Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Message Every Woman Needs

Leslie Basham: As a young girl Erin Davis observed the way her dad valued outward beauty.

Erin Davis: He talked a lot about actresses that were beautiful. They were always thin and gorgeous. In fact, I’m named after an actress from the late 70s and early 80s who he thought was gorgeous. She was tall and thin with black hair and green eyes. He named me after her because he wanted me to look just like her.

I sort of learned from watching that, “Okay, thin equals beautiful. Thin equals beautiful. Thin equals attention from a man.” Then when I was ten, he left our family.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, March 22.

As you’ve probably heard, Revive Our Hearts is bringing the True Woman Conference to Chattanooga this week. During the conference, young women will take part in our own Teen Track. One of the leaders of those meetings for younger women is our guest today. Nancy’s here to introduce her.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’re talking about a subject this week that I believe is of interest to almost every single woman on the planet. When I first read this book by Erin Davis called Graffiti, my assumption was that this was a book for teenage girls, for young women. I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of it personally. But the more I got into it, the more I realized, “This is a message I need. It’s a message every woman needs.

I want you to plan to listen to this series but also to get the word out to some younger women that you know—teenage girls, college students, young women—who particularly have been influenced by the world’s view on the subject of beauty. Yes, we’re going to talk about beauty and give some beauty tips from God’s Word, learning to look at this very physical matter with spiritual eyes and biblical eyes.

With us today is my friend Erin Davis. And Erin, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Erin Davis: Thank you for having me.

Nancy: Erin is a youth pastor’s wife. She and her husband are involved in ministry to teenagers. She’s a mom of two little children. You may have seen her name as the one who co-authored with Dannah Gresh and me the Lies Young Women Believe Companion Guide, the study guide that goes with Lies Young Women Believe.

So Erin is a woman who has a heart for teenagers, a lot of experience ministering to teenagers. But also, Erin, God has given you a life message as you’ve wrestled with some of these issues in your own life.

Erin: You’re right. It’s the life message that He’s given me out of my own testimony. He’s really healed me and restored me. Then He said, “Go tell others.” So that’s what I have the gift of doing.

Nancy: You’re doing that in a number of different ways. But one of the most impacting ways that God is using you right now is through the Lies Young Women Believe blog. If our listeners haven’t been there, go to LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.

You are blogging with live women, interacting on lots of subjects relevant to teenage girls. It’s such a joy to see you Erin, now in your late 20s, sharing out of the victory and the transformation that God has brought about in your life in so many areas where ten years ago, fifteen years ago, you were believing the world’s lies.

Erin: That’s right.

Nancy: You could have grown up to be a very dysfunctional woman.

Erin: That’s right.

Nancy: But God has rescued and redeemed your life from destruction, and we want to talk about some of the ways that’s been true this week.

Now the book is called Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves. What does graffiti have to do with beauty?

Erin: Well, that is a common question. Actually, I think graffiti can be a really beautiful art form. Now, I’m not supporting that particular act. It’s vandalism certainly. But if you look at it, it can be fascinating and beautiful and the colors they use and the shapes. But I think the world looks at that and they say, “That’s not art. That’s not beauty. That was done with a spray paint can, not a brush in a studio.”

Our beauty is much like that. What the world is looking at to be beauty often is not. It’s a hollow substitute. The standards that they hold up as Picassos and Rembrandts are also equally hollow.

But God has created in us a version of true beauty that you may not be looking for but is there. So that’s sort of where that concept and that title came from. Looking at a version of art, a version of beauty that the world doesn’t necessarily recognize.

Nancy: You’re calling us in this book to see beauty from God’s point of view.

Erin: That’s right. I think that’s the difference between this message about beauty and the many others that are out there. This is grounded in God’s Word. That’s how I found freedom in this area of my life was I finally took God’s Word and said, “Okay God, what do You say in Your Word about my beauty? What do You say in Your Word about my value, my worth?”

It’s no overstatement to say that from Genesis to Revelation, He has so much to say about the subject. The more I read in His Word with the specific goal of finding out what it said about me and my beauty, the chains just fell off of me. What I was ascribing to worldly beauty didn’t even compare to what God says in His Word.

Nancy: Now let’s talk a little about worldly beauty and the world’s perspective. Our society is obsessed with beauty, but that’s not really a new thing, is it?

Erin: No, it certainly isn’t. In fact, one of my chapters early in the book we explore the history of beauty. There are some strange things in past culture. In Elizabethan era, they would put arsenic on their faces.

Nancy: Why?

Erin: Well, they liked to have very, very, very pale skin like Queen Elizabeth.

Nancy: So arsenic kills you, and then you really have pale skin?

