Last week I was at the gym when a woman looked at me and said:
"You always look cute. I hate you."
I was slightly offended. Call me crazy, but I actually don't like it when people hate me. Now, I realize she may not actually hate me, but the feeling also wasn't warm and kind. What is it with us women that we think everything is a contest and we want to trip all the other girls running alongside us?
This week I've been working on a Bible study on Esther by Beth Moore. It's not your typical Bible study. Let's just say this book of the Bible could be set in modern-day America and make an excellent soap opera. There are wild parties, banished queens, a beauty contest, harems, plots to assassinate the king - and that's only in the first two chapters! I was having so much fun working on my homework that I sat for two hours and did all five days of work in one sitting. I imagine that part of that motivation was due to the fact that the topic really hits home with me: this week all centered around beauty treatments.
Did you know that Esther was basically picked by the king in an ancient version of "The Bachelor". Yep, king Xerxes sent scouts looking all over Persia for the prettiest girls. They were then brought to the palace for a year's worth of beauty treatments. A WHOLE YEAR! Maybe that sounds fun to you, but I also learned that the girls who weren't chosen to be queen joined the king's harem where they would sit their whole lives unless the king called for them by name. Talk about some pressure! Either look good, or spend your life competing with a group of other women for one man's attention! No thanks.
I spent some time thinking about how I would handle a situation like the one Esther was in. The Bible says that all these "Bachelor candidates" had anything they wanted at their disposal. I'm talking spray tans, gel nails, the most expensive make-up, jewelry from Tiffany's, anything you wanted off the rack at Nordstrom's...whatever that ancient equivalent was, of course. The odd thing is, Esther asked for nothing. Here is an excerpt from my study:
"The girls could request any extravagance to make themselves more appealing, but Esther asked for nothing. Esther does not reject all beauty aids, but only avoids asking for more than she is offered. Her virtue is not abstinence from heathen luxuries but self-effacing receptivity and passivity. Somehow I'm relieved. Please tell me I can still be a godly woman who can walk acceptably before her exalted King without abstaining from some well-earned beauty aids! The point is not that Esther abstained, but rather was restrained."
Just in case you got lost in that paragraph, what it says it that Esther didn't make herself plain - but she didn't look like Snookie either.
I'm not sure if I had to stand before a king that I would have the confidence to restrain myself from doing everything possible to look better. Esther really makes herself stand out by doing so. The Bible says she "won the favor of everyone who saw her" (Est. 2:15). Beth Moore says "Brace yourself for a shock: that included the other women! You and I both know that a rare woman indeed is beautiful from a male perspective and favored by other women."
I've really been trying to think of what makes a woman attractive to men, yet liked by other women. I can think of a few women I know that are certainly beautiful, but never make me feel like I'm not. It all comes from the inside: they are kind, warm, friendly, and secure. Not perfect, but healthy. Attractive, but not showy. Eye-catching, but not attention-stealing. That's the kind of woman I want to be.
Obviously, the woman I saw at the gym wasn't a friend of mine. Most of my friends know I'd give them a good jab-cross combo to the boob if they told me they hated me. Plus, my friends also know that I wake up with scary hair, breakouts, and wish I didn't have love handles and jock thighs on some days. I'm thankful we have make-up, and I'm even more thankful to know that having inner beauty can be a force capable of capturing even the attention of a king. I don't need to attract myself a king, but I love finding ancient stories that have principles for modern-day life. Where can I exercise restraint in my life, and how can I work on being a woman that is favored by other women? I'm inspired to find out...