“How do I look?” Part 1 of 7
To access all posts in this series, click here.
With Hallee out of town tending to family business for a few days, I have been given free reign to take over the homemaker duties here for now and well into the new year. So, I am going to “batch” it in my former bachelor style and try my very best to respectfully and thoughtfully discuss a controversial topic that may be of interest to Hallee’s readers in her absence. I am going to do this prayerfully, thoughtfully, and thoroughly because this topic has been percolating for a while.
The topic is:
Does appearance matter in marriage? Is refusing to take stewardship over one’s personal appearance — “appearance” as defined by whatever subjective standards individual married couples recognize — considered sinful?
Some bloggers have alleged that it is very common core belief among Christian men that a wife’s changing body will incite husbands to commit adultery. Some have compounded this allegation by claiming that this is excusable / justified / understood to be the case.
Personally, I find even the allegation offensive and so have gone on a month’s long spiritual retreat. My goal was to compose my thoughts and feelings on the matter and express my opinion of those who cast such allegations. This typically leads to energetic discussion of these topics on long car trips or over coffee in the Homemaker household. So sit back and prayerfully, thoughtfully, honestly consider one full week of unusual controversy.
When Christians Fight… (In this corner)
Pastor Tim Challies is a self described “follower of Jesus Christ,” author of The Next Story among other titles, and blogger. He worships and serves as a full time pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Rachel Held Evans is a self described “Christ-follower” and skeptic, author of the book Evolving in Monkey Town, and blogger.
Mary Kassian is a Christian, author of the best seller Girls Gone Wise, writer, and blogger.
Several months ago, Kassian wrote a post entitled “What Not to Wear“, that started the fray. When Pastor Mark Driscoll twittered her “What Not to Wear” post, the Girls Gone Wise website got flooded with so many visitors that it temporarily downed the site.
Partly in response to the hullabaloo, Evans wrote a post entitled “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go” which begins with a quotation from Pastor Mark Driscoll back in 2006, “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.”
Based on this quote, Evans antithetically states that “The message is as clear as it is ominous: Stay beautiful or your husband might leave you. And if he does, it’s partially your fault.”
Evans concludes her post by asking the another non sequiter question, “Guys – What is your reaction to the suggestion that a wife’s changing body incites men to cheat?” Which of course has almost nothing to do with the points of either the quote or the preceding posts.
Pastor Challies responded to Evans’ post taking on the sometimes daunting task in our currently ultra-feminized and ultra-secularized culture of writing an article that specifically deals with how important appearance is in marriage while disagreeing on the whole with Evan’s sexist worldview.
If Kassian’s original post hadn’t generated enough debate, the Evans and Challies posts sparked serious controversy. If anything became clear in the aftermath, it was this: the subject of appearance — particularly female appearance — is apparently utterly taboo, especially in what we Westerners call our churchgoing circles.
Mary Kassian published a post on the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood site entitled “Female Beauty Matters,” in which she tried to reconcile the entire dispute by appealing to the biblical truth that our earthly beauty merely points to the awe inspiring transcendent beauty of our God and the risen Savoir.
Given all that context — and the above resources that you can read for yourselves — for the next week, I am going to shatter some pretty strong taboos and get very, very real about the importance of appearance, particularly as it relates to marriage and matters of fidelity.
Enough time has passed since the original fray that it is my hope that tempers have cooled and emotions have slowly given way to rationality. Over the months, I prayerfully considered whether to even write about all this, and ultimately concluded that it may do someone some good.
Before I even get into the blow by blow commentary, I think definitions are in order. First, let me define the terms as I will use them. “Appearance” is not entirely objective, nor entirely subjective. It is both. Furthermore, there is a spiritual quality to appearance.