Erin: (laughs) It does, right, right! In fact, women died from it. Cleopatra’s makeup was made of crushed beetle’s eggs. I’m not sure what our makeup is made of these days. It’s probably nothing less scary.

In World War II era, they put gravy on their legs to make them look tan. We look back on that and we think, “That’s crazy! That’s ridiculous.” They used to pluck their hairline because it was fashionable to have very high hairlines.

But I think if we look at our current society and all the crazy things that we do to be beautiful, they maybe seem a little less crazy a few hundred years ago. But the norm of beauty is always changing, and people doing almost anything to try and attain it is certainly nothing new.

Nancy: So people will go to incredible lengths to feel beautiful.

Erin: They will. Right.

Nancy: And to measure up to a standard which as you said is constantly changing.

Erin: That’s right.

Nancy: I remember talking with a woman who was a former Miss America—I won’t say what year—but she actually competed in two different state pageants. She told me how the standards (and this was just within a year or two of each other), the standards of the two different state pageants were so different that in one state she had to have some sort of cosmetic surgery to make her beautiful by that state’s standards. Then she went and competed in the other state (these are two large states in the United States) and they had her undo, reverse the surgery that the first state had her do.

So you talk about just changing concepts of what’s beautiful. It leaves a lot of women, younger and older, feeling like there’s no way they can measure up.

Erin: I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep up. As soon as I understand what clothing is trendy, it’s on the bargain bin. As soon as I understand what I’m supposed to be doing with my hair and I go and get that change made, it’s over.

I remember reading an article that pointy-toed shoes were out. And I had just gone and bought my first pair of pointy-toed boots that week. I was like, “Whew! I can’t keep up!”

So I think there’s real freedom in realizing that the movers and shakers that determine those things, really their opinions don’t matter all that much. To try and strive for a standard of beauty that is a little easier to hold onto and not quite so fleeting.

Nancy: For most people beauty is really not a matter of hair or makeup or fashion. It really has more to do as women with our bodies doesn’t it?

Erin: That’s right. For me this issue is about weight. This beauty issue is about weight. For some women it may be about skin or freckles or hair. But for most of us, this is about our bodies—what size and shape they are and whether or not that’s okay. That’s a huge issue.

Nancy: Do you remember when that first became a conscious issue for you?

Erin: No, because I think it always was. I do remember being a very little girl and having a dance recital and feeling like I needed to say, “Oh I’m ugly. I’m fat.” I was probably five and didn’t have an ounce of fat on my body. I’m not sure where that came from, that me thinking that I needed to say that. But it’s very much a part of my family’s culture, and I think it’s part of a lot of family’s cultures.

So it really didn’t become a conscious part of my life until God made me aware that it was something I needed to get rid of. Otherwise, it was just part of the fabric of who I was.

Nancy: Now you say it was a part of your family’s culture. Can you expand on that?

Erin: Sure. If Erin and her mom and her aunts and her grandmothers and cousins were all in this room, and some of them were to come in with a camera, we would all be throwing each other in different directions to try and avoid that lens. We sit around at family gatherings and talk about, “Oh, we shouldn’t have another piece of pie, but we’re going to have another piece of pie.” And we talk about our weight. We’re yo-yo dieters.

My mom spent many, many years on every kind of diet imaginable. That’s really where I learned about beauty, because my mother is gorgeous by any standard. I would watch her look in the mirror and make faces at herself and pull at her clothes in a way that let me know she was insecure.

And I remember thinking, “She’s beautiful. If she’s dieting and if she doesn’t feel comfortable in her skin, what’s wrong with me?” And I’ve had conversations with my mom about that as I’ve begun speaking about it. And she’s wept over that.

She’s said, “I thought telling you you were beautiful was enough.” And you know where my mom learned that behavior? From my grandmother. And you know where my grandmother learned that behavior? From my great-grandmother. It’s a generational issue in our family.

And now there’s this new generation of little ones. I have two sweet nieces, and my sister and I are really trying to turn the tide, really trying to change the family culture. We just had a birthday party this weekend, and I said, “Sydney can I fix your hair?” She’s my five-year-old niece. And she said, “Yes.”

Then while I was curling her hair I tried to say, “You know it’s okay to look beautiful, but you’re beautiful no matter what your hair looks like.” So we’re trying to make a conscious effort to change that family culture.

But we’re an insecure bunch of women, my family, and I don’t think we’re that unique in that way.

Nancy: And then your dad contributed to that culture as well.

Erin: That’s right. My dad was a loving dad, still is a loving dad, but was really a loving dad in my early years. So that made me feel really safe, and it really made me feel beautiful that my daddy adored me so much. I was a daddy’s girl—adored him in exchange.

