I’ve previously blogged about how God called me to move to Spain earlier this year, but what I haven’t really talked about are the storms He’s asked me to walk through while following Him on this journey. I arrived in Barcelona on the 13th of January, and since then I’ve had to move no less than six times because of various issues with accommodation. I still don’t have a ‘permanent’ place to live out here, and I’ve come to accept that perhaps I never will. Whenever I’m tempted to let discontentment take over, though, I’m reminded of our Lord’s words to Teresa of Avila:
“Oh covetousness of the human race, that you think you will be lacking! How many times did I sleep in the open because I had nowhere to lay My Head!”
I firmly believe that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28), and that He uses the most difficult seasons of our lives to draw us deeper into the love He invites us to share with Him. In my case, the seemingly endless cycle of packing and unpacking, settling and moving again made me question just how necessary many of my possessions really were.
One such possession was the (somewhat overstuffed) makeup bag which, until recently, I was convinced I couldn’t live without. In the time I’ve known the Lord, I’ve come to see that because He is truth itself, when we walk closely with Him and listen to His voice, He will naturally shine His light on the lies we believe about ourselves and the world, exposing them for what they are. In this post, I share my experience with going barefaced for the first time in years, with the hope that other women and girls will come to find the freedom in this area that is part of their inheritance in Christ.
My history with makeup
I’m one of those girls who never really ‘got’ makeup. As a child I was always happiest running around in a pair of old jeans which had been hacked into shorts using my mum’s orange kitchen scissors, climbing trees or just lying in the grass, seeing what shapes I could find in the clouds. My hair was always a mess (I hated having it brushed) and I generally preferred the company of animals to people.
It was only when I got into high school that I began to feel any kind of pressure to wear makeup, and that was a part of my goth phase, where the aim was to try and look as scary as possible. I never really understood how other girls managed to use makeup to make themselves look completely different, though. Contouring was, and remains, a mystery to me. I still don’t understand how to use bronzer. Does it go on the cheekbones, or under them? The mysteries of life!
As I got older, of course, I started to believe the lie the world tells women: that our worth is intrinsically linked to our ability to attract men, and that our physical appearance must meet a certain standard to accomplish this. Women or girls who don’t wear makeup are stereotyped as being either crazy hippies or not respecting themselves enough to ‘make an effort’. Because I believed this, it wasn’t long before I was wearing makeup almost every day, and even after my reconciliation with the Lord, I still felt like there was something wrong if I left the house without it.
Those are the lies, of course. But what’s the truth?
A different standard
One thing I’ve noticed about worldly standards of beauty is that the goalposts are constantly shifting. Women of colour are told their skin is too dark, whereas white women are ‘pasty’ and ‘unhealthy’ if they don’t have a tan. Naturally pale-faced women are encouraged to wear blusher, and women with naturally rosy cheeks are sold bottles of green pigment to make their skin look paler (yes, really). Larger ladies are told to lose a few (or several) pounds, whereas naturally slender women like myself are called flat chested or teased about eating disorders which we don’t have. It’s exhausting, but God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14: 33), and in His Word He makes it quite clear how He sees us, as well as what His beauty standards are.
I think the first thing we need to realise is that God made us beautiful. Psalm 139 tells us that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, which is a far cry from what the world would have us believe. In the Song of Songs, the King tells the Bride: ‘You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you’ (SoS 4: 7). So much for using makeup to cover our flaws – as far as Jesus is concerned, we don’t have any flaws to cover. And who are we to argue with our Creator?
Has it ever occurred to you that you look exactly how He wanted you to look?
The Bible also affirms – repeatedly – that true beauty is spiritual as well as physical. In Psalm 45, the bride is told that the King will desire her beauty if she leaves her home and family to come and live with Him (Psalm 45: 11-12). The willingness to forsake everything to follow Jesus, therefore, is something which our Lord appears to find most attractive in a soul. The one who willingly surrenders their life to Him is the one who is beautiful in His sight.
In the first letter of St. Peter, the author lays down a Biblical standard of beauty for women which he insists is ‘inside, in a person’s heart, imperishable: the ornament of a sweet and gentle disposition – this is what is precious in the sight of God’ (1 Peter 3: 4). Proverbs 31 tells us that: ‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised’ (Proverbs 31: 30).
The Bible is the most beautiful book ever written because it reveals the heart of God, but we can also learn more about His love through the private revelations given to the saints and mystics throughout the ages. Recently I’ve been exploring the writings of Mechthild von Magdeburg, a lesser known German mystic from the 13th century. In one of her ecstatic visions of God, Mechthild apparently heard the Father say of the creation of mankind:
“I shall make a bride for myself who shall greet me with her mouth and wound me with her beauty. Only then does love really begin.”
That expression really struck a chord with me. Have you ever been so in love with someone it was almost painful to look at them? I really believe that’s how God feels about us. It’s a delightful thought.
Is it a sin?
I don’t believe it’s necessarily sinful to use makeup, although our motives for wearing it can be. In my case, I had to admit that it was a combination of vanity and insecurity which had me reaching for the foundation every morning. I also had to consider whether my actions matched the love I was professing for the Lord. I had repeatedly told Him that He was all I wanted and that His approval was all I desired – yet there I was, every morning, doing something which was designed to elicit the approval of other human beings (mostly men). When I read about St. Rose, who reportedly scrubbed her face with pepper so that men wouldn’t lust after her, I knew how far I was falling short (by the way, I don’t recommend that anyone does this!).
With all of this in mind, I decided to stop wearing makeup. The first few times I went to work or church without it, I did feel self-conscious and wonder what people were thinking (incidentally, I’m not sure they even noticed). Those feelings soon passed, however, when I realised just how free I felt without layers of ‘stuff’ on my face. I loved that I could tie my hair up in the morning and be ready to go within a few minutes. I loved not having itchy, sticky eyes from the mascara and eyeliner. My bedtime ritual was also considerably shortened. But the best feeling of all was the knowledge that I was saying ‘no’ to the impossible and ever-changing beauty standards of the world. It’s one more step on the road to sanctification, the process by which we become set apart and wholly consecrated to God.
Examining my motives for wearing makeup and thinking about God’s beauty standards have really changed my heart on the matter (I’m pretty sure that the Holy Spirit had a part to play in that). I’m now of the opinion that women really do look better without it, and embracing the truth of how God sees us has made me feel happier and more confident in my identity as a daughter of the Most High. As an added bonus, my skin looks better – and clearer – than it has in years. Not putting chemicals on my face every day has finally given it the chance to breathe. The Mediterranean sun has added colour to my cheeks. I’m trying not to focus on these things, however.
And of course, it’s a journey. I still don’t feel quite brave enough to throw out my makeup bag for good, and I do still put a bit of highlighter under my eyes when the insecurity bug bites hard. It doesn’t make much difference, though – I’m one of those people who always has dark circles, no matter how much sleep she gets, but this is just something I need to learn to accept.
Are you a Christian who doesn’t wear makeup? Please share your story in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!