A shocking new YouTube phenomenon is spreading among young girls in the United States called, “Am I pretty or ugly?” Girls in their early teens post short clips of themselves and ask viewers to reply whether or not they are attractive. Heartbreaking is the only way to describe one 11 year old girl’s post asking, “Please tell the truth i dont care if you post bad comments just please tell me Thank you.” As you can imagine, the commentators’ virtual remarks range anywhere between kind-hearted and cruel.
It would be easy to end this article by blaming this distressing trend on society’s sexual objectification of women. We could just point fingers at Cosmopolitan magazine, celebrities’ fascination with airbrushed photos, and radical feminists’ hypocritical support of prostitution and the growing pornography industry. However, the church plays a vital role in helping teens combat a glamor-obsessed world that must not be taken for granted.
If you grew up in the church, then you probably heard the words “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30) over and over again as you endured your “awkward” years of braces and acne. While you knew this Scripture to be truth, it was probably difficult to actually believe when everything the media threw at you described beauty as perfect teeth, blemish-free skin, tiny waists, low-cut blouses, and short skirts.
Churches, alongside parents, are up against a formidable opponent. The media knows all too well how much weight their messages carry in kids’ lives. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), “Sexually objectified images of girls and women in advertisements are most likely to appear in men’s magazines. Yet the second most common source of such images is the advertisements in teen magazines directed at adolescent girls.” NEDA also found that, “Even media aimed at elementary school age children, such as animated cartoons and children’s videos, emphasize the importance of being attractive.”
Pop cultures’ manufactured beauty must be exposed for the lie that it is. But the sheer fact that so many teens are welcoming critique from a cold virtual world demonstrates a there exist a craving among teens for encouragement and affirmation. This is where the church comes into play.
We — the collective church — must begin by admitting there is a problem. Young girls are able to memorize Scripture’s definition of true beauty, yes. But do they understand how to apply this truth to their lives? We must uphold our vulnerable young disciples as beautiful based on their inner character.
All this is not to say that appearance is moot within Christianity. It is very natural for girls and ladies to want to feel pretty. From the time many girls are small, they are fascinated with frilly dresses and sparkly lip-gloss. Appearance for ladies is important, but the church must help girls distinguish between femininity and vanity.
To do this, the church must reaffirm beauty as courage, generosity, wisdom, patience and kindness. She must once again deal with pride and egotism as a sin. She must work towards developing Godly character rather than superficial charm. She must teach her children that beauty is a secure identity in Jesus Christ, not a new Hollister dress or Pinterest trend.