Women live under constant pressure to pursue physical perfection. Carolyn Mahaney and her daughter Nicole direct women to the truth of God’s Word, which proclaims an entirely differentand refreshingly liberatingstandard for beauty.
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About the Author
Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, and homemaker. Having spent over thirty years as a pastor's wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences. She is the author ofFeminine Appeal, Girl Talk, Shopping for Time and True Beauty. She blogs with her daughters at GirlTalkHome.com, a blog focused on biblical womanhood. Carolyn and her husband, C. J., have four children and twelve grandchildren.
Nicole Whitacre is a wife and mother of four. She is the coauthor of Girl Talk, Shopping for Time, and True Beauty, and blogs with her mom and sisters at GirlTalkHome.com, a blog about biblical womanhood.
Read an Excerpt
True Beauty and Our Culture
"Growing up, all I could focus on was my nose."
Jasmine was ashamed of how prominent and ugly she thought her nose looked. From a young age she fixated on this one physical feature:
I thought that my nose was the source of all of my problems with boys and life in general. I had zero experience with the opposite sex in any sort of romantic fashion. I was also not popular in school and had few close friends. I honestly believed that if I could get this "taken care of" my quality of life would be better.
So Jasmine decided to take care of her nose problem, hoping she would also solve her popularity problems, boy problems, and all-around quality of life problems:
When I was eighteen, I chose to have an elective cosmetic surgical procedure — a rhinoplasty, which is a nose job. I can still vividly remember the day of my surgery, feeling scared and unsure of what the result would be. It was exciting to think that a whole new attractive future awaited me.
Beauty: Everywoman's Struggle
Jasmine is one of many women who wrote to tell me their stories and struggles with beauty. When I asked for thoughts via our blog, girltalk, numerous women voiced similar difficulties with weight, self-image, comparison, and men.
My biggest struggle is being jealous of women who look like they just stepped out of a magazine.
I am a young, single girl who struggles with accepting all aspects of my physical appearance.
My self-image needs work.
I used to be thin, but I've gained fifty pounds. I look in the mirror and wonder who I'm looking at.
It's a struggle to feel attractive to my husband after pregnancy.
I obsess daily about how I look.
Many women I heard from described struggles with beauty that are all-consuming. They obsess over a particular flaw or worry about their weight. Their life is a constant cycle of diet and exercise plans and new beauty treatments, which often end in failure and despair. They are full of self-loathing and depression about their appearance.
For other women, the struggle with beauty is low-grade but constant. There isn't one big thing; they just fret all the time about how they look. They check out their reflection when they pass a mirror and compare themselves to other women when they walk into a room. Their biggest question is: how much time, money, and effort are OK for a Christian woman to spend on beauty?
And then there are the mothers, struggling to raise young girls in a culture obsessed with beauty. They want to protect their daughters, but they feel powerless and desperate. I know the feeling. Having raised three daughters, I remember how difficult it was to help them resist the enormous pressure our culture places on young women to be beautiful.
As a pastor's wife, I have spoken to many women through the years about their trials and temptations with beauty. From these conversations and my own experiences, I know that as women our beauty struggles can range from subtle and nagging to life-dominating. But to one degree or another, the issue of beauty presses in on all of us.
Our struggles are magnified by a culture that is obsessed with physical beauty.
Every day we are bombarded with images of beauty: on television, movies, billboards, storefronts, and magazine ads, on our phones, tablets, and computer screens. These images tell us what we are supposed to look like, and they present a standard of beauty so narrow in its range that most of us feel unattractive by comparison.
What is this ideal standard of beauty? We must have a perfectly proportioned figure, exquisite facial features, flawless skin, and be free from defects or disabilities — not to mention that we must be young, or at least retain a youthful, healthy appearance.
And consider what it takes to achieve this look so highly valued by our culture. The fact is, most models and stars we see on magazines and movie screens spend countless hours on beauty treatments, undergo expensive procedures, including cosmetic surgery, and hire health professionals and physical trainers to help them achieve and maintain this perfect look.
One music star reportedly spends more than three hours of intense exercise per day doing yoga, Pilates, swimming, cycling, weight training, and working out on her exercise equipment. Another well-known actress apparently pays over $20,000 a month to look good. Her costly beauty routine includes personal training, private yoga instruction, and "anti-cellulite spa sculpting" treatments. She also has a private chef who prepares organic, high protein, low-fat meals.
