Every Christmas, family tradition dictates that I travel up country to celebrate the festivities. One thing I love about long drives up country is the scenery along the way. My favorite stop is the Great Rift Valley. The landscape of the expansive rift extending thousands of kilometers in either direction is astounding. The sight of the horizon at sunrise is nothing short of majestic. In these particular moments, my senses are awakened to the beauty that is around; the fresh fragrance exuded by the myriad of beautiful flowers, the chirping birds releasing melodious sounds, the tall towering trees with branches sticking out emphatically over a picturesque spread of mountains, and the warmth of the sun’s rays caressing my skin. I am bewildered when I think about the Designer of the universe. Every painting or drawing reflects the nature and character of its painter. Looking at creation, it is impossible to deny that God, the designer of the universe, is the epitome of Beauty.
Out of everything He created, God chose to make man, male and female, in His own image. God’s DNA is imprinted in the fibre of every human being. When God created Adam, He gave him the mandate to work and till the land. That means God, wanted man to partner with Him in developing what He had made. This He did through empowering man by giving him skill and technological know-how. Thus man could now make roads, plant vineyards, make music, create art, design buildings and manufacture clothing in a fashion that reflected the excellent nature of God. In the words of Darrow Miller, God told man, ‘take what I have given you and create something beautiful with it.’
Christianity does not equal mediocrity
A couple of years ago my neighbor complimented me on how smartly dressed I was but looked a bit confused when she saw a Bible in my hand (I had just come from church). ‘Are you a Christian?’ she asked. I replied in the affirmative. ‘You’re too smartly dressed for a Christian. Christians generally don’t value aesthetics, more so when it comes to dressing. I usually identify them by their long unattractive dresses or oversized suits that look at least a few decades old. All they care about is going to Heaven.’ I was dumbfounded, and intrigued by her response at the same time.
The more I reflected on what she said, the more her words rang true. I had a similar mentality prior to becoming a Christian. Growing up, everything related to church was rather dull and unexciting. People dressed up for weddings or job interviews but went to church in crocs or vests because “God doesn’t care about our outside,” only that we were saved. All our focus was ensuring we get to Heaven. Salvation became the excuse for a lack of excellence. Many youth groups came to sing at my high school and told us not to focus on their voices (because they were not the best) but rather to listen to the message in their songs. Christian movies were not entertaining, either because of the cheap quality of production or the plain story lines. There was simply no reflection of the radiant beauty and excellence of God in His church. It is therefore no wonder people started associating Christianity with mediocrity.
The fashion industry often corrupts beauty
The world on the other hand understood full well the power of beauty, but in most instances corrupted it. Everything God made was solely for the purpose of giving Him glory. Beauty was meant to radiate goodness, truth, poise, modesty and purity in its highest form.
My ultimate dream as a child was to become a fashion model. I was enamored by the glamor, walked around in my mother’s high heels pretending to be Alek Wek. When my dream came true about two decades later, the fashion industry was not what I had anticipated. In my head, fashion was all about strutting down the runway in beautiful designer gowns, traveling the world while making a lot of money. The reality on the ground was very different.
The fashion industry often reduces human beauty to a commodity
On one occasion my agent called. One of Belgium’s renowned photographers wanted to work on a project with me. I was thrilled! This was the opportunity of a lifetime; this photographer had worked with many celebrated models worldwide. My hopes were dashed when I realized I was required to pose nude. I declined. What I found shocking however was that this photographer had a website displaying hundreds of naked models in the name of art. I wondered whether the millions of subscribers appreciated the so-called ‘art’ or simply logged in to satisfy their sexual lusts. My bet would be on the latter. The models’ bodies had been reduced to commodities, a classic example of the world taking God’s beautiful creation and corrupting it for profit.
Christians can be a light in the fashion industry
The fashion industry is known for vanity. It promulgates the sexualization of women, the models have to endure abuse in the pursuit of unattainable standards of beauty. My modeling career was short-lived because I found myself turning down job offers. What I found most ironic was that this so called ‘beauty industry’ was the very tool that degraded and debased women instead of celebrating them. Rather than dignify, the industry objectified. Consequently, it is highly unlikely for a Christian to break through as a model in the fashion industry. The industry propagates the three vices the Bible cautions us against: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.
So should we hang up our gloves and abandon the industry? Certainly not! We are called to be the light. God has given each of us a set of skills to impact a particular sphere of influence. We need to change the narrative; a Christian should be counter cultural after all. Here’s an example: the ‘Modest Fashion Week’ series founded by Think Fashion led by two entrepreneurs. Frank Soeris and Ozlem Sahin. Hailed as a global platform for modest fashion, the series has already been established in London, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Dubai , Jakarta and most recently in Miami. The goal is to show that women of various backgrounds, ages, faiths and sizes can be stylish and modern while being modest at the same time. The initiative might be a drop in the ocean but we should never underestimate the power of a seed because there is hope of reaping a bountiful harvest in due time.
The Bible speaks about fashion
What is God’s opinion about fashion? The Bible tells us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. That includes fabric, jewelry, art, scents and even the models on the runway. He made everything and finished by saying that ‘it is good.’ Everything should therefore reflect that. In my opinion, Exodus 28 best exemplifies God’s remarkable fashion designing skills. In the second verse, God commands Moses to make garments ‘for splendor and for beauty,’ with gold, blue and scarlet yarn, fine linen, carnelian, topaz, carbuncle, sapphire, emerald, jacinth, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx and jasper. These were to be made by ‘gifted artisans’ filled with the Spirit of wisdom. Saul clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet finery and ornaments of gold (2 Samuel 1:24). The queen of Sheba marveled at the exquisite and distinctive fashion with which Solomon embellished his kingdom and his subjects. The diligent and virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 also ‘clothed her household in scarlet.’ Fashion has a place in God’s heart.
Where is true beauty?
Of higher value however is the beauty found within. Paul’s first letter to Timothy exhorts women to ‘adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…’ Peter encouraged women to ‘ let their adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God’s sight is very precious.’ Whenever I think of inner beauty, Galatians 5:22 comes to mind: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These qualities reflect the very heart of our Lord. He is the vine and we are the branches, without Him we can bear no such fruit. Intimacy with God is the key to possessing inner beauty for we cannot gaze upon the beauty of God and be unchanged. The more we spend time with Him the more we become like Him. Physical beauty may look good, but inner beauty remains in the hearts of others for a lifetime. The 30th verse in the 31st chapter of Proverbs bears witness to this: ‘charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting …’ The same chapter depicts the virtuous woman ‘clothed in strength and dignity;’ she fears the Lord and is therefore worthy of praise.
We should reflect the excellence of God by radiating His beauty in our work and in how we present ourselves. God really is about the details. But what counts most, in this lifetime and the next, what I esteem above everything else, is to be like Him. No beauty shines brighter than that which flows from God’s own heart!
- Christine Oile