In the last 500 years and in various modern cultures, attractive attributes include things such as impossibly small feet, extraordinarily large lips or ears, or ridiculously long necks. In those cultures, often women resort to self mutilation in striving to attain this desired appearance, as well as cultures involving scars, tattoos, and body piercing. (On a side note, I believe many forms of plastic surgery carry on the grand tradition of self mutilation sacrificed on the alter of subjective appearance.) Women have been described as “lovely” when they wore anything from slight gowns of gossamer to opaque burkas and veils that hid all but their eyes. In certain cultures, the ideal involves hair or fingernails that have never been cut. In certain historical cultures, never bathing oneself was seen as virtuous. Tribal cultures today sport hairdos using a foundation of animal dung. These choices in appearance are entirely subjective since there is, ultimately, choice on the part of the subject.
We have also seen cultures where the ideal female form involved anything from the full breasted, wide hipped, potbellied and curvaceous Rubenesque beauty to the breastless-hipless bulimic stick figure “flapper girl” of the 1920s or as typified by the model Twiggy in the early 1960s — and absolutely everything in between. These aspects of appearance may be either subjective or objective, depending upon whether one is objectively born with the look that happens to be in vogue in that particular culture by way of winning the genetic lottery or — if not — the lengths the subject is willing to go to in order to attain the ideal subjective physical shape.
Women were seen as beauties by their various cultures when they tower over men or when they stand significantly shorter. If one is born tall or short, this is an objective trait. Subjective compensation such as high heels, however, are common. When a woman’s hair is jet black, ruby red, golden blonde, or earthy brown it can be seen as beautiful. If her hair color is natural, this is objective but if it is dyed, it is subjective.
In these respects it becomes obvious that the recognized standards that comprise “appearance” are largely subjective and founded in whatever given particular culture is in question and wherever choice is exercised. Standards of beauty are going to vary widely depending upon given factors. As Challies states in his post, “These things may vary a lot from time to time and culture to culture; even more so, they will vary from couple to couple.”
However, “appearance” objectively and outwardly includes such things as one’s cultural appeal by means unaltered physical attributes, apparent health, chosen dress, and personal grooming. Objectively, these components of appearance cross historical, cultural, and gender lines, whatever arbitrary standard happens to be in vogue at the time.
Objective aspects of appearance are the natural effects of living and growing old. Babies are often toothless and bald. They have a unique appearance. Octogenarians are likewise often toothless and hairless, but usually taller than infants. Hair turns silver, or vanishes. Things sag a bit here and there. Ears, noses, and breasts droop. Hair sprouts from nostrils and other unexpected places. Voices change. Wrinkles happen.
Sometimes, in the course of living life, illness or injury takes a toll. My mother and grandmother each lost breasts to cancer. I very realistically might have lost a limb, an eye, or been badly burned while serving overseas. Many veterans are now maimed as a result of their service. Just as these things that objectively affect appearance take place without intent on the part of the individual so affected, so do things like pregnancy, gray hair, baldness, stretch marks, and the effects of gravity over time.
I say all this to make three points concerning these aspects of appearance. First, across cultures, we very often widely ignore those objective aspects of human appearance which are not matters of choice. Secondly, the objective aspects of human appearance should never be equivocated as every aspect of appearance. Unless you are an extremely ignorant or extremely shallow human being, doing so is logically fallacious. Thirdly, the objective aspects of human appearance should never be conflated with any subjective aspect of appearance. To do so possibly demonstrates either ignorance or bigotry in the form of sexism and is certainly a logical fallacy as well.
Lastly, I want to define the spiritual aspects of human appearance, namely the responsibility we bear as being Image Bearers of our Creator. Genesis informs us, the first time we are mentioned, that God created us male and female in HIS image. We are, therefore, image bearers of the Creator of time, the universe, and all things seen and unseen. This aspect of appearance means that when I look at any other human being, I am seeing the reflected spiritual image of the one true God in all of His unmistakable majesty and glory. As a believer, that had better affect the way in which I deal with my fellow man on a daily basis.
It is this spiritual aspect of appearance that Mary Kassian earnestly attempted to define by pointing out that our earthly beauty merely points to the awe inspiring transcendent beauty of our God and the risen Savoir.
The stage is set
Refer back to these definitions if there arises any controversy over my use of any of the terms in the coming days. Please let me know if you agree or disagree with my interpretation of these aspects of appearance.