That was the case a few weeks ago, when she walked purposefully into the kitchen, sporting a pink dress, glitzy shoes and shiny fingernail polish, and asked me through a sweet smile: “Daddy, do you think I look beautiful?”
I chuckled at the situation and responded quickly, “Of course, I do!” She walked back into her room to continue her game of dress-up and I finished eating my snack, but later I began to ask myself: What am I teaching her? In other words, what is she learning about beauty?
If I’m not diligent, then she will learn all the worldly, wrong things as she grows older: that beauty is skin-deep, that worth is based on a perfect figure and the right clothes, and that her body is to be put on display like a cheap weekend sale at Walmart.
I thought about that recently when my family and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the van and to get snacks during a short road trip. There in the gas station window was the magazine rack, and there on the magazine rack were the latest “gentleman’s” magazines flaunting barely dressed models – easily seen by anyone who did not even enter the station. Such as my daughter.
But we don’t have to stop at the wrong gas station to be confronted with worldly images of beauty. We see it every Sunday during the fall, when the TV cameras switch from the football game to the cheerleaders and we’re left wondering if “thin, half-naked and blond” were the prerequisites. We’re faced with it during commercials, when Hardee’s trots out soft-porn images to try and sell us – of all things — hamburgers.
Heck, we even see it in during Disney and Pixar cartoons, which promote not immodesty but perfection. How many average-looking heroines can you remember from the most popular animated movies?
Then there’s social media. A recent Pew study found that 61 percent of teen girls — but only 44 percent of teen boys — regularly access Instagram, the picture-based platform where, essentially, only “glamour shots” are posted. As director Delaney Ruston discovered in the documentary Screenagers, Instagram and platforms like it are destroying the body image of middle school and high school girls, who feel constant pressure to look flawless for their friends and romantic interests.
Make no mistake: Body image is a big problem in our modern-day world.
About two decades ago researchers conducted a unique study whereby they gave math tests to a group of girls in swimsuits and a group of girls in sweaters. Despite being alone with no need to worry about public perception, the girls in swimsuits performed much worse on the tests than the girls in sweaters. When researchers conducted the same study on boys – using a swimsuit group and a sweater group – they found no difference in math scores. The lesson: A poor body image, particularly in a society that demands perfection, impacts every area of a girl’s life.
But I’m less concerned with my daughter’s math grades than I am with her heart. When she’s 16, will she worship at the altar of beauty – as our country does – or at the altar of the living God?
A few days after her humorous game of dress-up, I began to wonder: What – if anything – can I teach a 4-year-old girl about beauty? As it turns out, a lot. The Bible tells us that “beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). It also says that society “looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). So if beauty is fleeting and God only looks at the heart, what is He wanting to see? We could answer that question a thousand different ways, but Jesus gave us the “Cliff Notes” answer: The two greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
What’s the definition of beauty? In the 4-year-old vernacular, it is “to love God and to love others” – a definition I’m reminding her about regularly. It’s a definition that encompasses following the 10 Commandments, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit and even telling others about Christ. If we all do that, then to God, we’re beautiful.
Perhaps the world may call my definition a bit crazy, but God urges us to have an eternal perspective. Do you think in heaven we’ll separate people into categories of “pretty” and “ugly”? No.
Of course, my daughter always will have a natural desire to be physically beautiful, but I don’t want it to consume her. And I don’t want her basing her identity on dresses, makeup and hairstyles. Her identity is found in the Lord.
A few weeks after her game of dress-up, she showed me Cinderella book, pointed to a specific picture, and excitedly asked, “Daddy, isn’t she beautiful?”
“Well,” I responded, “how could we find out?”
“Umm,” she said, “by seeing if she loves God and loves others?”
I think she’s got it.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting, fatherhood and movies. He loves his family and also really likes college football, midnight debuts of Star Wars movies and pretty much any 80s group that involved big, wild-looking hair. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog? Email him: michaelfoust (at) gmail.com. Also, check out the video section.