“How do I look?” Part 7 of 7
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In my last six posts, I introduced the players in the “Appearance Matters in Marriage” Christian debate. After some dialogue and debate, I asked the questions that crowd largely dodged.
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?
Then I stated that the real, and very thoughtful, and very prayerfully arrived at, and very honest answer is — yes.
Appearance matters in marriage and failing to exercise stewardship over one’s appearance can be sinful.
Test my Answer
Assume a North American culture is normative in the following scenarios. Assume a married couple. For name sake, let’s call them Richard and Jane. Understand that I am asserting an otherwise normal cultural, spiritual, physical, and emotional state on the part of each person. Don’t make a straw man of Jane suffering from clinical depression or some illness and don’t assume that Richard is excessively uninterested (abdicates) or excessively controlling/abusive of his Jane. Assume a fairly normal marriage relationship.
Jane has a younger sister, Jill, who is getting married. Jill and her bridegroom have chosen a traditional formal ceremony for their venue. Jane’s husband, Richard, shows up wearing a formal tuxedo, but with unkempt hair, bad breath, a two day old beard, dirt beneath his nails, bloodshot eyes, a large breakfast stain on his white tuxedo shirt, and he has selected mismatched socks and dirty sneakers to offset his wife’s tasteful pumps. Does Richard’s outward appearance matter to Jane, his wife? In reality, it does.
Turn it around. Jane shows up to Richard’s younger sister’s wedding wearing a polyester miniskirt, no hose, unshaved legs, and a neon green halter top that nicely offsets her black nail polish and frames her newly acquired lower back tattoo which proudly proclaims the name of her last boyfriend before she married Richard who is in the bridal party. Does this matter to Richard? In real life, it certainly does.
You can claim that in either scenario, appearance wouldn’t or shouldn’t matter — but that is not reality. There are times when appearance matters to us emotionally and spiritually as a married couple because a certain formality of dress and hygiene is dictated by cultural mores. However, I do not intend to focus on these “special occasions” when appearance strongly matters due to social convention. I do not want to be accused of a straw man fallacy in turn, so I will set aside special occasions and examine the day to day fray.
The Day to Day
Richard is stooped under the hood and up to his elbows in the minivan engine one Saturday morning. The fruit of his labors to date are that his arms are covered in engine grease (and maybe a little bit of blood), he has grit under his nails, he is sweaty, his white T-shirt is starting to look gray, his jeans have a few new rips and tears, and his breath smells like strong coffee and the garlic teriyaki deer jerky he’s been snacking on all morning. Does his appearance matter to his wife? In reality, it does.
Now, in the case of my wife, she would find my appearance particularly attractive, especially if I am wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. So that’s how it matters to us in our marriage. But even so, I would make no attempt to impose a touch or kiss upon my wife if that were my appearance. Out of deference to my wife, I would first get gussied up and make myself presentable to her.
Jane has been up for several hours in the night dealing with a sick infant. First thing in the morning, Richard is greeted by quite a sight. Jane’s body is adorned in a slightly damp and very large terry cloth robe draped loosely over an old XXXL sports jersey. Her hair looks like she stuck one or more forks in an electric socket, her bloodshot eyes have dark rings under them, the corners of her mouth are turned down, and she smells faintly of milky spit-up. In reality, does her appearance matter to her husband this morning before he leaves to put in his 9 to 5? In reality, it matters.
In the case of our marriage, I see the battle scars of the night before and encapsulate the sacrifice of sleep my wife made while caring for our child. Her efforts ensured that I (at least) managed a good night’s sleep before a day of toil. In that early morning moment, I find my wife nearly irresistible, completely desirable, and admire her in a way she will probably never even understand. Appearance matters. Even so, my wife probably would not attempt to impose a hug or kiss until she freshened up and made herself presentable. (I might try to steal a kiss anyway!)
Through a Glass Darkly
I submit to you that it is very often the case that during the course of our day to day existence, when we think we look our worst, we in fact look our best to our spouse. I submit to you that when we look our worst as a result of diligently striving to accomplish the biblical goals God has set before us as men and women, within the boundaries of manly and womanly domains, that our spouses see through the subjective outer mars and imperfections and instead see into the inner beauty of that one true partner, that loving person who is committed, cleaved unto, ONE with you for all of our time together in this life. They see into each other — and that is IN TO ME SEE — the very real intimacy shared in a loving, biblical marriage.