These women are two examples, but no doubt they represent the investment of time and money required by the majority of the women who attempt to achieve our culture's standard of perfect beauty.
When is the last time you had three hours a day or $20,000 a month to spare on your beauty routine? Not in my lifetime! I daresay most of us do not have the time or financial resources to compete with actresses and models.
Not only do most of us lack the means to maintain our culture's ideal of beauty, in many cases the standard against which we are measuring ourselves isn't even real. Today many of the images we see online or in glossy magazines are photoshopped, retouched and smoothed, stretched and manipulated into a shape and appearance that is artificial and misleading.
Digital technology enables graphic artists to take a model and create a composite woman, an image that isn't even real, which provoked author Jean Kilbourne to lament:
The image [of beauty] has become even more tyrannical and more perfect than ever before. ... The pressure on girls which has existed for a long time is worse than ever because the ideal image now is so completely, inhumanly impossible to achieve.
So the next time you see a picture of an impossibly skinny model or an unbelievably toned actress, remember, her portrait is most likely the final product of the labors of a talented graphic artist. Even the most beautiful woman cannot hope to attain our culture's tyrannical standard of beauty.
The Gospel according to Beauty
Despite the fact that the average woman can't pay out thousands of dollars per month on her beauty, or spend three hours a day exercising, or have a professional retouch all her photographs, women still chase this unattainable standard of beauty with a fury.
The statistics tell the story.
Few can afford $20,000 per month, but according to some figures, the average American woman spends a staggering $12,000 to $15,000 per year on beauty products and services.
By one author's calculation, "in the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education and social services combined."
That's not to mention the time it takes to apply all these products. The typical woman spends more than a year of her life — 474 days on average — putting on cosmetics. That works out to one week per year, and does not count the additional fifty-two days of our lives we spend removing said makeup.
A tremendous amount of time and money is also spent on diet and exercise. The weight-loss industry in the United States pulls in a staggering $20 billion annually, and of the 108 million people on diets, 85 percent are women.
Furthermore, twenty million American women will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder in their lifetime. According to one study, 65 percent of American women confess to an eating disorder.
And cosmetic surgery continues to rise, increasing more than 80 percent in the past fifteen years, with Americans spending over $6 billion in 2012 alone. This isn't a uniquely American problem: The Times of London forecasted that 80 percent of all women would have cosmetic surgery at some point.
Dr. Albert Mohler sums up the situation: "An entire industry of billions of dollars is built upon the lie that one can buy enough or endure enough, suffer enough or apply enough, to be genuinely beautiful."
Why are women so obsessed with physical beauty? Why do we go to extreme lengths to pursue our culture's elusive standard of perfection?
Women believe that beauty is essential to a happy life. We buy into our culture's message, often conveyed through media and advertising, that you have to be beautiful to be or get what you want. We think that if you are beautiful, you will achieve true romance and lasting love, that you will be popular and well-liked. We believe physical beauty is the key to self-confidence and self-worth, the only way to be satisfied, significant, and successful.
Like Jasmine, women often trace the source of their troubles back to a physical flaw or lack of beauty. We think that if we can only make ourselves more beautiful, then "a whole new attractive future" will lead to a whole new confident future, a whole new romantic future, a whole new happy future.
Our society has taken physical beauty and made it a god. The message of the gospel according to beauty is proclaimed in every advertisement and television show: Beauty equals happiness. Beauty brings fulfillment. Beauty means success. Don't have physical beauty? You are condemned.
Yet the message is a lie.
Physical beauty does not deliver as advertised. It does not ensure the satisfaction and success that the beguiling voices in our society have promised.
The Pretty (Big) Letdown
To validate the fact that physical beauty fails to bring happiness, consider two of the most beautiful women of modern times.
Princess Diana may have been the most photographed woman ever. She became a celebrity of unprecedented magnitude, yet she lived a troubled life. Her fairytale marriage to Prince Charles ended in divorce. Her subsequent relationships with other men were fraught with unhappiness. She admitted to persistent bouts of depression, chronic loneliness, ongoing bulimia, and acts of self-harm. Her life ended tragically when she was just thirty-six years old.
Another beautiful woman, actress Halle Berry, was the first African-American to represent the United States at the Miss World pageant. She has won numerous beauty titles and acting awards. But what does Halle Berry think about her beauty?
