As soon as beauty is sought not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker. 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can't quite remember when I first realized that I had issues with my body.  But I can identify the day I crossed the threshold of womanhood.  It was the first time I experienced the trauma of buying a swimming suit. 

I was thirteen years old, and our family was leaving for a vacation to Hawaii.  This, of course, required new beach attire.  My mom and I checked the racks at the department store, and I chose several suits that would surely help me turn the heads of any cute male tourists my age.  Then we headed into the fitting room.

The first one I tried was rather anticlimactic.  That's strange.  It looked so adorable on the hanger. As I put on the suits one by one, my disappointment mounted.  Each made me feel worse than the last.  I pounded my fists on the outer sides of my thighs.  "If only I didn't have these!"  The morning ended in tears and the purchase of the first of many swimsuits that made me feel rotten about my body.

My body-image issues continued to surface periodically.  Throughout high school I was aware of the feeling that I wasn't as pretty as the other girls.  During college I knew that it probably wasn't healthy to blame my appearance for my lack of boyfriends.  In my twenties I would constantly compare myself to the seemingly flawless women I saw on TV.

But all along, though I was aware of an unhealthy pattern, I merely put it under the category of "issue."  An "issue" was what my friends and I affectionately called anything that caused tension in life – like my issue with always losing my car keys, my issues with roommates who didn't pass on phone messages, my issue with walnuts.  I had plenty of "issues."  This was just another of them.

But one day I stumbled upon a passage of Scripture that revealed to me this wasn't just an "issue."  It was ugly sin.  Sin as offensive to God as adultery, greed, pride and betrayal.

Fairy Tale or Fact?

Ezekiel was a twentysomething guy who grew up in the Jewish religious world, most likely the son of a priest.  When the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, captured Jerusalem, Ezekiel and many other Jews were exiled.  The people of Israel not only were scattered from one another but also grew distant from God.  By the time Ezekiel was about thirty years old, the Lord began to speak to him about the spiritual state of Israel, messages that he wrote down over the next few decades while he spoke his prophecies.  God wanted the Jews to wake up and acknowledge the ways they had rejected their Lord. 

Often God's message of rebuke came through Ezekiel in the form of a story or metaphor.  Ezekiel 16 weaves a tale of a young girl (meant to represent the people of Israel) who has rejected the one who loves her most.  Certainly the vision was given to Ezekiel to address the rebellion of the Jews.  But I believe it also has relevance to young women today.

God's vision to Ezekiel begins when the girl is an infant, rejected and neglected by those who should have cared for her.

On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths.  No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you.  Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. (Ezekiel 16:4-5)

This girl is doomed to die.  Born into a harsh and broken world, she is helpless on her own to change her death sentence.  But God has compassion on her.  He saves her life and takes her into his home.

Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, "Live!"  I made you grow like a plant of the field.  You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels.  Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. (vv.6-7)

Is the story sounding familiar so far?  Those of us who have experienced Jesus' saving grace remember the feeling of being headed toward death.  We too were helpless in a harsh and broken world.  And we have fallen in love with a God who went searching for us, who swooped in to save us from our own death sentence and has taken us into his home.  He has nourished us, healed us and helped us to grow into women who reflect his beauty.

This is a picture of a God who adores us.  It is a God who is deeply in love with us.

Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness.  I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine (v. 8)

It's a fulfillment of the romantic dreams that we women are so obsessed with.  Reality TV is making millions off shows that involve people finding their perfect match and falling in love – well, supposedly.  Turn on The Learning Channel and you'll find endless episodes of "The Dating Story" and "The Wedding Story," followed by "The Baby Story" – none of which could happen, presumably, without a preceding "Makeover Story."  (What do you think we're "learning" from that?)  Christian fiction is filled with our church version of love connections.  We long to find perfect romantic love – to be cherished, pursued, adored.  In Ezekiel, God reveals his intentions to sweep us off our feet with such intense love that we pledge "to love and to cherish" one another the rest of our days.

The story goes on to tell of God's love for the girl and his lavish care for her.

I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you.  I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you.  I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments.  I adorned you with jewelry:  I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.  So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth.  Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil.  You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.  And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD. (vv. 9-14)

God spared no expense in making us who we are today.  From the moment we began a relationship with him, the Holy Spirit has been in a process of transforming us into perfection.  Part of God's purpose for me daily is to mold me, refine me and make me into a head-turning beauty.

This is also true of our physical bodies.  As the story recounts, God chooses the finest materials, foods and jewelry to make this girl into a beauty queen.  He has done the same for us.  The hair he gave me is a beautiful crown.  My arms, my neck, my nose and my ears – they are like precious jewels.  My skin type and body shape are woven together like the costliest fabric.  My genes are nourished to fruition by culinary delicacies.  God is impassioned when he declares, "The splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect."

Let that sink in.  No, really.  Do we believe it?  God drew on his own splendor to create my body.  Every single part was chosen for me from the most priceless of treasures – including the parts I would rather trade in for a better model.  And when God steps back to look at the full picture, he deems my beauty perfect.


Taken from "Wanting to Be Her" by Michelle Graham. Copyright © 2005 by Michelle Graham. Used with permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

Michelle Graham is a campus staff member and popular speaker with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, serving students at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois.