Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s, which was inspired by a post I saw at Traditional Christianity on the difference between sexy and beautiful.

When my daughters were little they loved playing dress-up. They had bins of skirts and tiaras and little high-heeled plastic shoes that they would don for their own fashion shows. Though some feminists may wish to deny it, I think there is a feminine instinct to enjoy being The Beauty.

While I personally don’t go overboard—I have been known to venture to the grocery store without lipstick, and I have driven my teenage daughter to work while still in pyjamas—on the whole I try to look presentable. When I do, I feel better about myself. I feel more ready to take on the world. Put on earrings and lipstick, and I actually work harder. Appearance, whether we like it or not, does reflect how we see ourselves and how we act.

Lately, though, I fear that the idea of what is attractive and beautiful has become distorted. So let me perfectly blunt: hot and pretty are not interchangeable. Sexy and beautiful are two different things. Pretty means that you put in effort; that you show, through your appearance, that you respect yourself and you want others to know it. And just about any woman can be attractive by paying for a good haircut, applying a little makeup, and purchasing clothes that flatter her body type. Hot, on the other hand, is more like a billboard advertisement for goods that are for sale.

I’m rather distressed about this trend away from traditional beauty—which focused on respecting oneself—and towards hotness, which gives an entirely different message. So often I see teenage girls with low-cut tops and mini-skirts, and yet they have obviously put little effort into looking good anywhere else. Now, of course, suggestive clothing with a great haircut isn’t much of an improvement. But what it shows is that girls are putting effort into what they wear—but that effort is involved in flaunting body parts rather than presenting a beautiful package. It’s not about the whole; it’s just about the boobs.

I have teenage friends on Facebook who post pictures of themselves in string bikinis. I have seen other young women with stringy hair and awful makeup who nonetheless have guys trailing them because they’re showing so much skin that the guys really don’t care about the hair. This seems to be especially true with girls who do not have the perfect figure. I have seen more cleavage and more revealing clothing on rather overweight girls than I have on many others. It’s as if they’re so insecure that they’ve given up on being beautiful. They think hot is all they have left. They’re wrong.

Hot, you see, is not necessarily pretty. Hot can actually be rather off-putting. Perhaps guys flock to it, but it’s only because they’re interested in the message you’re sending out: I am completely and utterly available to be your sex object. That’s not the equivalent of being beautiful. When you care for the whole package, and dress as if you respect yourself, you attract the kind of man who is interested in more than 15 minutes in a locked bathroom with you at a party.

Maybe that truly is all some girls are interested in, but I hope that many are just confused. It doesn’t matter if our culture is trying to convince you to reveal absolutely everything. Even if celebrities are doing it, copying them does not make you beautiful. It just makes you desperate. You may still attract the male species, but you attract the ones who are eager to take advantage of that kind of woman. Is that really who you want to be?

Trying to be hot means you’re dressing for others. Trying to be pretty means you’re dressing for yourself because you appreciate who you are. They’re two very different things, and we women need to think about which image we want to portray.

Now, to give a bit of perspective, though, I’ve written about the other extreme, too–the extreme which somehow equates holiness with frumpiness. So I do think there needs to be a balance in this, as in just about everything else!

I’m also not a fan of the whole “don’t be a stumbling block” message, which says that it’s your fault if a guy lusts after you. That’s not what I’m saying. I just want girls to respect themselves. That doesn’t mean we wear paper bags. It’s totally okay to still look like a woman!

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