacrifice and get-what-you-can rationality. If you don’t believe that, then, yes, you’re lying to yourself—either that or you’ve managed to snag your ideal partner. (Congrats to you in the latter case.)

        We make dating so much more spiritual and esoteric and nebulous than what it really is: a gathering of information designed to aid us in the process of selecting a mate based on an unconscious calculation that seeks to maximize assets and minimize liabilities. But make absolutely no mistake: the nature of compromise is, ipso facto, a willful embrace of a non-optimal outcome. Such a sacrifice might be made willingly in the name of some virtuous claim—that of humility or spirituality or kindness or some sort of twisted, psychosexual asceticism—but to suggest, as some seem wont to do, that it is not a sacrifice at all, that the notion of compromise is a dysphemistic characterization of what you’d resolve to do all over again, even if you were given both the ability and permission to redesign your mate-specs such that they aligned perfectly with your ideal, is simply disingenuous and not representative at all of how most people (secretly) think.

    • I am not sure how to respond to this. I can be fairly sure that the person who wrote this is good looking, because it seems that you don’t understand how difficult life can be for people who just aren’t that good looking. Or a person whose body shape is a certain way and can work out hard and still not feel or be seen like a supermodel.

      The thing is, even people with beautiful bodies can have faces that aren’t considered attractive by people. They can face hardships in life that other people don’t have to. They long to be married just as much as anyone else, yet their chances are slimmer than someone gorgeous and that just doesn’t seem fair.

      I would not be surprised if there are people out there who read this comment and cried. It just seems pretty feelingless towards people who are not naturally attractive or people who have battled with their weight. Being overweight can be something people try their whole lives to overcome and something that they wish they could change more than anything else in the world but it is still such a battle for them. I don’t think you can understand that unless you’ve been through it, and that doesn’t seem to be something that you’ve had to walk through.

      Another thought, what if you were blind? How many more women would you be attracted to if you were blind? How many more second dates would you go on? Why in the hell are looks so freaking important? It just doesn’t seem fair, honestly.

      It bothers me that you say that marrying someone that you “settle” for attraction wise is a big cause for divorce. First of all, I think most people are genuinely, deeply attracted to their mates, even if they don’t look like supermodels. Second of all, I have never in my life met someone who says that they got a divorce because the person wasn’t good looking enough.

      Lastly, even if the bible is teeming with references to good looking people, I don’t think that necessarily means that God is honoring beautiful people above others. It is just part of these stories. The bible references many times how beauty is fleeting but there are other things that are permanent. For instance, the bible talks two thousand times about taking care of the poor, and the only reference I can think of that would refer to spending time making yourself appealing is the one that says your body is a temple. I am all for exercising on a regular basis, I think it is important, and I myself do it. But would I rather spend hours and hours a day working on my physique, something that is so temporal, and thinking non stop about my body, instead of doing something that is commanded throughout scriptures like taking care of the poor? Looking beyond yourself towards someone else? Do you really think that so much time and energy should go towards something that is so inward focused, when Christianity is such an outward focused religion? I’m sorry, but I think going to a soup kitchen on a regular basis, sitting down with some poor folks and learning from these “ugly” people would make me more beautiful than any workout could. It shapes who I am on the inside, and that is more important than the way I look on the outside.

      • It’s all about priorities, Kate. If you want an A+ on the paper, you’ll provide the necessary research and proofreading efforts. If you want to become a better songwriter, you’ll turn off the TV and develop your craft. If you want the promotion, you’ll do what it takes to show your boss how valuable you are to your company. If you want to “look better,” you’ll turn off “The Bachelor,” put down the comfort food, and hit the gym. Why is fitness any different than anything else in life? Should we blame Chris Tomlin for someone’s lack of songwriting success? No, so why should we blame Kate Upton for all the overweight women who make a conscious decision to eat ice cream and avoid exercise? It’s cowardly scapegoating.

