Recently, several bloggers tackled a highly sensitive and debated topic— the need for women to attend to their beauty and appearance. I published a post, extracted from my Girls Gone Wise book, which examined some Scriptural directives for women on what and what not to wear. I came under fire for focusing on such mundane matters rather than really important stuff—like comforting the sick and war-torn.

I admit it. The topic of woman’s appearance is trivial compared to the war on the other side of the world – but given the reality of our culture, it’s a battle that hits much closer to home.

The Debate about Female Beauty

Tim Challies, a popular Christian blogger, published his thoughts on women “letting themselves go.” While he was careful to stress that “the beauty the Bible commends is the beauty of character more than a beauty of appearance,” he suggested that inner and outer beauty are actually inexorably connected, and concluded that women need to make the effort to remain beautiful to their husbands.

Another blogger, Rachel Held Evans, was disappointed by Challies’ refrain that “outer beauty reflects inner beauty” and that “a good wife will keep up appearances for her husband choosing an attractive sweater instead of the stained Mickey Mouse t-shirt.” She argued that:

The Bible never demands that women be beautiful nor does it justify a man’s infidelity because his wife “let herself go.” If anything, it presents a fairly consistent picture of beauty as a passing pleasure. Challies and company are free to teach that women should stay beautiful for their husbands, but I wish they would stop referring to this teaching as “biblical” when it is not.

The discussion surrounding this issue was intense. Challies’ and Evans’ posts attracted several hundred comments. When Mark Driscoll mentioned my “What Not to Wear” post on twitter, Girls Gone Wise got flooded with so many visits that it temporarily downed the site. Incidentally, Driscoll took a whole lot of flak, a few years ago, when he offered to take one for the guys, by decrying pastor’s wives for “letting themselves go.”

A Sensitive Issue for both Sexes

Woman’s appearance is a sensitive issue, because from a man’s perspective, a wife’s effort to be beautiful for her husband speaks of her care and respect for him, and communicates her desire to be sexually attractive and available for him. Making a reasonable effort to care for and beautify herself is a demonstration of her devotion. In his view, a lack of effort in this regard demonstrates a lack of concern for him. Bottom line – whether we like it our not, it’s important to our guys. Challies points out:

In all of these things, a woman ought to understand (and believe) that what a man finds (or ought to find) beautiful in his wife is more about care and respect and effort and availability than it is about figure and proportion. In too many cases a woman who lets herself go is simply symbolizing that she has let her marriage go. Conversely, care for herself shows her care for her husband, respect for him, love for him.