But he was not a Christian, and so he would catcall a lot at women on the television. He talked about a lot about actresses that were beautiful. They were always thin and gorgeous. In fact, I’m named after an actress from the late 70s and early 80s who he thought was gorgeous. She was tall and thin with black hair and green eyes. He named me after her because he wanted me to look just like her.

You can’t see me because this is radio, but I don’t have any of those characteristics. I sort of learned from watching that, “Okay, thin equals beautiful. Thin equals beautiful. Thin equals attention from a man.” And then when I was ten, he left our family.

Children are great observers, but they’re not great interpreters. I interpreted that to mean there was something wrong with me, and I was leaveable, and I wasn’t good enough. So I spent more than a decade just trying to be good enough, perfect enough, beautiful enough, strong enough so that no one would ever leave again.

That really made an impact on the way that I saw myself because I thought that if I was pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough, he would have made a different choice.

Nancy: Erin, now that you have a husband and you and your husband have two little children, how can moms and dads create a different culture for their children and communicate a different view of beauty as their kids are even very little?

Erin: First of all, I think it has to start with the mother and the father and the way that they see themselves. It doesn’t work, there’s a disconnect for a mom or a dad to not trust what God’s Word says about their value but to try and communicate something differently to their children.

Like the example I was giving with my mother. It doesn’t work for her to feel like she’s flawed and broken and ugly but try and communicate something different to her little girl. So unfortunately, the work has to start with them. I say unfortunately because that is hard as a parent.

But you really have to get this right. And it’s an issue of unbelief. You have to know what God’s Word says about you, and you have to choose to believe that that’s not just true about your children.

Those of us who are parents, we read verses like Psalm 139 where it talks about being fearfully and powerfully made, knit together in their mother’s womb. And those of us who have carried babies in our bellies think, “Oh, that is so true about my child’s creation story.” That’s not just your child’s creation story; that’s your creation story. So they have to really work that out in their own lives.

But also just to be very, very conscious of the things that they ascribe value to. We love little girls and little girls have a version of beauty that’s just fantastic. But I really encourage moms to watch their tongues and make sure they’re affirming, “Oh what a good prayer you did. I noticed you were being compassionate to your brother. I noticed that you were having your own quiet time today.”

As much as you say, “You look beautiful. I love your freckles. I love it when you wear that skirt.” In fact, more, let’s affirm the things that really matter, which is not to say we should never affirm anything physical. I think we should.

Nancy: You’re really talking about identifying and affirming inner beauty and evidences of God’s grace in the child’s life.

Erin: That’s right. Because children especially—all of us do this—we sort of us rise to what we’re complimented on. We learn we like that praise, and we learn to repeat those behaviors in order to receive it.

And so me as a young girl, I was a twin. There’s something sort of a cute anomaly about two little girls that look identical. So I really learned to earn praise that way by being a cute little girl. My parents certainly praised me about being a smart girl, too. But I wish they would have said more things about God’s work in my life and affirm that. I would have tried to rise to their praise and expectations in those areas.

Also, a simple step but I’m not sure a lot of parents are doing it, is shelter your children from the messages sent by our culture that are toxic. I never cease to be amazed at what young children are able to watch, read, listen to, see that is just not a standard they should even be exposed to.

Nancy: Do you think those things had an influence in your thinking about beauty and your own worth?

Erin: Oh absolutely. We didn’t have a lot of magazines in our home—praise God, because magazines can really be toxic—but we didn’t also have very many conversations while we were watching a movie or saw a billboard. I wish my mother would have said, “Look at that woman. Let’s talk about her version of beauty versus what we read in the Word, just those constant teachable moments.

I just wish my mom had been really, really diligent about protecting our little eyes, especially from television and movies. We weren’t watching R-rated movies certainly, but we were watching movies with women that were probably not a realistic standard of beauty. And that’s even more true now.

I mean, just on the way here I noticed a billboard that was two stories tall of this woman in a bikini. And obviously you can’t always cover your children’s eyes every time you pass one of those things, but you can shield them from a lot of that stuff and keep the magazines out of the house. You can keep certain television shows and movies away from them.

When you do pass those two-story billboards, you can have a conversation about what God’s Word says about beauty and modesty.

Nancy: It’s not just shielding your children’s hearts, but as we become adults we have to shield our own hearts. I know that’s something you’ve had to think through for yourself in terms of your use of magazines. How have you processed that?

Erin: Well, I hate to admit it, but I spent many, many years of my life just in love with culture. I was a Christian, but I really liked to know who was who and who was with who and who was doing what and really had an appetite for culture. That was just feeding inside of me these unrealistic standards of beauty, these feelings of worthlessness.

