One evening I found myself perched on a couch at my friend's place listening to a passionate pitch about why I should switch cleaning products. I wasn’t too interested—I don’t like being pressured into making impulse purchases at home sales parties—but I tried to stay engaged in the pitch, to show respect to the presenter if nothing else.
Everything was fine until the dryer ball was introduced. The ball would replace dryer sheets, which were bad according to the presenter. My friend laughed and said “Yeah I can always tell which of my friends use dryer sheets. Robyn definitely does. Whenever she borrows clothes from me they always return smelling funny.” The room erupted in laughter.
In advertising this tactic is known as social shame, and it’s nothing new. Our fear of being judged by our peers is enough to send us running to the store to purchase whatever it is that makes us acceptable to others. Be it dryer balls, whitening toothpaste, skin tag removers, or otherwise. Wondering what others are saying behind our backs creates insecurity and discontentment.
Of course, this all happens on a subliminal level. I don’t think anyone consciously thinks, “If I dye all the grey out of my hair, my mate will love me more.” But isn’t that kind of what the advertisements are implying? And if we hear the message enough—even if we don’t fully comprehend it—don’t we begin to believe it?
This makes me wonder how society’s practice of social shaming affects the way we imagine God feels about us. Do we subconsciously believe we have to look or behave a certain way to gain His approval? Do we wonder if He’s going to stop loving us if we don’t present a nice enough appearance? I hope not, but still I wonder.
The good news is God tells us what He thinks in His Word. And the Bible even gives us some guidance to the kind of beauty we should be chasing. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, 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 NIV). While this text is aimed at wives, I think the context can apply to everyone. True beauty, worth, and value don’t come from external appearances but from a person’s attitude and spirit. When we pay attention to the inside, our beauty will shine through, no matter what we look like on the outside.
Chuck Swindoll comments on this passage in his commentary on 1 Peter writing, “This kind of emphasis isn’t popular today. Western culture values the showy, the fashionable, the trendy. Media bombards us with one message: ‘Look your best at all costs!’ The world lavishes its treasures on those considered the most physically beautiful. But God turns the tables on the world’s agenda. The internal adornment of virtue never goes out of style; it’s imperishable. While the quality of a gentle and quiet spirit may not impress the red-carpet crowd at the Academy Awards, it’s precious in God’s sight.” 1
It takes some thick skin to care more about what God thinks than what the world thinks, but the transformation is possible. It takes a heart open to God’s leading, a mind trained to discern, and the courage to stand out if necessary. I look forward to a day where other people’s opinions don’t make me insecure because my confidence rests squarely on what God thinks of me. Won’t that be a victory.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights: Insights on James, 1 & 2 Peter,(Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2010), 188.