Questioning self -worth and identity
What do you see when you look in the mirror ? How do you measure your beauty ? Do you have perceptions of yourself based on other peoples’ ideas? Or are you happy with yourself? Do you ever wish you were younger, better looking or had less wrinkles? I am in my mid 30’s now and I can already a fair few smile and worry lines and a slight hint of grey hair that I never noticed before (maybe due to bringing up children!). I can’t be in denial of ageing, the physical evidence is here! Today, cosmetic beauty is a thoroughly sought after convenience. Anti- wrinkle creams, hair dye and Botox are being sold to convince us that youthful looks will get you anywhere. Perhaps, you want to maintain your figure with a new nose, a face-lift or bigger cup sizes? We have all seen the magazines of glamour models, with zero size women splayed all over the front covers. Even Emma Watson has taken to topless modelling in the glamorous ‘Vanity Fair’ photo shoot. Glamour models are ‘here today and gone tomorrow’. This lifestyle is short lived and many experience rejection. Why are so many of us are suffering from identity crises, health problems and body image problems?
In Disney’s Snow White , the evil queen asks the ‘magic mirror’ every day the same question , ‘Who is the most beautiful in the land?’ and one day when the mirror replied, “My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.” she then lost her temper and decided she wanted Snow White dead. This jealously got hold of her. The queen wanted her status to remain and she would do anything to regain this power and control. We too seek affirmation from our peers, partners and family. My four year old daughter asks me regularly for compliments, ‘ Do I look nice in this?’ or ‘Do I look like a princess’? Of course the answer is always ‘yes, you look lovely’, because in my eyes I love my daughter regardless of how she looks .The evil queen was always trying to compete and the compare herself to others. The problem with comparison is that it can make you feel insecure and is based on a premise that ‘beauty’ looks the same for everyone . Many of us like to reinvent ourselves too. Think of Mr Benn the childhood cartoon character, when he enters into another ‘world’ and lets his imagination reinvent who he is and what costume he will wear. This make believe world emphasises the importance we put on body image . My idea of a healthy and beautiful body is subjective. Maybe we want to know that we still look attractive for ourselves or for the opposite sex? What is underneath all this vanity and pretence? What are we trying to gain that is so important to us?
At a closer glance, some of us are looking for self-worth and approval from human a perspective rather than looking to our designer and creator God. Maybe our identity is established in our looks? Each one of us has been stunningly crafted for a purpose, ‘For I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14). Think of the famous sculptor Michelangelo whom in 1947 was commissioned to sculpt the ‘Pieta’, a he spent years on his design and patiently carved the ‘formless stone’ until it had a shape and a definition. This lump of marble became alive and was transformed into something magnificent. Similarly, God has sculptured each of us into a work of art that goes beyond the outward appearance. Perhaps some of us are trying too hard to maintain our outward appearances’. Peter tells us not to waste our time on our looks (1 Peter 3:3-4.) Have you EVER judged someone by their looks and then you get to really know them. Are you surprised by what you find?
In the Oscar Wilde novel Dorian Gray, Dorian decides he loves the idea of Hedonistic living because his friend persuaded him that beauty and pleasure is the only aspect of life worth living. Dorian quickly decides to sell his soul to the devil, to ensure that his self-portrait ages, rather than himself. Over the years, he stays youthful and everyone else grows old. What was his secret? Dorian hides away his painting in the attic for 18 years. Until one day, he decides to catch a glimpse of his painting and sees how ugly his portrait has become. The more he concealed his ways, the worse the painting had become. Dorian is at his wit’s end and decides to stab the painting and his own conscience out of desperation. He dies. No one recognised his body because he had turned into an old decrepit man. He lost everything and everyone due to the nature of his sinful heart. When you build your trust and hope on how you look, the truth is you can become incredibly ugly inside. This ugliness is born out of desires such as sexual immorality, slander, selfishness, jealousy, anger and pride (Mark 7:22). I am not saying that having beauty is inherently wrong such as Esther in the Bible. But, if we rely on beauty to get us where we want to go, there may be a risk that confidence will decrease and low self -esteem will emerge to the surface.
In Proverbs (27:19) we learn that, ‘As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart’. What does your heart reflect ? What do you talk about most ? We all know that our bodies are aging (some quicker than others!) but when we realise that our bodies are temporal but our spirits are eternal, things can be put into perspective. We can take assurance that God is actually looking within the heart (1 Sam 16:7). In the heart is where you will find real treasure, and this treasure does not rust or decay (Matt 6:19). The good news is that God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccl 3:11), we have some time to cultivate our hearts to God’s tune. We are all a work in progress. In order to cultivate a good heart spiritual discipline is key. This could mean meditating on verses that focus of your identity in Christ ‘We are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus ’(Esp 2:10) and ‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light’ (1 Pet 2:9). In displaying God’s virtues such as love, kindness, joy, hope, faith and so on , we are ‘shining like stars in the darkness’ (Phil 2:15). People will soon look past your external self and see precious jewels shining from your soul.
Do we really know what true beauty looks like ? Solomon in his finest robes did not come close to the splendour of the ‘lilies in the fields’ (Matt 6:29). Our world has become corrupted by a distorted portrayal of beauty. Jesus, however, has shown us otherwise, throughout his life, he reflects inner beauty and we can see outwardly the works he has done to bring glory to God. When we accept our real identity in Christ, we can become comfortable in our outer skin (despite all the flaws), and know that God has given us temporary bodies, filled with the Holy Spirit, to be his hands and feet. Heraclitus a Greek Philosopher once said this, ‘The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.’ We know in our heart of hearts that what really matters most is our God given character and our relationship with Jesus , who can transform us from the inside out (Rom 12:2). ‘Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day’ (2 Cor 4:16).