This is part of an ongoing series where I explore some of the issues raised by the book of Esther. Today’s is one that can be particularly sensitive, and I have quite deliberately narrowed the focus down to consider young women only (since that is what Esther was).
We all know that beautiful women invariably find themselves at the centre of attention. Twelve Russian spies were captured in America recently, but it was the “hot one” that got the news coverage. Television producers task camera men at sporting events to scour the spectators for beauties to zoom in on.
We are told that Esther “was lovely in form and features” (Esther 2:7). In modern day parlance, she was “fit”. Given that her physical beauty resulted in her being selected for the king’s harem, which in all likelihood was not something she would have wanted, we might be tempted to ask the question of whether possessing such beauty was a blessing or a curse.
We might observe that great beauty always seems to attract attention from the wrong sort of men. Christian young women need to beware of ungodly men trying to charm them into a relationship that will end in disaster. They need to be accountable to other good friends who will help them discern whether a particular relationship is a wise one or not.
Nevertheless, women should understand their beauty as a positive gift from God. It is not spiritual to attempt to hide or suppress that beauty (perhaps more on that tomorrow). However, we live in a culture where we are bombarded with images of beautiful women (often “photoshopped” to perfection). They feature in most adverts, music videos, magazines and movies we see. The net effect seems to be a growing number of women who feel desperately inadequate and lacking in self-confidence all because they do not measure up to an impossible ideal.
Chris Jordan reports that breast enlargements are rapidly becoming the most common high school graduation gift to teenage girls in America. Ironically, the parents in seeking to boost their daughter’s self-esteem are actually reinforcing the message that she is in some way inadequate. Whilst the “gift” may boost self-esteem in the short-term, I can’t imagine it does much good in the long-term.
Of course, this obsession with beauty is nothing new. Women in the first century needed a gentle reminder that real beauty is more than skin deep:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Pet 3:3-4
Ultimately I think that the real solution is for Christian women (and men for that matter) to really know, believe and delight in their new identity in Christ. This is a deeply counter-cultural mindset, but it is vital that we educate ourselves to think biblically about our identity rather than being shaped by the value system of a world alienated from its creator.
Rather sneakily, I had a listen to one of the women’s seminars from this year’s Together on a Mission conference, as part of my preparation for teaching through Esther, and I thought Wendy Virgo’s talk on “The Battle for Identity – From Victim to Victor” was outstanding (download available here, or use the player below). It is well worth a listen. She identifies “fear of not looking beautiful” as one of several “strongholds” that can affect women, and also points us to the solid ground of knowing our identity in Christ and the power of the gospel as the keys to breaking free.[audio:http://nf1.2xstreamhosting.com/~newfrontiers/TOAM2010/TOAM2010_LT11_01.mp3]