Appearance matters in these cases, not in a negative light, but rather because the outward imperfections only serve to more greatly glorify the inner image, the glorious beauty of our spouse. In these circumstances, we see our spouse as the image bearer of our Creator. We see through the subjective appearance and witness the reflected face of God.
Having a bad hair day? Didn’t notice over the incredible light of your beauty, and by the way, I love you, honey. Not happy with your shoes? As it relates to how much I love you — I honestly couldn’t care less, gorgeous. That dress isn’t flattering in this light? You look spectacular to me, my queen.
Profound Truth #4: Women who are loving TOWARD men are always lovable BY men, no matter what those women look like over the course of the day to day fray.
As far as it concerns the objective appearance of things like natural aging and the battle scars of life? You see ugly stretch marks and a large backside? We see the amazing woman who brought our children into the world. You see sagging breasts? We see countless hours spent nursing. You see gray hairs? We see all the sleepless nights the beautiful mother of our children spent comforting a sick child. You see crows feet? We remember every time we ever made you laugh out loud and filled the world with that joyous sound.
Profound Truth #5: REAL men know that their wives are REAL women. REAL women love husbands who are REAL men.
What you see as imperfections we admire as reminders of a life lived well — a life that honors both you and your loved ones and elevates you in our hearts and minds to a place of perfection that allows us — as your bridegroom — to make you presentable as GLORIOUS, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but rather as holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27).
Spots, wrinkles, scars, blemishes, any such things — those aspects of appearance simply do not enter into a real man’s perception of his wife’s beauty. You are our lover, practically our only confidante, our beloved bride, the mother of our children, and the queen of our kingdom. Those objective aspects of your appearance would absolutely NEVER cause a real man to be sexually tempted to stray because, ironically, we find those very things about you attractive, honorable, worthy, even — dare I say — beautiful. No. Not good enough. We see them as GLORIOUS (Eph 5:27). A real man would no more consider an act of adultery over a stretch mark than a real woman would do likewise over a bald head.
But what about taking stewardship over one’s appearance? What about my desire to make myself presentable to my wife before attempting physical affection? What about her desire not to kiss me until she changed out of her spit-up covered clothes and gargled some mouth wash? What if that changed?
Slovenly Geese and Unkempt Ganders
It becomes the norm for Richard to rarely ever brush his hair or teeth, rarely to attempt whatever shaving or grooming he needs to regularly attend, rarely to ever apply aftershave or deodorant, rarely ever to trim his nails or bother to remove the dirt from beneath them, rarely to ever wear clean and masculine looking clothing. Does this matter to Jane? In reality, it absolutely does and it is perfectly right that it does.
Let me remove the fallacy. Does it matter that Richard’s hair seems to be migrating from the top of his head to his ears and nostrils? Through the eyes of a loving wife, it doesn’t matter at all. What matters to Jane is that Richard’s not taking seriously his duty of stewardship over his personal appearance can make her feel unloved.
Richard’s loving and respectful attendance to his grooming, appearance, and hygiene in honor of his beloved bride, Jane, is a mark of his love and respect for her. A husband can make his wife feel loved by taking the duty of stewardship over his appearance seriously. A husband can make his wife feel unloved by consistently ignoring the duty of stewardship of his appearance. Any husband who intentionally neglects his appearance or takes on an appearance that he knows presents a challenge to his wife’s feelings of safety, security, or provision is actually damaging his wife’s self esteem in a way that is tantamount to abuse. And making her feel unloved is sinful.
It becomes the norm for Jane to rarely ever brush her hair or teeth, rarely to tend to whatever shaving or plucking or other depilation as may be required by custom or culture, rarely to ever apply colored lacquer to her nails or — for that matter — rarely ever to trim her nails, rarely to ever wear clean and feminine looking apparel. She doesn’t adorn herself in an attractive way (such as jewelry or makeup) as has been the norm over the course of their marriage. Does this matter to Richard? In reality, it certainly does.
Really Real Reality
Everyone is tempted. I submit to you that men are sexually tempted on levels that I believe women absolutely cannot relate to, in ways that are absolutely constant and just exhausting. So let me keep it real.
