Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
-Proverbs 16:31 (ESV)
A few weeks ago Denise McAllister wrote an article for The Federalist entitled "Madonna, It's Time to Act Your Age". In an age when posts are forgotten five minutes after they've been published, I've found McAllister's words have stuck with me. Her article is a response to another that criticizes Madonna for baring certain body parts in a magazine. She doesn't agree with the author, who frames the issue as Madonna's harm to the feminist cause. Instead, McAllister points to a far larger concern - what a culture which promotes and idolizes youth is doing to its women.
As is evidenced by celebrities whose plastic surgery debacles are plastered on the cover of magazines as they refuse to age gracefully, we have a tyranny of the maiden in our culture. She is our goddess, our ideal, because she represents everything we value most—youth, sex, and physical beauty. Instead of raising young girls to tend their inner beauty, we bombard them with sexualized messaging about how to cultivate their outward beauty. This makes them self-centered and narcissistic, something that influences their attitudes toward motherhood, marriage, and aging.Of course I'm disgusted that any woman feels the need and the freedom to pose for suggestive photographs; however, I admit I'm more concerned that a 56-year old woman tried to prove her relevance and appeal by pretending to be thirty years younger. Madonna may argue that she's celebrating her age by flaunting her body, but I believe she has affirmed the declining value of older women.
Hollywood is full of women who seem to have stopped the hands of time. Sixty is the new forty. We marvel at how they do it. Forget plain old soap and cold cream; spa treatments and injections are the latest beauty must-haves. Cosmetic companies are raking in the profits, while we are left feeling more hollow than ever.
The only solution to this sad dilemma is for a woman to see herself, not as a maiden, but as a woman—a human being with a body and soul—who goes through different stages in her life, transforming into a better and wiser person. What she carries with her through each of those stages is her character, her inward self that is growing in love, knowledge, and wisdom. But she can’t cultivate those aspects if she is focused on sexual, social, and economic power. She can only do it if she sees past the power constructs of the world and realizes what’s really important, what will last, what will grow more and more beautiful—her spirit, her mind, her soul. Those grow more lovely in the fertile soil of loving relationships, service, hard work, humility, devotion, loyalty, and faith.The focus on outer beauty is a battle Christian women have been waging for years, and it's doubtful we'll win anytime soon. Madonna's antics prove that the pressure to be beautiful is only part of the problem; the quest to stay forever young has led us down a dangerous road. And we're taking our daughters with us.
Our girls are watching us. Are we declaring the truth of Proverbs 16:31? Do we believe that truth ourselves? This is not to criticize women for dying their hair or taking measures to make themselves more attractive. We are, after all, supposed to be good stewards of what God has given us and seek to bring glory to Him through all aspects of our lives, even our appearance. Yet by equating beauty with youth, we've disregarded the great privilege - and responsibility - we have in growing older.
Once again from McAllister,
We need to honor our mothers and grandmothers who have worked hard their entire lives caring for their families. We need to honor women in our communities who might never have had children, but they serve nonetheless, even without fanfare. They have lines on their faces and gray in their hair, but their beauty shines from within.It is vitally important that we teach our daughters that aging isn't a death sentence; it's the result of living. The lines on my face have been carved by hours of laughter and tears. My brow has been furrowed by worry over a sick child, job loss, and death. Stretch marks and scars give testimony to God's faithfulness. The gray hair hasn't come yet, but I pray that when it does I will accept it as a crown of glory and not something to be covered up.