Let me tell you something — being thought of as a beautiful woman has spared me nothing in life. No heartache, no trouble. Love has been difficult. Beauty is essentially meaningless and it is always transitory.
All you have to do is glance at magazine covers in the grocery store aisle or click an online article to see heartbreaking stories about some of the most beautiful women in the world: unfaithful husbands and cheating boyfriends, eating disorders and stubborn depression, substance abuse and prison sentences.
But it is not only the stars who are disillusioned by the false promises of beauty; eventually, physical beauty will disappoint us all.
Jasmine's Story: What a New Face Didn't Fix
Jasmine learned this truth the hard way. Here's the conclusion to her story:
The day the bandages came off, about two weeks later, was a day of great anxiety for me. After all, I was seeing my new face for the first time. It was almost like being reborn.
To be honest, I still looked almost the same. The nose was distinctively different — but I was still the same old me. My personality hadn't changed.
I would be lying if I said that my confidence didn't increase as a result of the procedure. My nose literally isn't the same shape or size that it used to be. But as for my new and exciting life, even cosmetic surgery didn't give me the satisfaction that I thought it would. Five years later, and I am still single.
Every day I look in the mirror and see a nose that has been constructed. I haven't seen my actual God-given face in over five years. It brings me a bit of sadness, but my past is my past and there is nothing that I can do to change the shape of my nose now.
I rue the day that I have to tell my future husband that the face he loves so much is not the face that I was born with. It's the one secret that I keep in my back pocket, ashamed to share with friends and even some family members.
I paid one of the highest prices for the sake of beauty. And what did it bring me? Nothing.
Two Words Advertisers Don't Want You to Hear
Jasmine invested big. She was sure that physical beauty would provide the life she desired. But it didn't pay off. Jasmine's disappointment bears out the truth of what Scripture teaches: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain" (Prov. 31:30). Charm — another word for outward form or physical appearance — is deceitful: "it promises a lifetime of happiness that it cannot deliver."
Physical beauty deceives us by appearing to keep some of its promises in the short term. It delivers just enough to keep us hooked, to lead us on in thinking that it is a worthwhile investment of all our hope, time, money, and energy. For example, the pretty girls may get hired over the less attractive, and the sexy women get most of the attention from men. As Jasmine admitted, her new nose did give her more confidence.
But to put our trust in physical beauty is to fall for Satan's original Ponzi scheme (Gen. 3:6). The gospel according to physical beauty is nothing but a swindle. It may fulfill a temporary desire, but it will leave you desperate in the end. It may get you attention, but it won't bring you happiness. It may give you confidence, but it won't increase your true worth.
God's Word exposes the deceitfulness of physical beauty. Beauty does not provide the satisfaction every human heart is searching for. As Jasmine and Halle Barry can attest, a whole new attractive future does not lead to a whole new happy future; instead it "often end[s] in disappointment more bitter than words can tell."
Not only is beauty deceitful, it is vain. It is like a vapor or a "puff of air." All physical beauty vanishes over time. It doesn't last. Dr. David Powlison elaborates:
Even women who succeed against the cultural ideal can do so for only a short window of time. Someday, everyone who lives long enough will look like Grandma or Great-Grandma: old, wrinkly, white-haired, frail, bent. You're in a race against time in which everyone loses. If you buy into the value system, someday you'll be cursed no matter what.
Buy into the promise of physical beauty and you will be "cursed no matter what." Disappointment is guaranteed. Sickness, aging, and eventually death will see to that.
"Beauty — what a fading vanity it is!" exclaimed Charles Bridges. "One fit of sickness sweeps it away. Sorrow and care wither its charms. And even while it remains, it is little connected with happiness."
And so, as a wise friend warns against a bad investment, Scripture urges us not to invest our hope in physical beauty. Do not count on it for happiness, satisfaction, or the good things in life! it tells us, because charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.
God's Word exposes the futility of physical beauty so we might avoid following the world over the cliff of obsession into the abyss of disappointment. Scripture has spoken the truth about beauty all along.
Don't Talk to Me about Inner Beauty
So what's a Christian girl to do? If physical beauty is deceitful and vain, is it wrong to try to look beautiful?
You may think you know what's coming next. This book is called True Beauty, so here's the part where I tell you to forget about looking good and focus on inner beauty, right? Richelle was so concerned she sent me this request:
Please don't base your book off 1 Peter 3:4: "But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." This verse, misapplied in my life, left me very confused, hurt, and hidden for almost fifteen years.
