Editor’s Note: This article is just a taste of what is explored in the book, Beauty Not Beheld, from Hosanna Revival. Paige guides readers through the lies about identity and beauty that creep into our minds through our culture and the truths that will set us free.
“Women hate their bodies more than ever before,” reported skincare company Dove in their 2016 global survey on self-image.1 The study questioned more than 10,500 women in 13 different countries between the ages of 10 and 60 and concluded that low body-confidence has become—quite literally—a pandemic. Interviewees were convinced that the unrealistic standards in the media are responsible for the issue. They felt that women were under pressure to conform to oppressive and unattainable beauty ideals. Dove was determined to use their platform to fight against these self-demeaning beauty standards and usher in a new age of self-love and body-confidence.
Dove is not the only voice in this movement, nor has the trend shifted since 2016. In fact, in 2022, this topic continues to be a major focus of most female influencers. Powerful women around the globe are banding together to protest these unrealistic standards and are calling women to embrace their own definition of beauty. To quote a few among the many:
“Self-esteem comes from being able to define the world in your own terms and refusing to abide by the judgment of others.”2—Oprah Winfrey
“I love the philosophy of just accepting who you are and just being happy. . . . You define your worth! Don’t ever give anyone else that much power over yourself. . . . Less judgment—more dynamic, unbiased self love.”3—Khloé Kardashian
“I have my own definition of what I think is beautiful and sexy.”4—Selena Gomez
“Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.”5—Beyoncé
The common thread is clear: Largely, culture’s response to the conundrum of poor self-image is exhorting women to forget other people’s opinions and standards and create their own. It’s not about how they see you, it’s about how you see you. Culture wants to remind women, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! So don’t let some beholders get you down, you are the true and only important beholder!” Put simply, culture believes that the solution to low self-esteem is self-love. The journey of life is all about learning to love and embrace ourselves unapologetically.
This sentiment sounds empowering at first glance, but the results don’t corroborate. Since this study in 2016, the number of voices chanting women’s empowerment have grown, and yet so has the number of women who hate the way they look and even hate themselves. It seems like self-love just isn’t working. And maybe you can resonate with that. Maybe you’ve tried staring in the mirror and telling yourself, “I am worthy. I am enough. I am beautiful.” Perhaps you’ve started investing in more self-care and are trying to learn to “treat yourself.” Maybe you’re attempting to embrace the philosophy of saying “yes” to yourself and being brave enough to say “no” to others. And maybe you’ve tried to push out shame and insecurity by loving your imperfections. But maybe, just maybe, none of it is working. The mirror is still a place of self-loathe. The scale is still a place of terror. And the world is still the place where you chase after the affirmation of others because the self-affirmation hasn’t been enough. So where do we go from here, friends? Well, maybe it’s time we as the Church of Christ turn to the Scriptures for our answers instead of our favorite celebrities and the latest cultural trends.
One does not have to do a full exegetical study on every Scripture passage about selfhood to see that self-love culture is inherently antithetical to the message of the gospel. When culture is screaming, “Love yourself!” the cross is whispering, “Love others at the expense of yourself.” When culture would have you prioritize yourself, Jesus would have you give up yourself. As Paul puts it, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, emphasis mine). One of the purposes of the death of Christ is to inspire that kind of selfless love among those who know him. Paul is saying that the gospel is not just the example of selflessness, it is the catalyst for selflessness. The entire gospel is the message of and call to self-giving love, not self-love.
Paige Stitt McBride
Broken into six weeks, this book is intended to equip believers to discern the subtle lies about identity and beauty that permeate our current cultural climate and replace them with biblical truths about who we are and who we were made to be.
This may be why the Bible does not give us many tips on how to love ourselves. To put it bluntly, the gospel is not all that concerned with our ability to love ourselves. Maybe that is because God is actually troubled by how natural and consuming self-concern is for us and how unnatural it is for us to be concerned about others. Maybe that is why the command is “Love your neighbor as yourself” and not “Love yourself as your neighbor.” It’s because God assumes that you care about yourself, but he knows you often fail to care about your neighbor. This verse is often read today through a “self-love hermeneutic” in which we impose our assumptions onto the text. It is not uncommon for people to interpret this command to mean that in order to love others, we must first love ourselves. But that interpretation forces the text to be about something that it isn’t about. The command says that we need to learn how to love others the way we love ourselves and thereby assumes that we love ourselves. Jesus says that the duty of man is for him to love others just as much as he loves himself. Jesus is clear: the priority of life is to love God and to love others. We have just wiggled in our cultural sentiments when we try to make this text about self-love.
