Fairest of Them All – Holy Beauty, Unholy Vanity

“Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.” (Grimms Fairy Tales)

So, Snow White seems to start off as a story based on the merits of physical beauty.   Snow White’s mother desires a child who looks a certain way–and she gets it.  “When (Snow White) was seven years old she was as beautiful as the day, and more beautiful than the queen herself.”  Naturally this doesn’t sit well with the queen, who is obsessed with maintaining her own beauty and despises rivals.  Jump forward, and Snow White is on the run from her evil stepmother.  When she ends up the dwarfs, they are so overwhelmed by her beauty that they welcome her right in “Oh, heavens, oh, heavens, cried they, what a lovely child. And they were so glad that they did not wake her up, but let her sleep on in the bed.”  Then when Snow White falls prey to the queen, the dwarfs “were going to bury her, but she still looked as if she were living, and still had her pretty red cheeks.”  And finally, the main reason the prince wants her is that she’s a really fine-looking dead girl: “let me have it as a gift, for I cannot live without seeing Snow-White. I will honor and prize her as my dearest possession” (Grimms Fairy Tales).

It would be easy to point to this fairy tale as being outdated and repressive towards women.  After all, the main power that hung in the balance was beauty!  The mother desired a beautiful child–not healthy, not clever, but beautiful.  The queen is obsessed with maintaining her beauty.  Snow White is constantly saved by her beauty.

Even Christians are said to dismiss vanity.  After all, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV).

So, should we dismiss physical beauty as entirely irrelevant?  After all, how we look isn’t important to God, just as long as we’re modest, right?

However, we have to consider that God made Esther as well.  Esther, a simple young Jewish girl who was only noticed for she “had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (Esther 2:7).  Esther, who with other maidens labored for a year in beautification rituals, all for a man she only had one night to impress.  As much as the movie “One Night With the King” sought to modernize Esther by making her witty and strong-willed, we really have no idea about her personality–all we know is that she “won the favor of everyone who saw her” (Esther 2:15).  She might have just as easily been gentle and quiet, like Snow White.  What we do know is that her beauty gained her the status of queen–and that the whole time, God had made her physically beautiful in order to to save His people.   In the end, her physical beauty was a gift from God, just as much as if she had been gifted as a prophetess like Deborah or as a devoted helper like Ruth.

Physical beauty is a gift from God– a gift that is defined both culturally and individually as we view both those around us and ourselves in the mirror.  It is not something to be envied, nor is it to be scorned.  According to experts, “People may pay more attention to them, listen to them better. Also, good-looking people become more self-confident as a result of their looks and prior treatment by others.”  This can be easily exploited.  If God makes someone in such a way that the society they live in considers them beautiful, then they are responsible to use that gift wisely and humbly, and to surrender it gently when increasing years wrinkle their skin and wither their limbs.

Most of all, we must understand that we are each of us “fearfully and wonderfully” made in the Image of God (Psalm 139:14).  It is in reflecting His image that we are most beautiful, no matter what our physical state.

And if someday you are dreaming and praying over your future daughter, send in a request for her to have secret ninja skills and a innate resistance to poisoned fruit.  Because, you know, it can’t hurt.


Taste of the Fantastical

Fancy An Apple?

8 thoughts on “Fairest of Them All – Holy Beauty, Unholy Vanity

  1. Quiet Pen,

    I like the fact that you take a balanced view, not downplaying or overplaying physical beauty, reminding us that it too is a gift from God.

    About Esther, the beauty. The King had many beauties to choose from, but he chose her to be his Queen. She must have had other sterling qualities, and some of these we can see in the text. She was obedient. She was courageous (though fearful, she needed to do what had to be done). She was intelligent (think of her plan for Haman’s downfall), and she was godly–she sought the Lord and had others do the same, interceding for favor with the King that would save her people.

    I like your take on this. As an older woman, with whatever beauty I had going, going, gone, it’s refreshing to see your fairmindedness about its real value.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate your input about Esther’s other qualities. You’re right, she was indeed clever and courageous to go before the king and to plan a trap for Haman. I guess I had always stereotyped her as a mere “beauty queen” myself!

  3. Interesting post, Janeen! I like the way you explore the beauty element of Snow White from a Scriptural perspective. It’s easy to fall into one extreme view or the other regarding beauty, but I think you summed it up perfectly when you said we must all remember that we are wonderfully formed in the image of God!

    • Thanks! Indeed, it’s all about keeping the ultimate focus on God. He is the giver of all true beauty–and as soon as we look away from Him, all bets are off on our ability to truly perceive it in others or ourselves.

  4. Wonderful post, Janeen! A good reminder that physical beauty shouldn’t be overlooked. John and Stacie Eldridge write in Captivating, “Beauty is core to a woman – who she is and what she longs to be – and one of the glorious ways we bear the image of God in a broken and often ugly world.” As women, I believe we carry and bear unique aspects of the image of God and God is beautiful and created beauty. We shouldn’t merely dismiss them as irrelevant or unholy when it is the exact opposite. While men can be well…beautiful… stereotypically this is not a word used to describe them… and women are thought to carry beauty in an entirely different and unique way. But being aware when our pursuit of beauty takes an ugly turn toward vanity and superficiality is also important. Great job tying in Queen Esther too.

    • Thanks! Yes, the appreciation and love of beauty as a reflection of God’s Image is great–but as soon as beauty is divorced from the Creator, it becomes superficial and shallow, aka “The Evil Queen.” ;-)

  5. Pingback: Reflections on “Mirror, Mirror” Movie | The Quiet Pen

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