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Topics: Fatherhood, Marriage

A Deeper Beauty, Part Two: On Dads, Daughters, and Self-Image

May 3, 2013

dad daughter

by Owen Strachan

Earlier this week I wrote a piece for Manual on the “smokin’ hot wife” references you sometimes hear in evangelical churches. I realized today that I should have addressed another dimension of this trend: the daughters who hear this language in churches.

Let me first say this: many of the men who would use “smokin’ hot” language to describe their wives love the women in their lives, whether their wife or daughters. So we’re not, in considering this angle, entering into hysterics. I’m sure that young girls could hear these kind of phrases and turn out just fine. It’s crucial that a dad loves his daughter, and many young men who might speak of “hotness” in public or private no doubt do love their little girls.

I’m the father of a little girl, though, and the more I think about what she might intuit from my (theoretical) usage of “smokin’ hot” language, the more troubled I become. Even if this language isn’t isolated–even if a husband and father uses all kinds of other phraseology to celebrate his wife–I wonder if it won’t pose many potential problems for a young girl. Words matter. Contra postmodern linguistic theory, they are not mere pawns in power games. They help create reality. Little girls face plenty of challenges already in developing a biblical self-image; they have to contend with their own sin, the difficulties that can come from peer groups, and a sexualized culture that worships–not too strong a word–the female body. They have much to resist as they seek to grow up into godly women.

The Spirit is stronger, though, and so a godly home will equip little girls to be “more than conquerors” of sin and its deceptions (Rom. 8:37). Fathers can hugely bless their daughters by showing them in manifold ways that they value them because God has made them, and has made them fearfully and wonderfully, whatever they look like, whatever their body shape. There is almost nothing more important to a girl’s biblical self-identity than a godly father’s affirmation.

So let’s assume that all this is in place. Isn’t “smokin’ hot” language then incidental in the girl’s experience? In other words, her dad is speaking and modeling love to his wife and daughter. Does it really matter if he uses this phrase? Well, as I’ve already said, it may not matter. But it also might. And it could prove damaging to a little girl, even one being trained well in other areas. Children inherently value what we parents value, especially in a loving home devoted to Christ. There’s even more incentive to trust and emulate and learn from one’s parents in this case. If a daughter hears regularly that her mom is “hot,” she’ll naturally be drawn to place value on “hotness.” She’ll wonder what it means; she’ll likely inquire in private with her friends about attractiveness; she’ll begin to want to be hot, most likely, or if she somehow perceives that she’s not likely to be seen as hot, to dislike her body.

It’s possible–though not necessary–that a father using this language in an inadvertent and seemingly harmless sense could end up undoing some of the shepherding he’s provided for his little girl.

And wow, what a sobering thought that is.

Here’s a dad, trying hard to commend the way of Christ to his precious child, and he ends up–perhaps without knowing so, for we should never, ever underestimate the manly potential to not know things about girls/women–teaching her that her value, at least in part, is in her body. Her looks. Her “hotness.” This is the same message a secular world is giving her; this is the same message that leads countless girls in our culture to all manner of devastation: hating their bodies, cutting their bodies, sexually offering themselves to boys and men in a sinful and twisted attempt to be loved by men, finding their value as sex-objects instead of image-bearers, and descending into personal chaos in a hundred different directions. Your average secular college campus is chock full of this blend of sin and suffering, and Christians need to be fully mobilized as agents of gospel liberation and Christic compassion to such women.

Let me put this very clearly: if, however unwittingly and unintentionally, I ever give my little girl the impression that her worth is found in her looks, beauty, and hotness, tie a millstone around my neck. I can’t ever teach my son the American myth that he’s valuable only if he’s a three-sport, twelve-letter athlete who doesn’t stagger after a concussion, and I can’t ever teach my daughter that she’s valuable only if men covet her and lust after her.

Perhaps I am revving at high RPMs here, but really, I can’t think of much else that I could do that would more harm my little girl, or children who are under my ministry.

We dads love our little girls. They are unspeakably precious to us. God has saved us from Satan’s deception regarding women. We cannot value them, as lost men just like us do, because of their figure and their prettiness. We’re not blind to beauty, and as they grow up we likely won’t teach our little girls some sort of “paper-bag” version of their body. We don’t at all want girls to feel any shame about being distinctly womanly. It was God’s mind, not Hugh Hefner’s, that came up with manly and womanly attractiveness. We’re not ashamed about that; we’re not prudes; we should carefully but honestly help our daughters see their womanliness as a gift of God, not anything else. If they grow up to be attractive, we’ll help them appropriately handle that, and we’ll even train them to see their own beauty as reflective of the One who is beauty.

His beauty, though visually stunning, is of course preeminently spiritual. It is the beauty of holiness, the apex of beauty.

In all this teaching, we guard our little girls. We show them that though a sinful world claws at them to define themselves physically, we will never do so. We cannot do so. Their worth is in their embodiment of God’s image. Their worth is, hopefully, in their union with Jesus Christ. We love them dearly, and we fathers will walk through fire and rain to help our little girls, but their worth is not actually found in us. It’s in God, and his good work in them.

That, my friends, is language worth repeating, over and over and over again.

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