The best way to hurt a girl

Out of my 22 years of experience at being a girl, I’ve decided one of the best ways you can hurt a girl is to tell her over and over that she’s beautiful just the way she is.

And I’m not just talking to Bruno Mars (because he probably won’t read this anyway).

I’m talking to friends, mentors, boyfriends and especially church leaders.

Maybe the most damage you can ever do to a young woman, especially a teenager, is to try to boost her self-esteem by telling her she’s beautiful. I don’t mean don’t compliment women on their looks or character – we all need that encouragement a lot –  but don’t tell us that God made us beautiful just the way we are. Because let’s face it. Women, and men too, are not beautiful just the way we are.

When I was a teenager, I went to all kinds of things for young women at church or in bigger venues, and the message was always the same: “God thinks you’re a masterpiece. He thinks you’re beautiful.” Leaders had successfully identified the deep-rooted self-esteem issues a lot of young women struggle with. They had plenty of Scripture to back it up, like Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are God’s masterpiece.”

Like a lot of young women, I’ve had a hard time with self-image over the years. I felt like I was ugly or unlikable often, so I would go to those conferences and hear those words and go home happy because I felt like those issues were resolved. If I really was God’s masterpiece like they said, then I should feel beautiful.

But I would still end up in tears in my bedroom a few days later because I felt like I needed to be prettier or thinner than I was for anyone to like me. Part of this, admittedly, was due to – ahem – certain monthly cycles of emotion, but part of it was real.

Those well-intentioned leaders didn’t make me feel wanted. Those Bible verses didn’t make me feel beautiful. And that’s a problem.

I recently realized just how damaging this all was, no matter how well intentioned it was. I’m sure those people were trying to help me, and I appreciate their efforts, but they just didn’t go deep enough.

That stuff didn’t help because the reality is, none of us are beautiful apart from Christ. All of us are sinful and so ugly that God can’t bear the sight of us, but the good news is that God looks at us anyway. He reaches down and makes us beautiful by covering us with the blood of his Son.

Yes, we are his masterpiece, like those people always told me. But Ephesians 2:10 isn’t really about that. The entire preceding paragraph is talking about salvation and the work Christ does in us. Then it says “For we are God’s masterpiece” because of what Christ has done. Not because our outward appearance is lovely. No wonder that didn’t make me feel any better at the end of the day!

So, to all the well-intentioned people out there who are trying to help young women out by telling them God thinks they’re beautiful…don’t. Tell these young women that God makes them beautiful. Tell them about a gentle and quiet spirit in 1 Peter 3, or about the things inside the woman in Proverbs 31 that make her lovely. Even the most physically unattractive woman is beautiful if she’s covered with the blood of Christ, and the opposite is true for physically beautiful women who are mired in sin.

Because if we ignore the fact that we are hideous and broken without Christ, we’re not just not helping young women feel better. We could be preaching them a false gospel by not making them realize their need for Christ and trying to tell them God thinks they’re beautiful all by themselves.

And that’s not just unfair to young women – it’s scary.