Written by Dawn Rutan
The Australian Open Tennis Tournament made the news recently when an interviewer asked Eugenie Bouchard to twirl to show off her outfit. Although I missed that bit of “news,” it came to my attention later through a post by Matt Reagan on the Desiring God blog. Reagan’s post drew quite a bit of negative attention on their Facebook feed as being sexist in itself, along with not making a great deal of sense. I wanted to make a couple comments on his post, but then to look at what Scripture has to say.
Reagan implies that twirling is an activity pursued by little girls, but not little boys. Evidently he hasn’t spent a lot of time around little boys. Perhaps his emphasis was intended to refer to girls showing off their dresses, but I’ve known plenty of little girls who won’t wear dresses. He asks, “Why are Eugenie and Serena wearing the outfits in the first place? Are they not intentionally demonstrating their feminine beauty to the world?” I would counter that they are wearing those outfits because that is the standard for their sport, although there is some variation within the WTA. Women in the WNBA aren’t wearing little skirts and being asked to twirl for the cameras. Personally, I think Eugenie responded graciously to an idiotic request. I dare someone to ask a UFC fighter to twirl for her fans!
Both the original interview and the blog post serve to illustrate a problem we have created with gender issues in this country. Apparel and behavior are often linked to gender in ways that are inconsistent and nonsensical. When children (or even adults) measure themselves by this arbitrary standard, they may feel there is something lacking and therefore believe they are in the wrong body. I’m not suggesting little boys should be allowed to wear dresses, but we do need to take a careful look at what our standards for femininity and masculinity are and where they come from.
There are a few references to apparel in Scripture. Perhaps most familiar is Peter’s appeal to wives in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your 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” (ESV; see also 1 Timothy 2:9-10). Alongside that is God’s statement to Samuel “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b). Jesus had some pretty harsh words to say about the Pharisees concerns for appearance: “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:5, 27).
God is far more concerned with the state of our hearts than the style of our clothes. Some of the most beautiful people are those who are outwardly marred or crippled, but their love of God shines through. Jesus Himself “had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2).
I’ve searched on multiple occasions for Scriptural instructions that apply specifically to women aside from those related to spouse or children, and the Bible just doesn’t say much. The Proverbs 31 description is about the extent of it, and there is very little there that could not also be applied to men. Conducting business and the affairs of the household with diligence and integrity are the duties of every person. Once again verse 30 makes it a matter of the heart: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Certainly there are plenty of points where debate could be raised, such as women teaching in the church (1 Timothy 2:12) or hair length for men and women (1 Corinthians 11:14-15), but those are a topic for some other blog.
I come to a couple conclusions: 1) Both men and women want to be recognized primarily for their accomplishments, not their apparel; for their deportment, not their dress. 2) God honors those whose hearts seek after Him regardless of their outward circumstances. God found David to be “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). We get into dangerous territory when we create our own standards that have nothing to do with God’s law— “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
Perhaps if we truly chase after God’s heart, we can learn to let go of all the secondary issues and fulfill Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:9-10: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” What better way is there to honor someone than by recognizing the desire of their heart above all else?
–Also check out my friend Rebecca Chasteen’s blog post on a similar topic: https://thesteadyblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/and-then-you-remember-shes-not-you-and-youre-not-dying-on-that-hill/