Dominion with a painted face

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My head is covered in a garden of unruly curls. Sometimes they fall in ringlets around my face and sometimes they turn into a cloud of frizz which gives me a natural halo – haha. Due to the unpredictability of the portable garden on top of my head, I recently found myself prowling the children’s aisle in a local shop looking for some aids to tame it. As I stood in front of an array of pink clips, butterfly Alice-bands and leopard-print scrunchies, I spied my heart’s desire sitting quite out of view on the lowest shelf – small, clear crocodile clips that would train my curls to form flowing tresses through rain or shine. I was excited! And yet, these discrete “gardeners” got my thinking… thinking about dominion, man’s dominion, and whether it would be right to say that I was exercising dominion over my hair.

Now, to give you a bit of context: I would consider myself to be a lover of the natural: mountains, trees, flowers, clouds – untouched by man’s (often corrupting) hands – make me smile from ear-to-ear. Although, I do not wear animal skins and eat locusts, I cannot be considered fashion forward. And so, while driving through town this week, I asked my husband whether he can “see” God in the buildings, roads, tennis courts, shops and various other eyesores that we passed. “It’s a sign of man’s dominion,” he said, “a sign of man’s mark on the earth.” And this got my thinking about my hair (LOL!). Would it be right to say that I am exercising dominion over my hair? Improving it, shaping it, changing it for the better?

Another thought that occurred to me: Eden was described as a garden. It was cultivated, shaped and kept in order by Adam. I assume that as the Lord walked in the cool of the day, He would have enjoyed the manicured setting as opposed to rough ground and wild vegetation. With the barrage of publicized makeovers, cosmetic surgery and beauty products advertised through the media, it seems that I am not the only one pondering the question of personal cultivation. As a Christian, I believe that God made me and was glad about my appearance. My hair colour and skin tone are complementary to one another and I am yet to meet a woman (or man) whose natural tones are not complementary. Having viewed many televised makeovers, I would say that the trend of cutting a woman’s hair short and dying it red often does little for her overall “new” appearance.

And yet, au naturel is not always best. Brushing my garden of head curls is a daily ritual because I look better with brushed hair. Most women look beautiful naturally but are enhanced by light make up. I’m sure we have all seen the tangerine individuals addicted to sun beds and men and women alike that wear layers of make-up worthy of pick axe removal. I do not have to point out the abuses of beauty products. My question is how far one should go to improve (or exercise dominion) over what we look like physically? Some Christians are inclined to look scruffy and generally unkempt, while others are perfectly manicured cosmopolitans that look shinier than waxed runway legs.

I must admit that clothing which suits your body type can help you instantly shed a few dress sizes and there are hairstyles to suit all face shapes, GHDs to smooth frizz into attractive sleekness and mascara to lengthen humble eye lashes. To be honest, women (and men) just. do. look. better. when they put in a little effort. Forgive the following deliberate simplification but, in my opinion, the reason why most people are buying magazines is because the person on the cover looks gorgeous! There is something inherently attractive about a well-kept face and body. Displaying your naked skin on a magazine cover is obviously not admirable but having a body worthy of display might be. The attraction that all people feel towards a toned body may hint at how we’re all wired (wired to look at beautiful things?) and say something about true image bearing. Is it right to assume that we should enhance our appearances as Adam enhanced Eden’s appearance? Should the garden on my head be a priority? Most people wear make-up and their Sunday best for important occasions such as job interviews, dates and weddings. Now, I am not advocating fad diets, hours of gym and the inevitable narcissism that accompanies making a living out of one’s looks. I’m asking: how can Christians look their best and still remain true image bearers of God, without becoming ‘worldly’? And, can you be a true image bearer of God if you don’t care about your appearance?

