This excerpt of the original article originally appeared in this month’s edition of Parenting Teens magazine, available for purchase at lifeway.com/parentingteens. We hope you like it!
Ocielia Gibson knows more than anyone about how girls think about beauty—in 2011, she won the title of Miss Black USA. But life on the pageant circuit also showed her just how damaging the messages can be that girls receive every day. PT sat down for a conversation about what the world gets wrong about beauty— and why she started a ministry to change the narrative.
PT: What did your experience in the pageant world teach you about beauty and self-worth?
Ocielia: The beautiful thing about my pageant journey is that I trusted in Christ when I was 16 and started pageants when I was 17. So I went into the pageant world with a perspective that this journey was going to be about me glorifying the Lord and creating a platform for me to minister to other young women.
One of the things I learned being in the pageant industry is that people only see the exterior. But so many of the young ladies competing—even though they’re accomplished and talented young women—are dealing with a lot of self-image issues. People assume a girl who looks a certain way, is a certain size, or fits the cultural standard of what is beautiful doesn’t have issues. But those young women, just like everyone else, wake up and they second-guess themselves.
Some of them know Christ. Some of them don’t. You can never just assume something about a young woman, no matter who she is or what she has. And the only way to really help them is to walk alongside them and share with them the truth of who Christ is.
PT: What are the origins of your ministry, More Than a Pretty Face, and the message you want to get across to girls?
Ocielia: The whole message of my ministry comes from studying the biblical definition of beauty. I went to 1 Peter 3:3–4, and what really stood out to me was the word “consist”: “Your beauty does not consist of the outer things, the braiding of the hair, the gold jewelry, the fine apparel.” This was just jumping off of the page to me. And when I looked into it, what I found is that it meant “what is something made up of,” or the ingredients of something. So what he is trying to tell women is that yes, you have external beauty, but that’s not what your beauty consists of. It’s not the ingredients of your beauty.
So for young women who are following Christ, our beauty doesn’t consist of outer things. Yes, we may have an external beauty. But that is not the ingredient of what makes us beautiful. But someone who doesn’t have their hope in Christ, that is their ingredient. That’s all the hope they have. But for us, that’s not the essence of what makes us beautiful.
When you look at the word “pretty,” it is really just talking about the external. But when you look up “beauty,” and what it is to be beautiful, to be filled from the inside out with Christ’s beauty, there’s a depth there.
PT: Why do you think finding their beauty and worth in Christ is a daily struggle for teens and especially girls?
Ocielia: I think it’s because they’re inundated with so many messages not founded in Christ. It’s something we have to be very intentional about.
When I’m speaking to girls, I ask them: When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing that you think about? Do you run to your phone first, or do you run to a place where you can pray and just read Scripture? Which compliments mean the most to you: When someone gives a compliment about your character, or about the way you look?
They’re inundated with so many messages that they have to have an intentional strategy to combat it with the Word of God. We really have to be on guard and make sure that we help these young women be on the offense when it comes to the way they view beauty and themselves.
PT: How can parents help develop this in their daughters?
Ocielia: One thing that’s vital is how parents speak over their daughters. Call out the significant gifts and talents and character traits you see in them. Tell them how responsible they are, how loving, caring, and attentive they are to other people’s needs. Intentionally praise those qualities—and do it in front of other people. It’s very, very affirming to girls to hear that publicly.
It’s also important for mothers to model it. Many mothers really don’t realize that their daughters see them as their role models. But I hear that so many times from girls. Study Scripture together. Prepare a meal for someone, visit someone who is sick, and let your daughter be a part of it.
And third, surround them with other examples of women who are living out God’s calling in their lives and living out a healthy perspective of biblical beauty. Make sure they see different generations of women—young adult women, more seasoned women—who are passionate about the Lord and living out His calling on their lives.
They see so much that’s not real. We have to really counteract that with the reality of what it is to be a woman that is following Christ. And these same things are true for dads, too. I always tell young women the most glamorous young woman is the woman who sparkles with Christ. When she sees this from both of her parents she will glorify and shine for the Lord.
Ocielia Gibson is a speaker and founder of More Than a Pretty Face International, a ministry focused on the spiritual growth of girls and young women. As a former Miss Black USA, she served as a national advocate for issues affecting young women and continues to use her platform to encourage young women to live lives devoted to Christ. She has attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to pursue her Masters in Theological Studies, and currently resides in Dallas, Texas, where she actively serves at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. Learn more at ocielia.com.
More Than Pretty is a six-session, video-driven Bible study for middle and high school girls that explores the definition of true beauty. Using the five senses, this resource will guide girls in exploring how to spiritually and practically develop multifaceted beauty that ultimately honors God. Learn more at lifeway.com/morethanpretty.