        I stand by what I’ve said: All things being equal, everyone will maximize (attraction) utility. Assuming few people get everything they want in a mate—limiting our discussion to physical attraction—that perforce requires people to “settle.” It’s an ugly, hurtful word within certain contexts, but it represents reality. “Cultural norms” are a reification of a society’s preferences. If men and women (within our culture) didn’t desire abs, square jaws, blonde hair, and large breasts, pop culture wouldn’t be pitching them. If that bothers you, I respectfully suggest you move to a country that espouses a different cultural/psycho-social lodestar.

        Attraction and sex are incredibly important components of a marriage, and there’s going to be an issue if he gains 100 pounds by eating ribs and playing poker simply because he assumes his wife must “love him for better or worse” without any sense of responsibility to the attraction dynamic. (You’re right; divorce NEVER results from an eviscerated sex life due to lack-of-attraction issues, lol.) Love is a choice; sexual attraction is not. I firmly believe I Corinthians 7:4 is talking about, among other things, the responsibility each person has to one’s spouse concerning his or her physical body (and the attraction dynamic one engenders through that body). Blithe twinkie-gorging sessions are foolish and harmful when you’re single, but they smack of spiritual irresponsibility and immaturity—perhaps even sin—when you’re married and unable to appreciate the fact that you’re “eating for two.”

        Finally, I never suggested God was “honoring beautiful people above others.” I was suggesting that beauty and attraction are important to God (1) because He goes out of His way to mention it at numerous points in the Bible and (2) it’s a palpable part of the Grace covenant.

  12. Oh, Kate, blessings and prayers on this part of your journey, and thank you for sharing the struggle. Yes, beauty is a hard thing for both genders–and I appreciate the crossover confusion you experienced. A few years ago, out of stress and other emotions, I cut off nearly two feet of the long brown hair I’d had forever; last summer, after the death of my grandfather, I shaved my head. I keep it short now, and while most of my friends tell me how much they like the sass it loans me, I do often get mistaken for a man, especially in the winter when I’m bundled up.
    I’m also very plain–I don’t wear makeup, I don’t really care about clothes, and the only jewelry I usually wear is outrageous earrings of all sorts, so people don’t “see” me. It makes me asexual in a way, and people often compliment me on my intelligence or speech or anything at all except my appearance. I don’t mind most of the time because I’m used to it, but there are definitely times when I wish dearly that a guy would notice me when I’m standing next to my (much more conventionally attractive) friends, or that someone would tell me I look good on a day when I look like myself rather than only on the days I get decked out to the nines, or that people would stop telling me I’m beautiful on the inside because it so strongly implies that there’s nothing on the outside worth mentioning. It has definitely been an interesting journey of my own with God about this, because He and I have also had this conversation, and He reminded me He made this body on purpose. It is scarred, and tattooed, and fuller in some places than others, but it is still His creation, and He is proud of it as all artists are. In this I struggle, and am frustrated, and am grateful, and am beautiful.

