Without giving too much away, I have to admit that this article and its corresponding blog post and meta conversation has come along at an eerily appropriate time. (So soon after this one, too. Someone's trying to tell me something.)
In the last few days, I have had to ask myself some tough questions about what I want and why. What I expect. How I define things. I'm not proud of what I've found.
In part, here's what I'm starting to understand (and I'm going to speak to this issue from a guy's perspective only, because, well, that's what I am):
Our expectations, desires, and standards are shaped by outside forces. This is often true in the area of relationships. What we read, what we watch, what we listen to--left uncontested--will undoubtedly shape what we hope for, look for, and wait for in a mate. We let pop songs and romantic comedies and books and magazines and television shows teach us what is beautiful and handsome and important in a mate, what is valuable and praiseworthy. We accept the litmus test of "hot" and "sexy" as the eternal and unattainable goal. We want to find these elusive qualities. We want to be them. We value them. We measure up other people against their cruel rule.
We are programmed to value the wrong things. I'm going to address this issue specifically as a guy, and I ask that you ladies extend me a little grace as I work through this. Men, we are taught each day, through each magazine cover and television commercial, that what matters in a woman--what is praiseworthy and deserving of pursuit--is a toned and shapely figure, large breasts, shining and full hair, perfect skin, and any number of other manufactured physical qualities. We learn, whether we realize it or not, that a "beautiful" woman, a woman who is "sexually appealing," is defined by these qualities. We are given "examples" of this, as a sort of exaggerated measuring stick by which to compare the women around us. I think most guys have one or two celebrities or other well-known "beauties" they've picked out as "ultimates." I admit that I have. A website I frequent (a news and entertainment site, mind you) recently had a blog entry advertising images from a magazine photo spread with this woman, and a tagline promising she looks "as hot as ever." I started to click on it, curious and enticed, before catching myself. With all these ideas from the aforementioned articles about what constitutes true beauty, I had to stop and ask myself, "Why do I want to look at this?" And I knew that those pictures, even fully-clothed, still lead me to mentally create unrealistic and unbiblical standards. (Yes, I said "unbiblical." We're totally going there.)
We don't often value what the Bible tells us to value. While there are passages in the Scripture that talk about a woman's beauty, the key passages that tell God-fearing guys what to look for in a wife talk about something completely different. Proverbs 31:10-31, the passage describing the qualities of a godly wife and mother, has nothing to do with what she looks like, and everything to do what what she does and the quality of her character. Peter's first letter talks about a godly woman having "the imperishible beauty of a quite and gentle spirit." How often to a group of guys talk about how attractive the gentleness and honesty of a woman is? Why not? These are the things that we are told matter to God. So often we focus on things that will fade, and we ignore the things that God values in ourselves and in others.
This doesn't mean physical beauty is totally irrelevant. And I'm not swearing off physical attraction. It just means that the definition of beauty is shaky, at best. Now, I'm afraid a few of you reading this are convinced that I'm over-reacting or that i'm swearing off looking for someone who doesn't make me cringe in disgust. You may assume that I'm going to purposefully seek out an ugly woman in an effort to be more "spiritual." That's not what I'm talking about at all. I am still hoping for someone whom I can be passionate about in every way.
But the point is, I have to realize that I've been running around with the wrong expectations. And those expectations may have kept me from opening up my heart to some awesome people. I have been guilty of disregarding women who didn't meet my preference list, and I justified it by saying that everyone has their own particular preferences, so there's nothing wrong with that. People in Christian circles talk about "tearing up their wish list" of what they expect in a mate, and I've even on some level agreed with this idea. Yet I still look at pictures of the same celebrity women, and I still take in the same messages through the art and media I consume, which only reinforce those false standards. I've got to now realize that a consistent diet of images that meet my expectations for what female beauty is will not make me value Godly traits more, but less.
I confess that I have undervalued godliness, integrity, and character. I have called "beautiful" what is temporary, and withheld the term from qualities that most deserve it, like purity of heart and devotion to Christ. What's worse is that I have also undervalued these characteristics in my own life, and haven't pursued them as passionately as I should have. Worse still, I've compared myself to a culturally-manufactured physical standard as well, and let my self-perceived lack of "sex appeal" cripple how I see myself and my worth.
So where do we go from here? I'm not sure. And I'm sleepy. So don't expect answers or a five-point plan. I know it will take prayer. I know it will take choosing not to check out the magazine cover with my favorite starlet. I know it will take immersing myself in the Word of God to rediscover His beauty, so I can better recognize that beauty in others. And I know it will take a while.
But this is "where I'm at right now": trying to re-learn what "beauty" is, and praying for the wisdom to recognize it when I find it. And when I have found it, praying for the courage to act, and the discernment to know how to act rightly and with love.