The Bible, Beauty, Biblical Womanhood, and Some Sexy Sweatpants

by Camille on November 2, 2012

So I’d like to do chapter-by-chapter review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, by Rachel Held Evans, because it’s just that awesome.

 But let’s face it, y’all. I’m not the most disciplined blogger, and since the munchkin recently seems to be under the impression that her afternoon nap is somehow negotiable, writing time is a rare commodity around these parts. So, I’m going to skip around to hit the chapters that most resonated with me. Actually, I’m going to start with the one that royally pissed off irritated me to such a degree I wanted to hurl my iPad against a wall.

“February: Beauty–My Breasts Are Like Towers”

I know. Those of you that actually know me are laughing, since my breasts are definitely not like towers. I’m aware, thanks. That’s why God made Victoria with all her secrets.  (Oh, did I forget to warn y’all? The following post(s) will mention some stuff about body parts and sex, so if you’re already blushing, best stop reading now.) 

In this chapter, Rachel examines some common beliefs among certain Christian groups regarding the Bible’s teachings on sex and beauty. (I’m just focusing on the beauty part for now. Sorry.)

Rachel quotes well-known pastor Mark Driscoll, who in 2006 said regarding the actions of evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, “It is not uncommon to meet pastor’s wives who really let themselves go….. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”

Really? A pastor is going to insult and semi-blame the wife for her husband’s infidelity, struggles with sexual identity, and drug use? What a complete……(deleting unkind noun of choice now.)

Similarly, Dorothy Peterson, in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, wrote that “God’s woman gives time and effort to her appearance…” and insinuates women should work against the signs of aging.

Other anecdotes Rachel includes from Christian women’s conferences, marriage retreats, and counseling sessions seem to share the clear message of “Stay beautiful, or your husband might leave you….and if he does, it’s partially your fault.” 

And at this point in reading, sitting on the couch in my yoga pants with knotted-up, unwashed hair, I started to feel more than a little annoyed with these “Christian” opinions on how I should be maintaining myself as a wife.

Commandment #11: “Thou shall not let thyself go….?” 

In my past life, I wore tailored slacks/skirts, colorful scarves, and cute shoes. I wore makeup and jewelry every day. I styled my hair ( it resisted and still usually found itself balled up with pencils and bobby pins, but hey, I made an effort). In any case, after adopting our daughter in 2011, I decided to stay home, and my “self-maintenance” habits drastically changed.

For the first year, my wardrobe stood the chance, at any moment, of being covered in snot, vomit, drool, pee, poop, milk, or a ghastly combination of all of the above. Now in the second year of motherly bliss, I frequently find half-chewed Cheerios, crushed goldfish crackers, or squished banana adhering to my clothes….along with the snot, vomit, drool, etc. Now ladies, I’m a practical girl; thus, I wear sweatpants and 10-year-old t-shirts pretty much all the time. On a good day, I might put on jeans. Showering generally involves a near two-year-old banging on the door crying “MaaMA” in high-pitched squeal, so things like shaving my legs have become a luxury. Nail-painting, eye-brow shaping, moisturizing? Hah! 

So yeah…guess I’m long GONE. Sure, I take the time occasionally to fix my hair and put on the little black dress for a date night. I joke with my friends about having some “work” done. But in no way do I feel the success of my marriage depends on my appearance.

In researching this chapter, Rachel sought to discover what the Bible actually says regarding beauty. What she found are passages describing beauty as fleeting (Proverbs 31:30). Peter told women that beauty shouldn’t come from “outward adornment,” but rather from their “inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3: 3-4).  Some women in the Old Testament were described as beautiful, while others were described as plain, but “the gospel writers never rated the hotness of Jesus’ female disciples.” 

Rachel writes, “Nowhere does the Bible teach that a woman shares responsibility for her husband’s infidelity because she “let herself go.” And nowhere does it teach that outer beauty reflects inner beauty.”

Logically, I know that outer beauty shouldn’t matter and have given the “inner beauty” speech to students, friends, and family more than once. Yet, I think if I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m still entangled in societal expectations of “acceptable” appearance.

Even with my more “relaxed” wardrobe, I’ve recently become aware of how much time I still spend in front of the mirror, because now, I have someone copying my every move. At 21-months-old, Ellie mimics everything I do. Every. Single. Thing. And so, on the mornings I’m planning to leave the house,  I spend 15-20 minutes batting her hands away from my makeup drawer as I try to put on enough foundation, powder, and blush to cover the “imperfections.” Carefully, she watches me, and then dusts her perfect cheeks with an old makeup brush and rubs a tube of Disney princess pink plastic across her mouth.

