When Beauty Becomes Vanity

In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Jean Valjean adopts an orphaned girl named Cosette, a girl who transforms into a young woman far too quickly for Jean Valjean’s preference (and that of all caring fathers). The book describes the moments when Cosette comes to full realization that she is beautiful. Hugo gives this striking description of her “faith in her beauty”:

“Cosette, in gaining knowledge that she was beautiful, lost the grace of ignoring it. An exquisite grace, for beauty enhanced by ingenuousness is ineffable, and nothing is so adorable as a dazzling and innocent creature who walks along, holding in her hand the key to paradise without being conscious of it.”

Beauty is a gift of God…whether it’s found in nature, in the work of an artist, or in the face, the form, and the soul of a fellow human being. It’s a gift we should celebrate. But like all gifts, beauty can be twisted into a means of self-security or even of power. This is especially a temptation for women…in their relationships…and in their careers. Beauty can be powerful leverage. This “faith in her beauty” is an echo of Ezekiel 16, a vivid parable on how God adopted a baby girl discarded and left for dead. He cleaned her, nourished her, clothed her, and made her beautiful (the parallel is to Israel as a people). But then she “trusted in her beauty” (Ezekiel 16:15), which ultimately led her down roads that “made her beauty abominable” (Ezekiel 16:25). For the girl in the story (and therefore for Israel), the blessing of beauty was twisted and misused for self-serving purposes. And then it ceased to be real beauty.

The greatest beauty is one which does not draw attention to itself. That’s the whole concept of MODESTY in relation to human beauty. That’s the point of 1 Timothy 2:9, which describes the dangers of excessive attention to the braiding of hair and wearing glamorous jewels or clothes that convey wealth or status. I would say the same principle applies to showing excessive amounts of skin by your choices of clothing. These expressions of “fashion” can easily become self-aggrandizing, distracting, and detracting from the modest, subtle, God-given beauty of body, mind, and soul. Beauty is a wonderful gift. Just use it wisely. 


To His Glory,


Caleb Cochran

Preaching & Outreach Minister

Rockville, MD