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10 thoughts on “Dominion with a painted face

  1. Hmmm… I must say that since a very young age I have been quite unconscious of my appearance – especially with regards to clothing and stuff. I have always thought of that side of life in quite a functional way. When I became a Christian I think I initially became more aware of the idolatrous side of fashion and beauty – I resonated with that comment Jesus made about ‘pagans’ being the ones who prioritized and were anxious about clothing while His followers should focus on the kingdom. But as I have grown older I have come to realize that (like most things), it can be used or abused. The fact of the matter of is, if you look scruffy or unhygienic, it affects how people treat you. And if you look smart, it makes a good impression and it also makes a positive statement about yourself. And I also began realizing that this weird worm-like image of Christianity as a religion of Jesus-like poverty and Paul-like suffering in rags is probably not the full picture – what happened to Abraham-like dignity and Solomon-like glory? Surely if He is a God of beauty, his children should have some sort of glory about them that is not only inward but also manifests in our physical appearance?

    But there are many things which come into play. Some personalities and cultures and maybe even genders are more aware of and expressive with aesthetics and stuff than others (I’m thinking of your allusion to that hunk John the Baptist!). So I guess I don’t know how much I should just accept myself as one of the people who will just never be a fashionable guy, and how much I should strive to be different and plug all of my developmental holes. I mean, let’s be honest, boys like me who went to hostel during their teens and didn’t have older sisters probably had a different nurture experience! I’m not great with matching colours and choosing textures and patterns and cuts which suit my body type (what am I – a mesomorph?!). And the media is also great at mixing up different issues with regards to appearance – most people can’t seem to tell the difference between beautiful and sexy.

    So I don’t know, I will be reconsidering my “fashion forwardness’, as you put it! Very interesting…

    • Dear JC

      From a man’s perspective, how should a lady combine form-fitting clothing with Abraham-like dignity and Solomon-like glory? If men are visually aroused, how should a Christian lady show consideration for her Christian brothers while still looking her best? Wouldn’t form fitting clothing attract attention to her body rather than her beautiful character?

      Thanks for always broadening my view with your comments! 🙂

  2. Interesting thought, your post is. (If I may open with Yoda grammar 😉 )

    Like John, I used to not care much for how I looked, and my mother – being almost completely pragmatic concerning clothes and hair – was no help at all.

    I used to think, in a bit of a disdainful way, that if people won’t accept or like you because of the way you look or dress, they are not worth it really.

    However, I have had a very clear turn in thought about the matter: There are numerous very good reasons to take care of your physical appearance. Let me quickly name them:

    For your lover. Whether you are a male or a female, your mate would “enjoy” you being more attractive – and I mean here physically attractive. If your body is in shape, your hair is healthy and well cared for, you wear clothes that complement the form of your body… these things will make you (even) more attractive, and by making yourself attractive, you treat your lover.

    For effective relationships. John puts it very well in his answer. Looking good will never make a bad impression, and almost always make a good impression – the only question is the degree. I, for one, do not think it is admirable when you give more favor to a person who looks good than to one who does not. That being said, when I go to an interview, or to a meeting or to a social occasion, I would quite frankly like all the favor I can get. I don’t know if this is coming out right. Maybe I can say it like this: We can not change the fact that people will respond better to other people who look good. We can only decide if we are going to be in the group is favored by that fact, or who suffers because of it.

    For self confidence. For most part of my life, I’ve known that I have a slightly above average upper body (in terms of how it looks). At one stage, I was exersizing a lot, and I started getting compliments for how “cut” I am from my guy friends. It felt so emotionally empowering to know that, if I take off my jacket, people would raise an impressed eyebrow. This is opposed to feeling insecure about what people may think when I took off my shirt at the beach. It is good to feel good (and, in a good way, proud) of the shape that your body is in.

    For health. This does not really come in with your hair so much, but it does with many other things. Being healthy and looking good, often go hand-in-hand. I think that exercising also does wonders for your mental and emotional health.

    When it comes to outward appearances, there are of course also plenty of dangers:
    If you really do look good, you may fall into the trap of becoming vain.
    Looking good could become too important to you – it can become a form of idolatry.