Some of us who struggle with feeling positively about ourselves might be offended at the idea that loving ourselves comes naturally, and understandably so. Many women cannot resonate with the statement that self-love is a default disposition for all human beings. Self-love may not seem instinctive or normal for some women at all. When she looks in the mirror, she is inclined to criticize what she sees, not to love it. Her life is marked by being too hard on herself and letting other people take advantage of her. She struggles with insecurity and lack of confidence in her personality, appearance, and skills. Certainly this woman does not naturally love herself! So has the Bible misdiagnosed the human problem? Did Jesus not realize that our real problem is an inability to love ourselves? Does Jesus wrongly assume that we love ourselves? I do not think so.
Love as defined by our culture is not love as defined by the Bible. Culture often equates love with a feeling that affirms and celebrates the beloved. But the Bible associates love not just with a positive feeling, but also a will and desire that works for the good of the other. Love is primarily about concern for something. It is a desire for the welfare of something. Love seeks out good for the beloved. It is, in this biblical sense, that we naturally love ourselves. We naturally want good for ourselves. And it is not necessarily a bad thing to want good for yourself. But Jesus’ emphasis on love for our neighbor shows that our natural desire for our own good usually outweighs our natural desire for others’ good, and that is a problem. We are naturally prone to care about ourselves more than others. We are naturally prone to focus on ourselves more than others. We are naturally prone to feel more pain when we are hurt than when our neighbor is hurt. We are naturally more inclined to feel joy when we succeed than when others succeed. All of this is related to the love of self. We care about ourselves. We want good for ourselves. And whether we like ourselves or not, we care about ourselves. In fact, it is because we care about ourselves so much that it hurts so bad when we don’t like something about ourselves. If we did not have so much self-love (aka concern for ourselves), then we would not be so despondent over our flaws or insecurities. Loving and liking are two different biblical categories. The Bible does not claim you naturally like yourself. It claims you naturally love yourself. Whether you are confident or insecure, love of self is your illness. The Bible tells us so.
So when self-love “isn’t working,” remember that there is always a kind of self-love deeply rooted within you that causes you to go astray from your true calling: loving God and loving others. It is not self-love that you must tap into in order to find a secure identity, it is the love of Christ. And not only the love of Christ for you, but the love of Christ working in you to love as he loved—selflessly.
- What lie are we believing when we think that our deepest problem is lack of self-love?
- Have you set up intentional habits in your life to foster love of God and love of neighbor?
- What habits in your life currently foster self-focus rather than God-focus or others-focus? How can you adjust them to live more in line with God’s design for humanity?
1 The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, 2016.
2 Oprah Winfrey, “What I Know For Sure,” Oprah.com, July 19, 2008, https://www.oprah.com/omagazine/what-i-know-for-sure-oprah-winfrey/all, accessed January 5, 2022.
3 Khloe Kardashian, cited by Samantha Schnurr, “Khloe Kardashian Reveals How She Found Self-Love and Acceptance,” E!, March 14, 2016, https://www.eonline.com/news/748300/khloe-kardashian-reveals-how-she-found-self-love-and-acceptance, accessed January 5, 2022.
4 Selena Gomez, cited by Rachel Heinrichs, “November Cover Star Selena Gomez: ‘I Feel in Control,’” Flare, FashionMagazine.com, October 1, 2015, https://fashionmagazine.com/flare/november-cover-star-selena-gomez-i-feel-in-control/, accessed January 5, 2022.
5 Beyoncé, cited by Peter Economy, “17 of the Most Inspirational Quotes From Beyonce—Business Genius and Music Superstar,” Inc.com, June 4, 2019, https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/17-of-most-inspirational-quotes-from-beyonce-business-genius-music-superstar.html, accessed January 5, 2022.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Paige McBride is from western PA, living happily in a small town with her husband Brett and their first child on the way! She is a self-proclaimed Bible geek and a seminary student through Reformed Theological Seminary. She spends her days working part time in ministry at her local church as she teaches dance and creates wedding floral arrangements. She is a lover of all things Old Testament and discipleship. She is passionate about equipping women to engage with the Scriptures and passing along all the biblical wisdom that she has learned throughout her years in college and seminary education.