For a good portion of my teen years, I was desperately insecure. I remember walking home from school one May afternoon, my skinny legs revealing my glowing white skin beneath a knee-length skirt. A car-load of high school boys suddenly drove by and one of them yelled mockingly, “Get a tan!” I was deeply mortified. (I will spare you the story of my subsequent attempt at using self-tanning cream, which ended up making me look strangely akin to one of those garishly orange Uumpa-Lumpas from that Charlie and Chocolate Factory movie back in the eighties.)

It didn’t matter that my parents had repeatedly told me, “You are beautiful just the way you are!” I spent nearly every waking moment of my life for about two years trying to make myself more appealing to the culture and to the opposite sex. But I never seemed to actually “get there.”  No matter how much make-up I put on, I still didn’t look like the cover of Seventeen or Vogue. No matter how much I deprived myself of fries and milkshakes, my thighs never seemed to get as skinny as the girl on the Abercrombie poster. And no matter how many guys showed interest in me, there were always scores of other girls that got far more male approval than I did.

Instead of pursuing the purity, radiance and selfless nobility of a Christ-centered woman, I began pursuing the sensual standard of pop-culture.  I traded in my pursuit of true feminine beauty for the cheap counterfeit presented by society. The result was a season of misery; throwing myself at guy after guy, only to be used and carelessly discarded; tossing dignity and modesty to the wind and flaunting my body everywhere I went; exchanging wholesome conversation for profanity and crudeness; ignoring the needs of others and adopting an attitude of selfishness and rebellion; filling my mind and heart with the perverted images of Hollywood and the media. Of course, since I was a Christian, I put limits around how far I let these things go in my life. I always made sure I was a step or two ahead of my secular peers when it came to morality, but that didn’t keep me from being steeped in compromise.

From the world’s perspective, I was on the right track to becoming a desirable young woman; a woman that had forsaken the archaic, restrictive, old-fashioned ideals about feminine modesty and dignity and embraced the “empowerment” of a self-focused, sensual existence. But a couple of years into this pattern, I finally recognized how empty my life was. I had male attention-but it only led to one broken heart after the next. I had a measure of sensual beauty-but it only made me feel like a sex object. I had social status and popularity-but it made me feel fake and shallow. I had parties and entertainment-but they made me feel slimed and dirty.

When I pondered how far I’d strayed from God’s pattern and intent for true feminine beauty, I felt heavy with regret. Could my femininity ever be restored after I had spent years throwing it to the wind?

One night I knelt beside my bed, tears of remorse streaming down my cheeks. “God,” I prayed, “Forgive me for allowing my femininity to become so twisted. Restore me and shape me into the kind of girl You designed me to be. Cleanse me from the filth of the world and make me new.”

God faithfully and lovingly answered that prayer.  During the next season of my life, He began to open my eyes to His pattern for true feminine beauty.  And here is what I learned:

True beauty does not depend upon clothes, makeup, or malls. It does not come from perfect skin or an ideal figure. It’s not found in the advice of modern magazines. It can’t be seen in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

In 1880, Christina Rosetti wrote these words:

How beautiful are the arms, which have embraced Christ-the eyes which have gazed upon Christ, the lips which have spoken with Christ, the feet which have followed Christ. How beautiful are the hands which have worked the works of Christ, the feet which are treading in His footsteps have gone about doing good, the lips which have spread abroad His Name, the lives which have been counted for Him.

True beauty, in a nutshell, is found in a soul completely surrendered to Jesus Christ, a heart consumed by Him alone, and a life eagerly poured out for His sake. That is when our lives will sparkle with lasting feminine loveliness.  That is when we will trade the counterfeit beauty of pop-culture for a beauty that stands out among other women like a lily among thorns. (Song of Solomon 2:4)

*Article originally posted at GirlsGoneWise.com in August 2009. Copyright (c) Leslie Ludy.

Leslie Ludy is a bestselling author and speaker with a passion for reaching today's young women the hope of Christ. She and her husband, Eric, have been writing and speaking together for the past fourteen years and have authored sixteen books together. Widely recognized for their bestselling classic, When God Writes Your Love Story, Eric and Leslie have become foremost voices on some of the most poignant issues facing the church today. Leslie's website is www.setapartgirl.com.