Many women feel burned by a "Christian" message that has — often with the best of intentions — misinterpreted passages on beauty or been used to impose personal preferences. Like Richelle, women sometimes feel confused and conflicted by a message about beauty they have been told is biblical.
But perhaps you have never really heard what the Bible has to say about beauty, or you've assumed it is irrelevant, only applicable to women who lived in biblical times. Or maybe you've heard it all before — from your parents and your pastors — and you're not interested in the same old lecture.
Maybe you have tried to apply God's Word to your beauty struggles and you feel like it hasn't worked for you. It hasn't helped you lose weight or climb out of your depression or overcome your insecurities. So you've given up on the Bible as a source of real, practical help when it comes to beauty.
But God's Word is not outdated or shortsighted. Scripture doesn't fail to answer our questions or address our struggles. The Bible actually has a surprising amount to say about beauty. For instance, Scripture tells us that God delights in beauty — a theme we will return to throughout the book. The Bible does not say physical beauty is bad or that it is sinful to make ourselves beautiful. Instead, it tells us how to make ourselves truly beautiful.
The Beautiful Truth about True Beauty
God is our Creator. He "knows our frame" (Ps. 103:14), and he is acquainted with all our ways (Ps. 139:3), including our desires and difficulties as they relate to beauty.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "True Beauty"
Copyright © 2014 Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. True Beauty and Our Culture,
2. True Beauty and Our God,
3. True Beauty and Our Hearts,
4. True Beauty and Our Bodies,
5. True Beauty and Our Clothes,
6. True Beauty and Our Trust,
7. True Beauty and Our Works,
Appendix: True Beauty and Our Children,
What People are Saying About This
“This book contains fascinating and eye-opening information about our American beauty habits. Carolyn and Nicole have acted as our research assistants to open our eyes to the vanity of physical beauty and our hearts to the power of true beauty.”
—Dannah Gresh, best-selling author and creator of Secret Keeper Girl
“Our society is obsessed with the cult of beauty, and it is high time we recognize that this cult is nothing less than the worship of an idol. Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre deliver a prophetic word against this idolatry, but more importantly, they rescue beauty from the clutches of the idol and present a biblical understanding of true beauty. This book should be read by every Christian woman and it should be put in the hands of every young girl as soon she can understand it. These gifted authors have not only written a book; they have launched a revolution.”
—R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Mary K. Mohler, president, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and his wife, Mary, director, Seminary Wives Institute, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“In a world where a woman’s identity can easily be defined by how she looks, what she wears, or how she feels about herself, Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre challenge us to something greater: the discovery of the truth about who we really are as God’s crowning creation. Whether single, married, wife, mom, husband, father, brother, or boyfriend, True Beauty is a must-read. With so much wisdom, knowledge, and practical advice, this book will awaken your spirit to understand, to fight, to inspire, and to love.”
—Webb and Dowd Keith Simpson, Professional golfer, PGA Tour, and his wife, mother of three
“‘Delight in his flawless design’ is an incredible statement from the pages of this inspiring book. You will delight in the timeless principles and truths that, when applied, reflect the work of our wonderful Creator.”
—Karen Loritts, author; conference speaker; blogger, MomLife Today; mother of four and grandmother of eight
“Finally, a book about beauty that gets to the heart of the issue. As much as I’d like to blame my inadequacies on my clumpy mascara, outspoken personality, or spotty fitness routine, Carolyn and Nicole remind me that my problem is actually much deeper. It’s not that I’m concerned too much or too little with my appearance; it’s that I’m concerned with the wrong thing altogether. True Beauty puts in his rightful place the Source of all that is beautiful and good, and begs me to look there instead of my bathroom mirror. It’s about time. How refreshing to finally get my eyes off myself!”
—Lisa Anderson, Director of Young Adults, Focus on the Family; Host, The Boundless Show
“Combining the eminently practical with the deeply theological, Carolyn and Nicole give us a work that is both terrifically up-to-date and rooted in God’s unchanging Word. With plenty of personal anecdotes and an inviting conversational style, True Beauty will meet women of all ages right where they are. But it won’t leave them there! Carolyn and Nicole expose the lies we have picked up from the world and the half-truths that get passed along from well-meaning but misguided believers. We will recommend this book often and set it aside for our daughters to read as they grow up.”