    And I really do believe that it is rather the rule than the exception in our society that people go too far for the sake of outward appearances. I still have not quite gotten over my disgust that almost 50% of floor space in malls are devoted to clothing and fashion and that these usually charge as much as 4 times as much for a shirt, or for a haircut, as one could buy at a non-fashion, non-brand equivalent. I cringe when I see people who do not earn more than 6k a month, buy items of fashion clothing that costs more than 1k apiece.

    Anyway, those were just some thoughts that came to mind about the topic.

    In my opinion, to put it very simple, “having dominion” over something is not so different from “taking care of it”. If I am taking good care of my children, I will be giving them more than the bare necessities. In the same way, we are to take care of our bodies.

    • Dear Levraininjaneer

      Thanks for that very well-rounded comment! I like that you listed all the positives and negatives. It is true what you say – people are exploited by advertising and it can actually really hold them back financially.

      I find your response quite different from JC’s and Finch’s responses. JC’s view seems almost wide angle as he considers what his appearance portrays of God and a certain spiritual aspect to appearance. Many of his reasons overlap yours but he seems to focus on aspects that will differ between individuals such as culture, gender etc.However, Finch seems to have a less “thought out” approach. He appears relationship-directed and not reason-directed. How do you think a mature Christian should find the balance between these two approaches? It would be foolish for us to not care for ourselves through basic hygiene but how do we work out the more difficult issues like looking good, knowing it and not letting that plant the seed of pride?

      P.S. I didn’t know that guys praised their friends’ bodies out loud! I learn something new every day 🙂

    • I once heard a pastor say – let your clothing be a frame for your face primarily, and not for your body. Do you think that has any value? I mean God gave us clothes to cover our shame (this is not the only factor in how we should dress but I think its highly neglected today). I imagine Adam and Eve could have made it onto a magazine cover, but God told them to cover up. Yet in our shameless world, we say if you’ve got it, flaunt it, and if you are fat wear more. Clothing has become about sex-appeal quite a lot – which is the opposite of its original intention. Clothing is not just a dominion thing, it is an after-effect of the fall. We haven’t touched on this aspect, even though I think it might have a bearing on why and how we should ‘look after’ our appearance. I mean even partial nudity is a question for me, why should I walk around the beach in a speedo or use a public shower at the gym if Noah’s sons supposedly sinned by seeing their father naked?

  3. Hi Petaldear,

    Your post is really much fun to read (and I love the picture)!

    All that I would want to comment is the following:
    In my experience God guides us in fulfilling his desires in all respects. In the case of my body, I have experienced his help and guidance as I’ve learnt new skills and ways of thinking. He got me jogging although I had big issues with sport, he got me changing my diet from teenage-quality to adult-quality (and quantity), he gave me peace to really accept my new hairline. Some of these things are still ongoing, some are done and gone.

    I have joy in these areas because I try to keep my heart soft towards God so I can hear when he wants to change me, but I’m not striving to some man-made goal.

    Love,

    The Finch

    • Dear Finch

      Your comment caught me off guard but I should have known that it would 😉 I was fascinated to read that the Lord has given you such personal direction in this area. The common thread through this discussion that has been of interest to me, is how the Lord has spoken to each on of us about our appearances. I find it amazing that He wants us to look good!

      With regard to your comment, I have a few questions. In my field of study, I am repeatedly reminded that people are unable to become context-less. The literature states that all people are unable to separate themselves from their background experiences, culture, language etc. and look at something completely objectively. From your comment, I assume that you find yourself quite unaffected by the pressures of the fashion industry, fellow humans and your own desires. Would you say that you have been able to disassociate from your context to a certain extent? How do you view Christians who do not approach this area of their lives in a relational way?

