Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31: 30-31, NIV)
I can't help thinking it's no accident that these two verses come at the very end of Proverbs, punctuating a potent description of a "wife of noble character." It's as if the writer wanted to be sure we understand exactly what it is that gives a woman value, what makes her attractive in the eyes of God. Sadly, here on earth, in a society that too often worships physical beauty and shuns the physically flawed, noble character gets rather short shrift. When supermodel Nikki Taylor was severely injured in a recent car crash, what was the first thing reporters wanted to know? — whether her beautiful face had been damaged. No, the hospital spokesperson, replied, her injuries were internal. As if that was somehow good news.
Remember the day Princess Diana died? You may recall that Mother Teresa died the same day. A few commentators noted the irony that Diana's death swept Mother Teresa's passing off the front pages. One can't help but wonder: would Princess Diana's death have been considered quite as newsworthy if she hadn't been quite so pretty? It's tragic whenever someone dies at an early age, but it's viewed as a deeper loss when the person who died was young and beautiful.
Should it come as any surprise that as we women cross the threshold of middle age, we treat this phase of our lives as something to dread? Admit it, girls: rather than celebrating the wisdom that comes with getting older, secretly, we'd happily trade some of that wisdom for a few less crow's feet. We'd barely hesitate before swapping hard-won experience for thinner, firmer thighs.
The negative cultural messages are there, but championing our aging selves requires that we also learn to counter our own negative self-talk. Yes, the worldly evidence of society's prejudice against age points at us with a long, bony finger and says, "You're not young, therefore you are not desirable or interesting anymore." But we don't have to buy into that.
If we are to more than simply survive getting older — if we are to truly celebrate God's gift of life in all its changing phases — we must be willing to be our own cheerleaders. That means seeking out role models who affirm us and ignoring messages that serve no other purpose than to make us feel bad about ourselves.
At this point in our lives, it's time to jettison the negative tapes that have played over and over in our heads since adolescence: the continuous chant of "I'm too fat, my hips are too big, my chest is too small, my hair is too thin, etc." Replace those tapes with reminders of what's good about you and what you've done to make a positive impact on the lives of those around you. Reinforce a positive self-image with God's words about what constitutes true, lasting beauty.
Finally, consider these parting thoughts from Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), a pioneer of women's suffrage and a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony:
"When it is only through age that one gathers wisdom and experience, why this endless struggle to seem young? . . . Remember that beauty works from within, it cannot be put on and off like a garment, and it depends far more on the culture of the intellect, the tastes, sentiment, and affections of the soul than the color of the hair, eyes, or complexion . . . Be kind, noble, generous, well-mannered, be true to yourselves and your friends, and the soft lines of those tender graces and noble virtues will reveal themselves in the face . . . There are indelible marks in every face showing the real life within."
Society's prejudice against age points at us with a long, bony finger and says, "you're not young, therefore you are not desirable or interesting anymore." But we don't have to buy into that.