I was reading some scriptural passages over the weekend that really stood out to me relating to beauty and self-image. They all spoke about envy and how dangerous it is. In my church’s canon is a wonderful chapter that allows us to ask ourselves questions about how prepared we are to meet God. One poses this question: Are you “stripped of envy”? (Alma 5:29)
So I began searching for other scriptural references to envy, as it relates to individuals. At one point, a prophet told his people, “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities.” (Mormon 8:36)
In Galatians 5:26, we are admonished: “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” And in 1 Peter 2:1, that prophet tells us: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings.”
What struck me particularly were these references in Proverbs about who in particular we don’t want to envy: sinners and oppressors. Proverbs 3:31 exhorts: “Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.” Proverbs 23:17 similarly says: ”Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”
Today, we might not be oppressed by government or worldly leadership; we’re not in bondage to other people. But we can easily be oppressed by the images and messages that are constantly bombarding us. If we allow them, those who are behind these messages can oppress us in mind and in spirit. Advertisers do all they can to make us feel bad about ourselves, mainly how we look. Cosmetics companies want us to feel bad about our skin’s youthfulness, shine and clearness; clothing manufacturers want us to feel bad about how our clothes fit, how stylish they are, what fine materials they aren’t made out of. Everyone out there wants us to feel fat and ugly in some way so we will buy their products to make ourselves look better somehow, in some way. And it’s SO easy to accept and internalize those messages and to just feel bad about ourselves. And that leads us to envy. We’re envying those who oppress us. When you think about it, isn’t that crazy? Shouldn’t we be rejecting those messages and just laughing at the absurdity of it all?
At the same time, we’re also envying those in society who are sinners. So many celebrities are held up as the icons of beauty and style. But they’re also making headlines as people who are driving drunk, committing adultery, and just plain being immodest and immoral in lots of ways. I don’t think I need to give a whole lot of details to support this statement. Just pick up a magazine or glance at celebrity news on Yahoo. The next time you wish your waistline could look like that of one of the ridiculously talentless but still ubiquitous Kardashian sisters (which is easy to do while standing in a supermarket checkout line), take a second to think about them as people and what they stand for.
Peter goes on in chapter 2 to tell us who we really are: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. … Dearly beloved, I beseech you …, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”
No, we shouldn’t be like everyone else; we shouldn’t be envying our oppressors and the sinners in our society. Those of us who are faithful believers in God are a “peculiar” people, which means we’re set apart from others. We’re God’s special people, and He loves us. He doesn’t want us to envy and try to emulate those in our society who only want to hurt us and make us feel bad about ourselves. Envy starts with comparing ourselves with others, and then finding ourselves wanting, in both ways. I think the first step in stopping this cycle is not comparing. As soon as you find yourself seeing a picture (inevitably it’s some kind of image), just stop and think about where your thought processes are going. And don’t go there. Don’t compare. Don’t envy. You’ll find yourself much happier.