When does Vanity become Vain?

When does concern to look my best become sinful? Should I be interested in fashion?  When does personal expression cross the line into conceit? Is godliness outwardly unattractive? In other words, do I have to be frumpy to be godly?

I wrestled with my answers to these questions fifteen years ago. In high school, if you had asked my friends what career path I was following, they would have answered, “fashion design.” I designed and sewed dresses for schoolmates. I spent hours feasting on couture. My room was stacked with every issue of Vogue for six years. I adored beauty. I worshiped the attention I drew being fashion forward. In college, as I grew in my relationship with Christ, these two passions began to conflict with each other. Out of this struggle, three guiding principles emerged.

Does how I spend my time, money and effort emphasize my appearance or knowing God?

Woman is concerned about her appearance, but God is concerned with her heart. When the Bible contrasts the inner woman with the outer woman, the emphasis is always inward. To be like God then, our emphasis should be inward. He says:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Honestly, this verse used to terrify me! But that fear revealed where I placed my value. I valued my outward appearance, stylish hair and a cutting-edge wardrobe. My value system needed a makeover.

I find the dual definition of vanity ironic. Vanity is excessive concern about one’s appearance. Vanity can also mean a lack of real value. The irony is that the same word reveals that excessive concern for your looks is worthless…vanity is vanity! Why is this? Because outward beauty fades. It does not last.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Pr 31:30)

It is common sense to put your time, effort and money into something of value. Outward appearance has limited value. Investing instead in your spiritual “image” returns an eternal reward. For me, re-adjusting my values meant severing my affair with fashion and re-focusing that passion into something with more worth.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Tim 4:8) So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Amazingly, a vibrant relationship with God is consuming. It leaves little time and energy to fret about missing a life of outer beauty.

Do I trust that wisdom, kindness and gentleness is attractive?

Another irony of my struggle with vanity is that the more I worked to be outwardly beautiful, the uglier I became. In my quest to be a fashionista, I was becoming an opinionated and critical loudmouth. I was the proverbial pig wearing lipstick. A good looking, obnoxious woman is a farce.

Does this mean I want to be unattractive? No! I still want to be recognized and honored as beautiful. But I have come to believe that the kind of attractiveness I desire results from inner traits of character, not outward appearance. I am more attractive as a gracious woman than as a stylish snob.

Wisdom brightens a (wo)man’s face
and changes its hard appearance. (Ecc 8:1)

A kindhearted woman gains respect. (Proverbs 11:16)

She is clothed with strength and dignity. (Proverbs 31:25)

A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)

The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit… is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:4)

Does my outward appearance hinder or help others understand the gospel of Christ?

The goal of how you look should be others focused, not self-focused. Do you dress nice to please your husband or to make yourself feel good and get noticed? Do you find yourself wondering if others think you are fat or too thin or un-stylish? Does your outward appearance make you more approachable? Maybe you should spend more time styling your hair and learning how to apply make-up so that it is easier for others to look at you!

Honestly, I crave attention. I have often used my appearance to satisfy my own desire to have people notice me. But that often gets in the way of them noticing Christ. In my life, fashion was a hindrance. I have enough rough edges for people to overlook, I didn’t want to make a “cool” exterior another barrier for them to overcome to hear the message of Christ. Today, I try to use my appearance as a tool to make my persona more approachable. I don’t want to turn people away because I intimidate them by looking too weird, too stylish … or too frumpy.

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:8-9a)

Is your effort at looking good helping or hindering the spread of the gospel? Do you work as hard at being nice as looking nice?

5 thoughts on “When does Vanity become Vain?

  1. Gentle and quiet spirit – yikes! Not really a Scheltema trait. I cannot not count the times I’ve asked the Lord to help me with my mouth.


  2. I’ve walked that path, too! I once thought I had to have an outwardly-pleasing appearance so that people would pay attention to what I might say. But that did not work, as you might guess! I found myself always concerned that I wouldn’t be noticed, or wouldn’t be the prettiest…and now I’m a Plain woman, prayer cap and all, and happier than ever. It is so much easier to serve Christ as Lord when I am not serving the face in the mirror!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s