8/31/2011

A Weighty Series, part 3

This week I'm doing a series on weight and body image, particularly for women. You can read part 1 and part 2 if you missed them.

Yesterday's post honed in on some of my experiences growing up and being told, in some cases literally, that my weight directly affected my worth. Rejection came from mean girls, boys I liked, and even those considered best friends and my own family. It's easy to feel self-righteous when we see society cruelly harassing women like Demi Lovato--and so, so many others--and to think we're not at all that way, and how awful society is.

We Are Part of the Problem
I carefully propose that this may not be as true as we'd hope. I freely admit that I don't have this all figured out, so I ask for grace as you process these thoughts with me, and welcome your thoughts as well. That said, while we may not tweet out how "fat" someone is, I think it's quite common to base far more emphasis on how we and those around us, even women we love dearly, are stacking up based on worldly standards of perfection.

Do we support pursuit of this? Why?
I find it typical to get really excited and emphasize how "Great!" someone looks when she's recently lost weight. I do this. Other women do this. We say how amazing their tiny waist looks, how slender their sexy legs are, how much we love seeing their collarbones now, how much better their clothes fit, etc. Some do it out of jealousy, but I know that for myself the preponderance of the time I'm honestly just so happy for them. If a friend has been working hard to eat well and exercise, why not heap praise upon her when her body responds with results?

No Spinning into Guilt
I'll say right now that this isn't sin, per se. Please don't think you're this horrible person if you do this as much as I do, because sister, I do it all the time and Jesus isn't telling me I'm horrible. I do it usually because I know how great it feels when I lose some weight, see a bit of victory in this massive battle, and someone rejoices with me. I want others to experience that, too, thus the big scoops of sweet praise.

However, something has been nagging at me. There's an unsettling in my spirit, a sliver in my big toe that gets irritated every time I step into this territory lately. When I bust out my proverbial ice cream scoop so I can heap praise on my now thinner friend, why am I doing it? Again, jealousy aside (because that's its own sinful issue), is it because I wish I could be thinner and I'm genuinely thrilled that my friend is thinner because I know how good that feels when you're trying to lose weight and so I'm happy for her?

That seems like a good reason, right? But it goes deeper than that. Do I know she was being sinful--gluttonous, slothful--before and now she's honestly turning to Jesus, repenting of that sin, and pursuing him and her body is showing the results of worshiping Jesus? Then praise God, and may I rejoice with her freely.

Don't look like her? You lose.
Yet looking like her is not enough--
her derriere has been the subject of much
media chatter. Too big? Just right?
How fast did she lose the baby weight
from twins? Not even being named the
world's most beautiful woman is enough.
[Click image for link to People.com article]
The Lie
However, there is a subtle, subtle lie that Satan sneakily whispers to us throughout our lives. Sometimes it's blatant, but so often it's sneaky. It may have come from the lips of our mothers and grandmothers. It might have been reinforced by siblings or other family. Then there are those mentioned in my post yesterday--boys (either the ones we liked or just sad  cruelty from any boy who wanted us to feel worthless for not being hot, as though our not measuring up to their lust standards reduces our value as being created in the image of God), mean girls at school (or, sadly, church), or even those who are supposed to be our best friends who echo the lie. Our culture absolutely engorges on feeding us the lie.

What is this lie? The lie is that we can only ever be satisfied with our bodies if they are perfect as defined by this world. Until then we must seek to achieve, deny, sacrifice,  and work work work work work work work on our bodies and writhe in shame and guilt when we don't. Those of us who love Jesus are not immune. Maybe we've learned to keep quiet about how much flatter we wish our stomach was, how less thunderous we wish our thighs to be (though to think it when we look in the mirror, or down at our slightly bulging belly while relaxing on the couch with our husband, is just as wrong as putting it on a billboard. The thoughts of our heart are every bit as sinful as our words and actions. Just ask Jesus). But how many times have we lamented over the gorgeous, long, dark eyelashes of a toddler, saying how lucky he is and that those lashes go to waste on young boys? I have said this before, recently even. What am I implying? That if I don't have long, dark, "gorgeous" lashes then I'm falling short of the subtle lie of perfection.

