Am I beautiful?

Am I beautiful? More to the point, do I see myself as beautiful? That’s the question explored in Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches. A FBI-trained forensic artist interviews a woman, without seeing her, and draws a portrait from her self-description. He then draws a second portrait of her, but this time based on a stranger’s description. The two pictures are compared, and consistently, the self-described portrait is less beautiful.

This corresponds to Dove’s own research that only 4% of girls in the world consider themselves beautiful, and 72% of them feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful.

This is hardly stop-the-presses breaking news, and yet it is still arresting. I watched the video as the father of a 3-year old girl, and it made me pause. I tell my daughter often that she is pretty, and that she’s my beautiful little girl. But I suspect lots of dads tell their daughters that, and yet only 4% of them believe it. That means there’s a whole other, stronger message out there that our daughters and friends and spouses and co-workers and mothers are believing.

Beauty does matter. God is a God who cares about beauty, and the truth is supposed to be beautiful. But the Bible talks far more about a beauty deeper than our physical appearance. It counsels that “your beauty shouldn’t come from outward adornment” but rather from “your inner self,” in gentleness of character and attitude (1 Peter 3:3–4). Our heart is what should be beautiful.

Jesus wasn’t exactly a looker we’re told – he had no good-looking appearance that we should be drawn to him, prophecy says (Isaiah 53:2–3). And yet is there a more truly beautiful act than his dying for us, giving up his life so that we might live?

There will be great beauty—read the descriptions of the new creation in Revelation. But that outward beauty will only be authentic and true, when it reflects the moral beauty of a creation that has been transformed, where evil and sin are banished. We are right to long for beauty, provided that we keep in view that it’s a beauty still to come, and that it must match up the inside and the outside.

One woman in the video says about beauty, ‘It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.” I’m sad that this statement is more accurate than it should be. That is, it does describe our fallen reality, but it’s not the deeper truth of how God intends things to be.

The final tag-line is, “You are more beautiful than you think.” Yes, that’s true. It’s true of all of us, but not because of anything we’ve done, no moisturiser we’ve applied, or self-esteem boost we’ve believed. I’m beautiful because God made me in his image, and because Jesus died at the cross to take away the ugliness of my sin and give me heavenly glory.

But is that what I believe? When I look in my closet for what to wear, do I believe that? When I get up early to go to the gym, not just because I want to be healthy, but because I want to look good, do I believe that? When I encourage my daughter that she’s beautiful, which kind of beauty do I mean? Am I encouraging her heart in the right direction?

Again, physical beauty is not bad, and it’s right to desire it. But only in a small, limited way. I need to point my daughter’s heart and mine to the tragic beauty of the cross, and the new heavens and new earth where real beauty will be ours as we gaze upon a beautiful savior.

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