My mom used to sing this with amusing vigor from the musical, West Side Story, when I was growing up. It sounded silly to me as a young girl, but now as an adult woman, the intricacies of the hyper image conscious world we live in confuse me, disappoint me, and intrigue me all at the same time. We’ve made a mess of what our images were intended to be (Genesis 1:27).
Women (and men) strive to maintain and retain their outward beauty, adorning themselves with jewelry, covering themselves with stylish clothing and makeup, spending their time and resources to primp their appearances by hair coloring (guilty!), routine Botox injections, or even more invasive plastic surgeries. The obsession with our bodies is out of control: are we thin enough (rarely), is our aging skin sagging (naturally, of course it is), do we work out with hopes that we can attain the physique we had in our youth (for moms, before birthing babies)? I readily admit that I’ve fallen for this unfruitful mind play, but persistently pull myself out by the reminder that it isn’t in these qualities that my identity rests. Keeping our health and hygiene in check is, of course, a wise pursuit, if not only because our bodies are temples that the Holy Spirit dwells in (1 Corinthians 3:16). However, our identity, man or woman, is not in our outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). So why, then, do we struggle with keeping up an image before man that we know, full well, cannot be sustained? The clock ticks, years pass by, and aging is a non-negotiable aspect of living.
It isn’t only beauty that we rely on to make us feel special, but a type of personality (or wit, as the song says) that we don’t come by innately. Especially when we come to terms that our appearance won’t cut it in our particular culture, that’s when the reliance upon a forced sense of humor, intelligence, or talent will step in to take the place. This is seemingly harmless, but still has its own drawer in the image department. If we can be smart and witty, people will like us. We can appear to be cheerful and bright (again, as the song says), but be rotting inside. We can strive to gain much knowledge outside the parameters of the God we worship, so as to impress upon others how sharp we are. Another fail, depending upon our inner dialogue of intentions as to why we’re pursuing this type of appearance. I stress the fact that when we’re pursuing traits such as these, it’s not the same as nurturing them. God given talents, personality types, intelligence (even beauty) should be nurtured, naturally, but not forced.
All of these pursuits for prettiness, wittiness, or brightness are unworthy of your time and effort if your heart is seeking them for anything other than for the glory of God. It is in our intentions that we can strive to be humble and transparent enough to know where we stand before God. Do we really believe that God cares about how attractive, smart, or likeable we are? In Isaiah 53:2, we read a prophecy of our coming Lord, Jesus Christ, as one who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” This is telling of how applicable these qualities are to God. Proverbs 31 goes into great detail about the wife of noble character. There isn’t even mention of her outward appearances, but instead, a warning against them as verse 30 reads, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” One last biblical reference well worth remembering is 1 Peter 3:3-5, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.”
Extreme attention and dependence on these traits can become a form of idolatry. If we’re to really dig down to the root of them, we’d find that it is our inherent fear of man. Fear of man in that we rely too heavily on what others may think of us. Fear of man in that our desires are to be pleasing to our fellow man. Fear of man in that we cringe at the thought of a misshapen image being portrayed before others. Fear of man in that our identity is formulated by how our peers view us. These are nearly inescapable fears, in my opinion. I only say nearly because, perhaps, some people may have mastered them. I, for one, have not. However, I’ll die trying.