Many of us have heard the saying ‘beauty is only skin deep’ or the notion that having a good personality is more important than being good-looking. But do we really believe that? Do we spend an unhealthy amount of time, energy and money on our physical appearance, or is wanting to look our best simply an extension of the biblical concept that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit? We asked Nick Schwarz, the LCANZ’s Assistant to the Bishop for Public Theology, for his thoughts.

How do you feel about your looks? How do you feel when you look at yourself in a mirror? Is there something about your face or body that you wish was more attractive?

Is your level of concern with your looks about right, or are you overly concerned or not concerned enough? Would others agree with your self-assessment?

Most of us do care about our looks. Here are five reasons why:

  • We care about our looks because others judge us by our looks, and we judge them by theirs. We believe that our acceptability, lovableness, and self-worth are determined by how physically attractive we are to others.
  • We are social and relational beings that reproduce sexually. Our sex hormones intensify our desire to be attractive, especially during our teenage and young adult years when our body chemistry is readying us to look for a mate.
  • Some parents and teachers, believing that children need frequent affirmation to build and maintain their self-esteem, condition them to expect praise, to be frequently told how special, wonderful and extraordinary they are.
  • Being good-looking has benefits. Good-looking people are judged more favourably and treated better than others because virtually everyone assumes – without evidence – that good looks go with positive traits such as friendliness, honesty and competency.
  • Contemporary popular culture idolises physical attractiveness and youthfulness. Advertisers, celebrities, social media influencers, and the beauty, fashion, fitness, and wellness industries set impossibly high beauty standards. They convince us that the better looking we are, the happier and more successful we will be! Most of us respond to the pressure to measure up because our peers are trying to measure up too.


The dark side of our social/relational nature and concern for our looks is our instinctive urge to compare ourselves with others, and the types of feelings such comparisons produce in us, such as pride, superiority, jealousy, anxiety, despondency and inferiority.

And the dark side of beauty-worshipping culture is that people who will never look like movie stars, models or sporting heroes – no matter how hard they try and how much they spend – can feel like ‘nobodies’, unworthy of others’ attention and affection.

Because of extreme concern with looks, body negativity and body anxiety are at epidemic levels, especially among young people, and girls in particular. Individuals with particularly negative or distorted self-perception may be diagnosed with serious – even life-threatening – mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, body-image disorders and obsessive desire for cosmetic surgery, and require specialist mental health assistance. Having loved ones affected by these conditions can be extremely distressing for families.

Whether we use artificial means to enhance our appearance, such as make-up, photo-editing software, anabolic steroids and cosmetic surgery, or more natural means, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise, we will be prone to anxiety if we believe that we will only be accepted and loved if we are good-looking and stay that way.


Advocates of ‘body positivity’ are pushing back against the culture of unattainable bodily perfection and body shaming. They encourage us to ‘love, embrace and celebrate’ our bodies regardless of shape or size.

Advocates of ‘body acceptance’ say we should spend less time worrying about the way our bodies look and more time being grateful for what they can do.

Another form of pushback is rebellion. When teens and young adults aren’t part of a good-looking ‘in-group’, they often seek friendship and acceptance in groups that rebel against society’s ideals of masculine and feminine beauty, such as Emos, Goths and punks. The trend in recent years of identifying as ‘trans’ or ‘non-binary’ can also be seen in part as a rejection of contemporary feminine and masculine ideals.

What wisdom do Christians have to offer?


The key question for us is, where does our self-esteem – our sense of self-worth – come from?

Christians’ self-image and sense of self-worth are based on something much more substantial than our looks. It is based on our knowledge that God knows us (see for example Psalm 139:1,2) and loves us. He loves us so much that, in his human form, he gave his life for us so that we might live in eternity with him (John 3:16).

How our outward appearance measures up against the beauty ideals of people in our cultural moment is of little consequence to our loving Father and Jesus our brother and Saviour. For our God, the state of our hearts is much more important than our outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).

Yet God also made our bodies and wants us to care well for them and to treat them with respect and modesty (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). But we aren’t to value them too highly or to flaunt our looks to tease, arouse or use others in self-serving ways. If we do these things, our looks become a distraction, a stumbling block, an idol that leads us and others into sin (Matthew 6:21;25–34).

God’s word speaks to us not just about our own looks but about our attitudes to others’ looks as well. We aren’t to covet others’ looks (Exodus 20:17), put others down because of their looks, or make rash or unfair assumptions about others based on their looks (James 4:11,12; 1 Peter 2:1).

The evil one is at work in our culture trying to shape us and use us in ways that turn us against God and his way for us (Ephesians 6:10–12) and which pit us against each other. Let us be alert to the presence of the evil one and wary of his influence, especially when he tells us that we aren’t good-looking enough or that others aren’t good-looking enough to be loved.

Lord, fill us with the assurance of your unconditional love. Help us remember that other people are made in your image and loved by you too.

Nick Schwarz is the LCANZ’s Assistant to the Bishop for Public Theology.

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