Victoria’s Secret and the Proverbs 31 Woman
Last night was the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. I don’t have to explain the controversy surrounding this event every year, or even go into detail about the strong points from different arguments. Most of us have heard all the same opinions debated over and over. 9.3 million viewers tuned into the show last year, and between the 18-49 age bracket, twice as many women were watching as men. (I wanted to post links to these stats but every article also contains numerous pictures of women in their underwear). I found this particularly interesting as many people paint Victoria’s Secret, and this annual fashion show in particular, as a sex-crazed parade out to capture young men’s attention. Obviously, there are plenty of guys giving it their attention, but in the big picture, it’s the ladies that are tuning in. Why?
We like it.
A lot could be said here about how our culture promotes a false sense of beauty, and how we market superficial values to young girls who end up having body image and self-worth issues. Again, we’ve all read those articles, we get it. Most of us know the false messages our culture promotes. We know the whole spill about fashion and photography…how pictures get edited and super models never get to eat, how it’s not real life and we shouldn’t judge ourselves by that standard. We can judge the guys for being attracted to those things, but at the end of the day, we are too (in a different way). We may not continually put ourselves down, or think less of ourselves when we wake up in the morning and do not look like a super model (hah), but we sure do feel better and think higher of ourselves on the days we look and feel great. It’s like ‘Yeah, that’s a stupid standard for beauty that no real people can reach…until I get a step or two closer to reaching it and then I’ll silently pat myself on the back.’ We may not openly strive for this high standard of exterior beauty, but we sure feel insecure in showing our true selves don’t we? In our Christian circles especially, girls will talk all day long about modesty and how true beauty lies inside, but we still have those situations that make us feel a little too ‘real’, the times we feel we need to give an excuse for why we look as ‘rough’ as we do. We say we don’t care about our outward appearance but have someone give you a compliment and your heart does this little leap of joy thing. We know what we’ve all agreed to be true- beauty has nothing to do with our outward appearance, but inside of us is still this notion that we are more valuable when we are closer to the standard that has been set.
In response to the airing of the fashion show last night, social media was full of posts saying things such as ‘I’d rather be a Proverbs 31 woman than a supermodel’ or ‘I’d rather marry a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret super model.’ (I’m writing a whole separate post on how the actions of Christian guys really shows what they really mean- they would rather marry a Victoria’s Secret super model that loves Jesus, hah). There are entire ministries around the notorious Proverbs 31 woman, encouraging ‘true’ womanhood…inner beauty, godly characteristics, a love for family and children, a servant’s heart. I did a quick podcast search on iTunes and there are a ton of sermons and messages on how to be the Proverbs 31 woman, how to not fall into the standard the world sets but to cling to what scripture says, and on and on and on.
I’m going to share some thoughts that you may be uneasy with, and I’m very open for discussion on any points that I may be wrong on. BUT- the “Proverbs 31 woman” isn’t a real woman, and the Proverbs 31 chapter wasn’t written to women.
If we look at the context of scripture, and honestly, if we just read the first line in this chapter, we see that this was ‘an oracle’ (a wise saying or answer) given to King Lemeul, ‘taught to him by his mother’. This was written by a woman (the Queen) to her son (a single, younger, guy). The first several verses are used to warn him against misuse of sex and alcohol. She urges him to care for the poor. THEN she starts listing qualities he should look for when choosing a wife. It’s almost like she’s saying, ‘Don’t mess around with these women that will lure you into doing what they want, spend time caring for the poor and spend time with women who do these kind of things.’ It is also an acrostic, meaning each new line is started with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Acrostics were used as an easy way to teach things because they were easier to memorize. Almost like an extended nursery rhyme, or the ABC song-put a little tune behind an acrostic and you’ve got a lengthy concept in an easy to recall form. Some modern writers have suggested that this particular acrostic may have been memorized by men and recited to praise women who were worthy of honor. Somehow, somewhere down the line, we took these words that were meant to direct single guys away from dangerous women and made them a standard for good-hearted women to work towards. Somehow we took this piece of literary praise meant to celebrate honorable women, and turned it into a list that women in the church need to reach in order to be honorable.
What gets me the most is this- We are so quick to call out the world’s standard of beauty as giving us a false sense of reality but in its place, we in the church suggest an equally unreal standard. We say ‘A person’s self-worth cannot be measured by ___________, now let’s look at scripture and see a list of things we can look at to measure our self worth!’ We don’t say it like that of course, but that’s the underlying feeling. Just as we don’t outright hate ourselves for waking up a little less than super-modelish but love our selves a little more when we look extra good, we don’t hate ourselves for not succeeding in all the characteristics of the perfect Christian woman, but we sure take a little pride when we seem to be getting most of the list down. It’s the same concept-“Of course I’m not perfect, of course my value is found solely in Christ, but if I can just work a little harder and do a little better at this list of things I’ll feel better.” When we say “I’d rather be a Proverbs 31 woman than a super model”, what we’re in essence saying is “I may not be physically perfect, but I can be spiritually perfect and that’s better anyway.” Both miss the point.
Here is what the Victoria’s Secret super model and the Proverbs 31 woman have in common- they both need Jesus. You can excel in physical ‘beauty’, you can excel in inner ‘beauty’, both are worthless without being found in Christ. You can nail the physical beauty steps list, and you can nail the spiritually healthy activities list, both will stand as filthy rags according to scripture. Our standing in Christ does not depend on anything except for the work that Christ did on our behalf. We say this, we know this, but there is still this underlying feeling that we can achieve better or do better or somehow earn favor or disapproval based on how we’re measuring up. We’re so prone to the comparison game, whether physically or spiritually. We judge ourselves based on the people who we’re surrounded by, and we judge ourselves by these false standards that we are bombarded with all the time.
What if we start reminding ourselves that we are loved and cherished because we are created in the image of our Creator and we have been ransomed and redeemed? What if instead of substituting one list that we deem as ‘worldly’ with another list we deem as ‘spiritual’, we pull away from the lists altogether and get back to locking eyes with our Savior. What if we stop telling the world that they are following the wrong list and instead point them towards life and community where there are no lists because our King has set us free. As women of the church, we are a part of a Kingdom where we are free. We are warriors with our brothers and sisters in this great task of declaring the Kingdom of God. How can we focus on the task at hand if we’re looking around comparing armor and weaponry? We need to drop the masks and stop the comparisons- the ones inside of the church. We need to stop holding each other (and ourselves) to a list and a standard that is anything other than love for Christ. We need to take our eyes off of each other, we need to help each other take our eyes off of ourselves, and we need to gaze on our King.