Later that day, Richard interacts with Stacey down at the office and observes that she always seems to look so nice, always has fresh breath and nicely brushed hair, never has any peach fuzz on her upper lip and always seems to have smooth legs. She even has nicely brushed teeth behind her tastefully applied lipstick. He interacts with Stacey several times throughout the course of a given day and notices that her nails are nearly always immaculate, and she often adorns herself in attractive, feminine clothes and sparkly jewelry. She never has an unkind word for Richard, always addressing him respectfully and occasionally batting her mascara clad eyes in his direction before flashing him a quick smile.
Is it possible that Richard will be sexually tempted by thoughts that involve Stacey? Of course it’s possible. As a matter of fact, it is likely.
That is very nature of male sexual temptation.
How do you suppose Richard captures every thought and battles that temptation to flee from sin? What do you think he relies on hundreds of times each day? What is his “go-to” weapon? It is quite simple, really. He thinks of his wife. He thinks of Jane. He remembers all of the things he loves about his beloved bride. He remembers that she respects him, never belittles him, is always available to him. And he remembers how she demonstrates marked respect for him by taking the duty of stewardship over her appearance seriously.
Given those parameters, when Richard returns home after a full work day to find, to paraphrase Pastor Challies, his beloved Jane still wearing the stained Mickey Mouse T-shirt and Yoga pants she plucked up off the bathroom floor that very same morning and for the fifth day in a row, it is definitely going to matter to Richard. It is going to matter the next time Stacey bats her eyelashes his direction.
The final truth for you is this:
Profound Truth #6: No amount of fallacious feminist bloviating about how “it shouldn’t matter” is going to change the fact that it does. No amount of whining and illogical, irrational blathering is going to change that really real reality. If you can dig deep and ignore the political agendas, the Satan inspired wedges, and the hypothetical non-realities that deny our very gender as males — you come to the conclusion that in reality, it matters.
And what’s more, it ought to matter.
Let me dispel the fallacy. Does it matter that Jane has some stretch marks after carrying their children inside her body? Absolutely not. Does it matter on any conceivable level that Jane put on a few holiday pounds? Not even for a second. Odds are, Richard may be carrying a few loads of laundry on top of his washboard stomach these days, too.
But does it matter that Jane did not even make an effort to respectfully look attractive to her husband? The really true and very honest answer is — yes, it does matter.
In your heart of hearts, you know it matters.
Furthermore, it ought to matter.
Of course, our ultra-feminized and ultra-secularized western culture encourages wives to look as plain and unattractive as possible. Go ahead and wear pajama pants and oversize T-shirts to Walmart. Never wear feminine clothing like skirts or dresses, or even bras. Never do anything with that glorious hair or apply a dash of makeup. After all, feminists will offer you the assurance that it “should make no difference” whether a wife maintains stewardship over her subjective appearance — that such stewardship or lack thereof ought to have absolutely no impact on her husband’s daily battle with sexual temptation. If he REALLY LOVES YOU, it won’t matter to him that you are presenting a stumbling block that defies the very mechanisms of his design. That’s all his problem and he’s just an ignorant pig if he can’t respect your decision to “let yourself go.” Right?
Here is the cultural corollary. If a husband makes a wife feel insecure and unloved, does that present a stumbling block to her? Or is that all just her problem? If she REALLY LOVES HIM, won’t she just get over it and respect his decision to leave her feeling insecure and unloved? Isn’t she just needy and suffocating if she can’t?
This brings us to the crux of the real debate. If the question is whether or not a wife helps her husband to feel deeply respected and thus flee from sexual temptation by stewarding her subjective appearance (those areas where she can exercise choice), the conclusion isn’t, as Evans alleged, “very ominous.” But it IS very clear.
A wife CAN help her husband by taking the responsibility of stewardship over her appearance seriously. A wife simply doesn’t help her husband by not taking that duty of stewardship seriously. A wife who intentionally (disrespectfully) neglects her appearance is actually intentionally damaging her husband’s self esteem and acting as a stumbling block in the arena of sexual temptation.
I suppose someone could sit back and pontificate and deny the above facts all day long and twice on Sunday. If you do, you are not living in the real world and coping with what is, in fact, really real reality.
With that conclusion, I turn the blog back over to the most beautiful, desirable. lovable woman I know and the most important person in my life on this earth.
Thanks for your comments. God Bless,