  13. Wow I have no idea how to respond to that last post. In this post, I want to do a combination of responding to Kate’s original post and the following replies, and also share my own thoughts on this issue that have been brewing around in my head my entire life.
    Okay, here goes. I, obviously, am a woman and my entire life (since I was 12) have been attracted to men. There are certain body types I am more attracted to than others, or certain features of guys I really like, for example, I remember being at a Bible study and you know we talked about everything and somehow this came up and our leader told us that her favorite part of a guy’s body is his chest, and I have always really admired guys’ broad shoulders and narrow hips. I think every one has preferences like this, but in my experience it really isn’t talked about in Christian circles- that Bible study was an exception- I think that is for fear of being drawn into temptation- it begins in the mind, but there is nothing wrong with acknowledging verbally what is real, and there are times to share these things.
    I notice men all the time, but don’t often talk with any of my friends about whom I find attractive and why. I am single and I don’t know how to talk about that without seeming like I am taking something too far, so it stays inside of me. I have also throughout the years learned how to ignore an attraction to a man in order to keep things healthy, for example if he is married, or a supervisor, or just never gonna be mine. I can appreciate him but not focus on it. Whatever. Sometimes that is easier than others.
    The thing I have been wanting to express here, the thought that Kate’s post triggered, was this. There are two elements of attraction for me: one, the physical appearance, and two, the man behind or inside of the body. I have fully fallen in love with men who were overweight and not super cute, but there was just something about them I was so drawn too. This charismatic feature can make virtually any body type attractive. Maybe that is more true for women I don’t know. But here’s the thing- God says in Song of Songs 4:1 “How beautiful you are my love, how beautiful you are! Your eyes, behind your veil, are doves.” Okay. So this is how he sees all of his creation. Yes, just like Kate said, God finds us all beautiful and irresistable all the time. so how does this work for super obese people, or women with tons of facial hair, or for those our culture would deem repulsive? How is God ravished by their beauty? I have a hard time believing that God finds me irrresistable when I am not turning heads, when I am wearing my baggy shorts and haven’t shaved my legs, when I have a bit of a belly. God made us as sexual creatures, and in our biology we are wired to find the healthiest looking people attractive (room for cultural construct here) but just saying that God knows we find some body types attractive and some not, so how does God transcend all of this and find everyone irresistable all the time? Can he transcend the rules just because he’s God? Or does he see the deeper beauty so clearly, the mark of his image in us, that that overrides whatever we look like? I know that God can fully understand us and so understands how we are, but how does he find someone who hasn’t showered for two weeks stunning? What about the women who never got the usage of that word for “extreme beauty?” I am trying to figure this out because I want to be beautiful and attractive of course, but I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking I look that good all the time. I know this is really long so thanks for reading and please reply if this has sparked any thoughts in you. Thanks.

    • I just had a thought since I posted that. Maybe how God values us or sees us as “ravishing” is totally different from our or my version of having sex appeal. Maybe to God that isn’t the highest signature of value like it is in our culture. Remembering, Jesus was a virgin. If sex was the essence of love, then Jesus couldn’t have been fully loving. That last sentence was an adaptation from a quote from my pastor. Sex appeal can’t be the measure of being valuable or wanted.

  14. Wow, Kate! You hit a sensitive issue this time. I want to react to almost every comment, but I’ll try to keep this readably short.

    First, Sarah and Lindsey. I’m with you. I turn 33 on Wednesday (I keep telling God, “I’ve been single on earth as long as Jesus, so can we move on now?”) and sometimes I wonder if it is my appearance – but then, I know it isn’t (one of the great blessings God has given me is a loving and honest Dad and a plethora of little brothers who express opinions). And Sarah, I think you are right about “clinging” to temporal things, although I will also say that I grew up with a pair of dear “old maids” who used to tell me I’d be most beautiful after I was 30 and my beauty would not fade like other girls… I wonder if they are right sometimes. From about age 15 on, I had terrible acne which ravaged my college years – and makeup brought it to a painful point. This skin issue has been a journey with the Lord. I think the thing that has changed the most now is my confidence. I’m not scared to make myself look pretty with what I can do through skin care and makeup. I know beauty is not a sin, and I’ve finally learned that even if my skin is broken out, people don’t have to see that instead of my smile. My weight issues have been similar – I was pretty heavy through high school and college, mostly because I was extremely muscular from working with my Dad. A lot has changed in my life and people think I’m naturally skinny now – but the biggest change is my confidence and my attitude, knowing that I can make people see more than my weight by the way I dress, how I style my hair and care for my skin – but mostly the way I carry myself and interact. And while I used to always be guessed as far older than my age, I’m now usually guessed 5-8 years younger.

