When I was about thirteen, I saw the episode of the original Twilight Zone entitled “Eye of the Beholder.” If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about a woman having surgery to correct her “abnormal” appearance. When we first see her, the woman is still covered in bandages. Eventually, the bandages are removed and it is revealed that the surgery hasn’t worked–the woman is still, by her society’s standards, ugly. It turns out that she is what we would call beautiful and it is the doctors and nurses in her world that are what we would call ugly.
On the surface, one of the points of the episode appears to be that society determines what is or is not beautiful. It is that message in which I see the problem. Women in particular are at the mercy of what culture says we should look like, at times even within our churches.
This is what frustrates me about those proponents of “biblical womanhood” who attach undue importance to a woman’s appearance. Rachel Held Evans mentions several of these people, including Mark Driscoll (who blamed Ted Haggard’s affair with a man on his wife’s apparent unattractiveness and criticized his own wife for getting a “momish” hairstyle); Dorothy Patterson (who thinks being able to attract younger men is a virtue); and Martha Peace (who seems to believe that affairs happen because wives aren’t appropriately pretty and sexually available).
Not long ago, I was told two things that left me speechless: First, that we women are responsible for making sure our husbands “eat at home” (a disgusting metaphor if I ever heard one); second, that to show respect for my husband, I should be sure to greet him at the door enthusiastically, making sure to ditch my bedroom slippers first (yes, really).
The problem isn’t just that men are left out of the equation or that women should remain youthful, lovely, and slipper-free. It’s that all of these people have bought into the lie that whatever culture says is attractive is the standard: jewelry, makeup, nice clothes, a thin body, a pretty face.
Sadly, both the real message of the Twilight Zone episode and the real message of the Bible are often lost on a lot of people. But Rachel gets it right when she says,
Both husbands and wives bear the sweet responsibility of seeking beauty in one another at all stages of life. No one gets off the hook because the other is wearing sweatpants or going bald or carrying a child or battling cancer.
Would the Driscolls and Pattersons and Peaces of the world be content to allow a woman with cancer to focus on coping with her illness? Or would they expect her to apply eye liner and hold back the hair of her wig while she vomits incessantly from her chemotherapy? And if they wouldn’t place that burden on her, would they excuse her husband his infidelities because the stress of an “unavailable” wife was too much for him?
At some point, a woman isn’t going to meet the beauty standards of magazines, movies, and television (not to mention pornography). And let’s face it, the same is true for men. Instead of being taught that it’s our fault for not taking care of our looks, both men and women should be taught how to seek beauty in each other throughout our lives.
One has to watch “Eye of the Beholder” all the way through to find the real message. At the end, the man (equally “ugly”) who rescues the woman tells her, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (hence the title). This is not just about finding someone beautiful that others abhor; it’s about the way in which we see the ones we truly love.
Lord, help us seek the beauty in one another.
You are reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Read more from this series of articles.
- A Year of Biblical Womanhood [group project]
- Gentleness [Biblical Womanhood]
- Defiant Domesticity [Biblical Womanhood]
- Valor [Biblical Womanhood]
- Eye of the Beholder [Biblical Womanhood]
- Modesty [Biblical Womanhood]
- The Power of Touch [Biblical Womanhood]
- Submission [Biblical Womanhood]
- Justice [Biblical Womanhood]
- Grace [Biblical Womanhood]