Geography and era have a tremendous effect on how people see beauty. A basic survey of art history demonstrates this principle rather quickly, but even a quick review of noted Hollywood beauties over the last century would produce a similar result. The standards for female beauty in Northern Europe, Central Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Asia demonstrate great diversity to this day. In fact, individuals in the same location can have vastly different opinions on the subject at any given time, despite how the entertainment industry and internet ads’ portrayal of beauty seems rather monolithic. Magazines have trumpeted the beauty of women—often while grading and judging them—for years. And while recent years have witnessed an attempt to push back against the objectification of women, many of the loudest voices pair off with some of the worst offenders. (Does the name Harvey Weinstein come to mind?) It is similarly difficult to take seriously a woman clamoring to be noticed for her intelligence while she intentionally dresses to be noticed for something of quite a different character. These observations seem straightforward on their face, and yet even Christian women seem driven—at least to some degree—to prioritize outer beauty as judged by some of the most ungodly among us.
The eleventh chapter of Proverbs offers two descriptions on this point: “A gracious woman retains honor, But ruthless men retain riches (Prov. 11:16) and “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion” (Prov. 11:22). Each verse includes a description of a woman (gracious, lovely) and a priority she possesses or fails to possess (honor, discretion). Unfortunately, we rarely think about the meaning of these terms long enough to consider how they apply. “Gracious” refers to the character of a woman who leaves a favorable impression by the way she conducts herself. The contrast of the Hebrew poetry presents the power of the proverb. A gracious woman is more concerned about maintaining her dignity, character, and reputation than she is about wealth or fame. Regardless of the worldly advantages, a gracious woman appreciates her own value too much to compromise. Oddly enough, some of the superwoman images sold to women on the basis that they can “have it all” have instead crippled the self-esteem of young women who find that standard impossible to attain. As a result, they sell themselves out by chasing after an unreasonable expectation. This latter end serves as the foundation for the second proverb. The striking imagery of a pig basking in slop while wearing an expensive piece of jewelry captures perfectly the contrast of a beautiful woman with bad judgment. The most beautiful woman in the world becomes less and less appealing as her poor decisions become more apparent and her depravity more obvious. Those who are trying to keep up with the Kardashians are running the wrong direction.
The most beautiful women in the world increase in beauty as they grow older because the quality of their character and the wisdom of their decisions through the years is on open display in the lives of all those they have touched with sincere love, steadfast conviction, and genuine godliness (Prov. 31:30). They show wisdom in marriage, wisdom in their friends, wisdom in raising children, wisdom in their work, and wisdom in their personal lives. They have many wonderful memories and fewer regrets than most. They find joy and happiness in life because they show discretion in how they seek it. Their inner beauty and outer beauty are in perfect harmony—because they chose to live for God first and let Him guide the rest of their decisions (1 Pet. 3:3-4). This is wisdom. This is graciousness. This is discretion. This is true beauty. And the world could use more of it.