    Jenn, my appearance changes in weight, fashion, and skin may be almost as extreme as your super-thinness and bleach blonde hair, but I’m still no supermodel…(I have one friend who constantly tries to change my wardrobe and make me wear lipstick because she says I’d look like a supermodel if I did). I will say this though – you said people are nicer to you and you can “talk your way into almost anything,” because of how you look. Those comments made me sad. Maybe you live in a different world than I, but… People are almost always nice to me, because I’m nice to them. I can talk my way into almost anything, but sometimes I do that talking at the end of a long day when my makeup is gone and my hair is mussed and I’m tired and stressed and my clothes are a mess. It’s because of my character and reputation that people listen. Not my looks. We have some precious very heavy girls in our community. Three of them are super-popular and very much welcomed. One is dreaded. The difference is not their looks. It is their attitudes.

    Which brings me to respond to simpcommgs… I have a dear friend who says there aren’t that many ugly or pretty people in the world. Most people are just “average” and what is attractive about them varies per person. Of course there are some natural supermodels and some who struggle more than others, but most people do have attractive features or choices in how attractive they are. I think God gives us many choices in bringing beauty into our world and girls, we’re stupid if we think guys are going to ignore our looks when looking at a potential spouse! I am all for a healthy, fit body and agree that it is attractive because God made health a beneficial characteristic – but I don’t agree that it’s to be our ultimate goal. Being supermodel fit requires a lot of time and investment, but Jesus calls us to invest in the kingdom and in our hearts. He says little about our bodies, other than caring for the temple (good health). And “supermodel fit” is not always the healthiest. Besides, if you look for a supermodel to marry and get a supermodel… what happens when that supermodel gets cancer or paralysis and can’t make himself/herself beautiful anymore? What happens when the skin wrinkles from laugh lines or a broken bone inhibits the daily workout? Actually, I don’t believe everyone even wants a supermodel. I grew up in a family of men who thought that a lot of makeup or dyed hair indicated that a woman was fake and that a woman ought to be stout enough (with enough muscle/fat all over the body) to “carry a basket of wet jeans up the stairs.” I can’t say I find obesity attractive, but I’d rather see a guy a little stout than a “Ken doll,” which simply strikes the note “ARROGANCE” in my mind.

    Rachel, I think you are right that God sees a beauty far deeper than that which is physical. He said His work was good. He sees beauty in the way He made us physically and He expects us to refine and care for that, but He loves us far beyond that. He loves the part of us that outlasts cancer and paralysis. He loves the part of us the shines through acne ridden skin and chronic weight problems. He loves the person that is not temporal.\

    Kate, thank you for your honesty. Thank you that the King is enthralled with your beauty, that He knows the effects of medications and He knows all about your heart and your health. Thank you for bringing us to the realization that what is seen is temporal, but what is to come is eternal.

    • Re: the way people treat me as a “pretty blonde” – this is in regards to strangers, not people who know me well. It’s the little things: doors get opened, bags get carried, people are more willing to listen and help.

      It’s less work. Sure, if I desperately need assistance, then yes, people will step up, but I worked harder for it when I was less conventionally pretty.

      I don’t think this is a good thing but it’s a reality of the world. I know I’ve been hired based partially on my looks.

  15. Okay. I’m 14 and in middle school. I’m alittle overweight and I’ve seen girls who weigh more than me and they are more beautiful in the face and personality than the head cheerleader! Fat isn’t ugly, though sometimes it isn’t good because of health hazards. But that thing of “oh chubby/fat people can’t be happy” is a load of BS. My aunt who is 20 weighs about 180-200 and then theres her sister who weighs about..maybe 100-110. My plump aunt is more successful in her plus size modeling career than her sister who can barely get a job. My plump aunt has a very handsome slim boyfriend who kinda looks like leonardo cecaprio, while my slim aunt is stuck at home on depressants. “fat” people can be just as beautiful. I would rather date someone who was considered “fat” rather than someone who’s a complete jerk about everything. “Fat” is beautiful. And for those people who say it’s ugly, you’re ignorant. I hope you either get married to someone who’s “fat” or turns “Fat” after you marry them. Or you gain 70 pounds, just so you know how it feels to be discriminated against just cuz you body isn’t supermodel tight. Anyway even supermodels arent perfect because they always get photoshopped.