      Thank you so much for the comment, I really enjoyed it because it made me think 🙂

      • Hi Rose,

        I was thinking yesterday that if it wasn’t for Jesus I would surely be mad; for some reason I deeply reject all human cultures as secondary and questionable. This doesn’t mean that I’m immune, but that I reject it easily if I don’t see merit in it. The “culture” I wish to conform with is that of God, and that I can only learn from his spirit and word.

        For this same reason I also find it easy to reject my existing thoughts and even feelings for things. Once again, it’s not like I can just flip the switch, but I can change in Jesus (he gives new direction and the power to affect internal change).

        With regards to my body, I see it as the last link in my human chain. It must submit to my soul and spirit, and given my background (which many here know) I have had ample opportunity to train my control.

        I think all of this together doesn’t makes me inhuman, but it does make me mould-able (if I can keep my heart soft to God).

        I think I am a very extreme example of Christian dissociation with human culture, and many may not relate to it. But I think it’s an essential underlying attitude which allows us to be mould-able by God.

        I don’t know whether this attitude is relational as such, except that it is be relational towards God. In that case my conviction is that Christianity which is not essentially relational towards God is dead and unbiblical.

        You know me personally, so you can judge whether what I say is visible or whether I am very conceited.

        Love,

        the Finch :o)

        • Hi Finch

          I think the worldview that you are talking about here is precisely part of the question I put forward to you in the Author dare
          (about the art of thinking). These kinds of extremely large-picture principles are quite revolutionary/transformational, but I think they need quite a bit of explaining in some cases. How we think and feel about culture is often quite subconscious, but it affects almost everything. Something I would like to add is that I think petaldear is right that it is impossible to be acultural (in that most things come from a culture) but that being acultural (in the way you talk about) doesn’t mean you don’t practice certain cultural things – it means you are not bound to accept all things in one culture but rather free to judge the cultural things that you you encounter in yourself and in others as worthy of God or not. You always struck me as rather European, but if you sincerely carry on in your quest you might end up more African than you first imagined (bring on the fire-side zulu dance)! Of course, some cultures might be more compatible with Christianity than others, but I have always found it a delightful and liberating thought that I am free to learn from every culture, and that there are many precious things in other races and places that I could be enriched by. And that in the end, though many Christians seek to do this, they may end up very different to each other – because righteousness has many forms and expressions in God’s diverse kingdom even though the fruit is still distinctive.

  4. My 2-cents worth for now –
    We are told in 1 Cor 10 or 11 (or thereabouts) that we must do all things – even eating and drinking – to God’s glory. We are also told that Christians are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in them (1 Cor 3:16). So then, the way we present ourselves must glorify God.
    Paul made it clear that outward appearance is not unimportant – see for eg. 1 Cor 11:14,15 . He picked on this as being something that did not glorify God.

    In general terms, although it is true that God knows our hearts, and it is the attitude of our hearts that matters above all, the question that arises is this: if we make no effort about outward things at all, if we make no effort in the example we set for others and the attitude which we show them (outwardly), what does it say about the inner attitude of our hearts?

    Clearly we err if we become proud and puffed up about the effort we put into our appearance and looking ‘right’ on the outside, and forget about what is most important and where all things should be grounded – the correct heart attitude to God. Vanity is definitely a sin.

    So where is the balance between being presentable, and glorifying to God, without being vain and puffed up?
    Possibly one distinction would be the amount of time (and money!) we spend on appearance – are we worshipping ourselves or God? Could (should) we use the time and money to serve him better? Do we ever fall into the trap of being proud or arrogant about our appearance and the amount of time and effort we put into it? Do we compare ourselves with other people all the time?
    Possibly there should also be a distinction between unusual occasions where we go to extra lengths to take care of our appearance over and above normal everyday life …. ?

    Finally – my point related to the above – how should the way we dress and appear on Sundays at congregational worship be influenced by this principle? I would say it does matter – because it reflects an inner attitude, and also because that is the picture that the world sees of how we worship a Holy God.
    For example, what picture do we present, particularly to any unbelievers who attend?

    K.

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