What is she learning?  That Mama has to change the way she looks? The way Mama looks isn’t good enough and needs improvement? That, for women, makeup is as expected as brushing one’s teeth?

I don’t want to speak for women everywhere, but I think within many of our strong, successful, adult-personas, there still exists a version of our 14-year-old selves. One bad hair-day, and our carefully-cultivated self-esteem crumbles as we fret about the facial blemish, lank hair, extra pounds, deepening wrinkles, increasing gray, etc.

And I hate it. I hate that in a world where I should be valued for my intelligence, creativity, service, and spirit, that I still feel pressured to waste so much freakin’ time in front of a mirror in order to feel comfortable in public.  I hate that as women, we feed the machine with our Pinterest-fueled comparisons and competition. I hate that beauty is so grossly distorted by the media and will soon influence my daughter’s self-image.

But more than anything, I hate that Christian leaders would buy into any part of this crap. Women have enough voices telling them they’re not good enough without pastors or teachers throwing in opinions on not “letting go.” Such opinions reflect perceptions of beauty that are so clearly of this world; how ridiculous to suggest that God gives a holy hoot about our physical appearance. He made us, after all. Fearfully and wonderfully. (Psalms 139:14)

 Look at her. She’s so incredibly beautiful. She’s also smart, adventuresome, silly, and brave. I want her to live in a world where her womanhood, biblical or otherwise, isn’t judged based outward beauty.

I think of the women trying to live biblically by being beautiful for their husbands….but not beautiful enough to cause another man to sin. And I think of the thousands of women with hearts crushed by infidelity. And I think of the 14-year-old girls staring at mirrors wondering if they’ll ever look like the picture in the magazine.

I think of them, and I get seriously angry that anyone claiming to be Christian would hijack the Bible in trying to hold women to some ridiculous physical standard. Beauty is fleeting. Bodies change. They have babies and get wrinkles and gain weight. They get sick or go through menopause or get otherwise scarred by life. And as Rachel writes, “…the suggestion that men are too weak to handle these realities is as emasculating as it is unbiblical….

I’d also like to point out to Pastor Driscoll that “letting oneself go” has nothing to do with being sexually available. “Letting go” implies relaxation, trust, and comfort. It means that we value and love one another beyond a need to maintain some facade. So Charlie lies around in his undershirt and a hideous denim/flannel-ish jacket while scratching this or that, and I rock my sweatpants, and it becomes our definition of hot. 

Rachel writes, “Both husbands and wives bear the sweet responsibility of seeking beauty in one another at all stages of life. No one gets off the hook because the other is wearing sweat pants or going bald or carrying a child or battling cancer. Any pastor who claims the Bible says otherwise is lying. End of story.”

When you’re in love, even sweatpants can be super-sexy, y’all.  We’ve come to a point in our marriage where pre-conceived notions about appearance have been successfully kicked to the curb. We accept that our lives have different phases, and we’re committed to finding the beauty in each stage.

Jen Mulford November 4, 2012 at 7:05 am

Camille, I loved your thoughts on this. I had to rant about this after I read this chapter too because I kept thinking how much is enough?(

And the dueling messages of looking sexy enough for my husband and not enough for another. What is that?!

Enjoyed your post! Even if it did get my blood boiling all over again. 🙂
Jen Mulford recently posted..Biblical Beauty: How Much is Enough?My Profile

Camille November 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Thanks for commenting Jen! 🙂 Headed over to read your post now. I’m loving this book review FB group; the opportunity to discover new and wonderful writers and thinkers has been fabulous. My Google Reader is in revolt, and I want to ignore life, curl up with hot chocolate, and read all day! If only my toddler would cooperate with this plan. Eh….

Addison November 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Hi Camille – I actually found your blog because of the upcoming adoption interview day, and was surprised to find myself reading about Rachel Held Evans. I kept reading because you wrote a great post, and I’m really interested in reading her book (even though I’m a guy!). Anyway, just wanted to say, really well done. You made excellent points. I know my wife’s excited to read Evans’ book, and I’ll probably read it too.
Addison recently posted..What I Learned in Intro to Psychology and How it Applies to my Real Life as an Adoption Social Worker (Considering Adoption Part 2)My Profile

Camille November 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. 🙂 Who are you paired with for the interview project? I sent my questions to my assigned partner but haven’t heard back yet, so I’m not sure if I’ll get to participate this year or not. Glad you enjoyed the post. The book is fascinating, and I hope to have time to explore some more issues it addresses. Take care!

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