    • So, which is it: I’m fat, happy, and proud of it, or I hope you gain 70 pounds, so you know how miserable it is to live life being overweight? Except for extreme situations, being fat is a choice. If one chooses to be fat because being fat genuinely makes that person happy, that’s awesome. More power to ya. That’s a decision I can respect. But if being fat makes someone miserable, if he or she would rather not be overweight, then that person should stop complaining about being fat—or criticizing an “oppressive culture of beauty”—if he or she is not willing to do what it takes to effectuate a body-composition change.

  16. People who didn’t know I was sick would say “You look better than I’ve ever seen you!” I wanted to say “dude, I am practically on my death bed!” But for some reason, skinny equaled beautiful in their eyes.

    On another blog’s comment thread, one woman recounted the time she broke her jaw and lost 30-40 pounds while it healed (hard to eat when your jaw’s wired shut for a couple months).

    The reaction from others? “I wish that could happen to me so I could lose 40 pounds!”

    She did not say whether she granted their wish and broke their jaws for them.

  17. Hello Kate! I believe God has just led me to your blog post to speak to my soul and help me heal. I have been on a rough journey for the past two weeks (well the past 10 years actually).I have alopecia as a side effect of polycystic ovarian syndrome. I have been slowly losing my hair for the past 10 years along with all of the other body changes this disease brings and two weeks ago I decided that I needed to change my perspective on how I’m handling things. I made the decision to shave off what was left of my hair. There have been many tears, prayers, questions,and anger at God over the years. My body has just been ravaged. How can He think this is beautiful??? How can I look in a mirror and love myself? I have been a Christian for thirty years and somehow never read Ps. 45:11 until last month. The first part “The King is enthralled by your beauty” has changed something in me, in the way I think about myself. The second half of the scripture was kind of left out in my mind until I read what you wrote. Who am I to tell the God of all creation that He made a mistake with me? That is not showing honor. And I want to honor Him. I want to see myself through His eyes and BELIEVE. To have faith. My King is enthralled with me, with or without hair! What a loving message to a hurting heart!

  18. Pingback: What I Read This Weekend | to dwell in possibilities

  19. I know I’m late on replying, but I just had to: this really touched me, Kate, being one one of those people who has struggled with self image all my life. I lost 100 pounds over the course of two years and even though I’m much smaller and toner now I still struggle to look on the mirror and see Beauty. It’s such a daily struggle sometimes, believing that my King is enthralled with my beauty
    But He’s faithful to keep reminding me and showing me His love will never change no matter what.

    And also, as regards the comments about fitness–I would agree with the points being made about inward vs outward and kingdom work being more important. The thing is, though, I have been around so many singles who get upset no one has asked them out, yet they would never consider going out with someone of the opposite gender who was the same size as they are, with the same health habits. It’s just universal. A lot of singles have an idea of how their spouse should look but they aren’t willing to put the effort into looking like that for their spouse. It’s completely true that some guys and girls will never look supermodel fit no matter how hard they try. But too many don’t even try at all. I don’t believe in fitness being an obsession or ruling your life. But I do think it should be a part of it. I don’t believe eating healthy should rule your life or be an obsession. But I do believe it should be part of it. Paul did say bodily discipline is of some value. But we like to skip that part and run straight to spiritual discipline being the best thing. It bugs me when bigger women who know where I came from will tell me how lucky I am to be this size. Luck had nothing to do with it. It was a lot of grace and a lot of work. I’m no supermodel by any means, but my hard work shows. So yes, we should be pursuing what really matters for the kingdom, we should be focused on becoming beautiful within more than without, WHILE we seek to steward our bodies well. Jim Elliot was an amazing example of bringing the two together–he not only pursued Christ and sought to grow in Him, he purposed faithfully to work out, eat healthy, and stay fit, so he COULD minister well in whatever remote place God called him. It’s not so mutually exclusive as Christians like to think.

    • I forgot to say that I lost 100 pounds over the course of 2 years so I’m no stranger to the struggles of being overweight and trying to get it off. But it’s possible if you’re willing to make the sacrifices.

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