So I’ve really had to just scrap most of those things. All of my magazine subscriptions are now cooking magazines which seems a little boring. But it doesn’t hurt my beauty standards at all to be looking at those delicious desserts.

Nancy: It’s probably not boring to your husband.

Erin: No probably not boring to him either. We have very limited television access. We really, really guard the things we watch. One thing I especially have to stay away from is highly romantic chick flicks, because in those movies the woman is almost always exceptionally beautiful, unattainably beautiful. And with that beauty all the pieces of her life seem to fall into place.

Nancy: Only on the screen though.

Erin: That’s right.

Nancy: It doesn’t even happen to her in real life.

Erin: That’s right. But somewhere in my heart it seems to confirm, “Oh Erin, if you would just lose x amount of weight or fix this, then everything would be better.” So I really have to just stay away from those unrealistic portrayals of beauty. Even though I know they’re unrealistic, they still feed something inside of me. So I just guard my eyes as much as I can.

Nancy: Hearing you talk about your love of culture brings to mind a passage that you use a couple of times in your book from 1 John 2 where the Scripture says,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride and possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (verses 15-17).

So to place our hope in the things of this world and its perspective of beauty and worth and what matters is really to plant our lives on an unstable foundation.

Erin: That’s right. I think if there’s an area where many, many young women have a love affair with the world, it’s this area of beauty and worth. They may be making good choices in every other area of their life, but they’re sort of courting the world in this area of value. As we know from that passage, we’re not to love the world or anything in the world. The consequences are dire when we sort of keep that romance going with the world in any area, but in this area included.

Nancy: Don’t you think in that sense that beauty as the world defines it has become something of an idol?

Erin: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. So many young women that I talk to are willing to give up anything that they feel the Lord is asking them to give up. But if you scrap their worldly beauty, you will get some arched backs and balled up fists because they feel like, “This is what I want to be. This is where I want to find my value. This is beauty. This is worth.” And it absolutely is an idol.

Nancy: You mention in your book the story that Jesus told in Matthew 7 about the man who built his house on the sand. That really is a powerful picture don’t you think of what so many of us as women are doing today? And that’s why we’re insecure, because we have built our lives on a foundation that is not stable; it’s not secure. It’s flimsy because it’s built on the changing, shifting sands of this world and its culture.

Erin: If you build your sense of worth on anything other than what God claims you to be, it will sift through your hands like sand. It absolutely will. It might be beauty, in which case we know from Proverbs 31:30, that no matter how many ab crunches we do or wrinkle creams we put on our face, the word that the Bible uses for beauty is fleeting, gone in a flash. Eventually it’s going to go away—worldly beauty.

If you build it on accomplishments, you can’t accomplish enough to outdo everyone around you. You can’t be the best at everything. You can’t run the race hard enough to hold on to every award and accolade. If you build it on the praise of man, it will never be enough. Why? Because we’re as fickle as you can be. Man will love you one moment and not the next. They will move on to the next person soon.

So all of those shifting sands that people build their castles of significance on, it doesn't work. There’s only one that does. And fortunately, God builds a rich, rich foundation for your value in His Word.

Nancy: It’s not that God doesn’t love or promote beauty. It’s a different kind of beauty. That’s what we want to talk about when we pick up this conversation with Erin Davis the next time on Revive Our Hearts. I hope that you’ll pick up a copy of her book, Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves.

I want to encourage moms in particular to pick up a copy of this book, read it first and then give it to your daughter, teenager, college student or another young woman that you know to help her understand the difference between the world’s perspective of beauty and God’s perspective on beauty.

Leslie Basham: It’s easy to get a copy of the book Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking about. When you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send you Graffiti by Erin Davis. When you get a copy of the book through Revive Our Hearts, it helps us continue providing the program in your area, and we appreciate it. Ask for Graffiti with your donation of any size. The number is 1-800-569-5959 or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com, and we’ll provide the book.

You also have a chance to interact with Erin Davis. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com and go to the listener blog. Erin will be blogging live this week. And please pray for Erin Davis. She’ll be one of the facilitators of the Teen Track this week at the True Woman Conference in Chattanooga. Ask God that she’ll connect with the young women there and pray that all the speakers will effectively proclaim God’s Word to women for such a time as this.

The conference starts Thursday and you can get more details at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now Erin knows what it’s like to feel the pressure to always perform.

Erin: If I sat down to watch television, I would keep the broom in my hand and the remote in the other hand. That way, if anybody came over, I would turn the television off and jump up and look like I was sweeping because I didn’t feel like I had the freedom to ever relax.

Leslie: She’ll tell us more of her story tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

 Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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