—Kevin and Trisha DeYoung, Senior Pastor, University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Michigan. Kevin and Trisha have been married for 12 years and have six children.
“What woman hasn’t struggled with the impossible standards of beauty bombarding her from magazine covers to her own mirror? We owe a debt of gratitude to Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre for taking on this confusing ‘crisis of beauty.’ From self-loathing to apathetic acceptance, from closets to curbside, from plunging necklines to plastic surgery, the authors help us dig down to the real issue—our pursuit of self-glory. They show us the link between a woman’s heart and her purity, modesty, and body image. True Beauty is theologically astute as well as practical, offering deliberate suggestions without being dictatorial, freeing us to develop our own Christ-honoring tastes as we see and savor authentic beauty in God and his Word. True Beauty will help every reader steward her beauty effectively for Christ. Read it. I can’t wait to see the results!”
—Jani Ortlund, Executive Vice President, Renewal Ministries
“Finally . . . the book I’ve been wishing someone would write—a book that helps women like me who obsess about our own beauty (or more accurately, our lack there-of) to the detriment of our souls and our witness to the beauty and sufficiency of Christ. The answers Carolyn and Nicole put forward to our consuming and crippling desires to be beautiful on the world’s terms are neither square nor simplistic but rather completely scriptural and deeply satisfying.”
—Nancy Guthrie, author, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story
“This is a wonderful, enjoyable, highly readable book that teaches God’s true standards of beauty in contrast to the misleading standards promoted in popular culture today.”
—Wayne and Margaret Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary. Wayne and Margaret have been married for 44 years and have three children and three grandchildren.
“In a culture befuddled about femininity, True Beauty helps define what women are really looking for in their quest for that illusive thing called beauty. Carolyn and Nicole have tackled a subject that women everywhere care deeply about and really want to understand. Though the world has the microphone when it comes to peddling beauty, the promised payoff never satisfies. This book gives women a much-needed biblical response to the world’s sales pitch.”
—Nancy Wilson, pastor’s wife; homemaker; grandmother of seventeen; author, Learning Contentment
“A misunderstanding of what beauty truly is can tangle us up and keep us from walking in the freedom that all who trust in the Savior can enjoy. I recognized my own struggles through the pages of this book and was encouraged and renewed by the higher, broader, eternal, more beautiful vision of beauty it unfolded before my eyes: a vision made and grown and held together in Christ.”
—Kristyn Getty, hymn writer and recording artist
“Rare is the woman who doesn’t struggle with her appearance. With four daughters and five granddaughters, we should know. This is a timely, relevant, and much-needed book, filled with gospel-fueled and theologically informed counsel. While relatively short, it contains a massive amount of hope and direction for women who confront the ongoing lies of our culture and their own hearts. Carolyn and Nicole address practical issues clearly without imposing personal standards, and share inspiring stories of women who have found grace in the midst of their battles. Whatever your season of life, True Beauty will lead you to behold and reflect the beauty of the Savior who is worthy of all our love and praise.”
—Bob and Julie Kauflin, Director, Sovereign Grace Music, and his wife
“This is more than a book on beauty or a book on how to see one’s self as ‘beautiful in God’s eyes.’ True Beauty points us to the beautiful One. The authors help us see God’s pattern for reflecting the beauty of Christ in our hearts first and foremost, but also in the care of our bodies, in our fashion, and in other areas of life where beauty for its own sake tends to be a temptation. May all who read this book come away with greater desire to reflect the beauty of God in all of life.”
—Thabiti and Kristie Anyabwile, Pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, DC; and his wife
“What a breath of fresh air this book brings to the complicated and far-too-often consuming relationship women have with beauty. Our culture is consumed with pursuing almost unattainable standards of appearance, and all of us have been influenced more than we know. This book reminds us of biblically sound, gospel-oriented truth. The authors help us see areas of self-absorption, and give us practical wisdom on how to grow in being absorbed with God and his glory. They help us examine our hearts and inspire us to grow beyond being women of ‘good looks’ to being women known for good works. I highly recommend this book for women of all ages, that we may become more oriented toward God’s perspective on beauty, inward and outward.”
—Jodi Ware, Homemaker; Faculty Wife and Instructor in the Seminary Wives Institute, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an awesome book for teens/women who struggle with their physical and spiritual beauty. It doesn't condemn us for looking for curves or checking our make up every fifeteen minutes.