Let us just follow this line of thought for a moment: we all know that there is a high premium placed on long, dark, full lashes on women. I tried to search out many tubes of mascara Americans buy per year and instead here are some results that came up:
  • 20 Beauty Secrets Every Teen Should Know [boldface emphasis mine]
  • Royal Wedding: Kate Middleton Wore Just A Tad Too Much Mascara
  • The GOOD and the BAD About Latisse
  • Latisse Doctor Answers
  • How to Be a Make-Up Artist
  • What is Collagen?
Interesting that simply searching for mascara statistics told me that Teens need to know how to be beautiful, Kate Middleton wasn't pretty enough on her wedding day (did you see her? It's completely wrong), I need a drug to make my lashes longer/darker/fuller, I could be a make-up artist (what?), and I need to get animal connective tissues pumped into my face to make me look younger.

As for actual mascara, this isn't even to mention the message in commercials. Here's one for the mascara I actually use:


Mascara is not evil, nor is it sin to use it, but hello, as much as I love me some Drew Barrymore, that commercial leaves me feeling quite inadequate. My dark but not black, semi-long but not loooong, and hard to curl lashes feel like a curse when I watch that commercial. I do not watch that and think about how God made me beautiful and it's ok to use mascara if I'd like--I think that because I do not have those lashes I'll simply never measure up. And trust me, that mascara does nothing to make my lashes look like Drew's did. Yeah, there's the disclaimer about falsies, but that doesn't boost my confidence in my own beauty. Instead, I feel like a big, capital f "Fail" inscribed on my eyelids.

This picture (not from Latisse!) was one I found on the 'net
showing how beautiful you can be if only you have longer, darker,
fuller lashes. Notice, however, the subtle tweaks to the rest of the left
side of her face in the picture: darker eyebrow, more bronzer to accentuate the
hollow of her cheek and make her cheekbones look higher, nostril slightly
higher, lips fuller, and much more eyeliner. Again, subtle lies about how just
better lashes make all of you closer to perfect.
Also, funny that those Latisse results came up when I searched about mascara consumption because I already did some research to share with you about the product. Originally a medication for glaucoma sufferers, it was found that Latisse created long, dark lashes. Allergan, the company that manufactures Botox, turned it into a solution for sufferers of hypotrichosis. Hypotrichosis is actually a disease in which there is no hair growth somewhere for someone where hair would normally be.

They say it's a prescription, but does anything about that commercial communicate that it's actually for people who had no eyelashes? But commercials marketing Latisse show women with eyelashes. So, to be clear, while Allergan says the product is officially for those with a disease, it's marketed to women as a way for any woman to get incredibly long, luscious lashes, as fabulous as Brooke Shields, even...thus increasing her worth.

Great, right? Not quite, because the potential side effects are awful. The solution can cause darkening of the skin around the eyes, it can cause hair to grow anywhere it might accidentally drip (imagine a big old hairy patch on your cheekbone--eek!), and it can actually cause eye color to darken, making blue or green eyes turn brown. Then, it's common for people to have red, itchy, irritated eyes. As if that weren't a high enough price to pay for updating one tiny part of your body in pursuit of perfection, the cost is about $120 a month and most certainly not covered by insurance for those who are using it for cosmetic purposes, it can take as long as 4 months with nightly application to see any results, and as soon as you stop using the product your eyelashes go back to normal.

All of this just for better lashes, something our culture admires but God never looks at blonde, short, lashes and thinks to himself, "I really created ugly right there." The next time I wax philosophical about gorgeous lashes going to waste on little boys I pray I will be reminded of this lie, in both its subtle and explicit forms.

How Then Do I Judge My Own Heart?
Why do we compliment women when they lose weight? Why do we feel the need to constantly improve some part--or many parts, or all-- of our own body? When is this appropriate, and when are we venturing into sinful territory? More on that in tomorrow's post.

I still have so much more to say, thus the week long series, but if you are once again feeling a bit hopeless, trust me: it is coming. I wouldn't do you wrong!

2 comments:

  1. I've said this before, but I think that it just isn't correct to say that whenever a woman loses weight she was being gluttonous and slothful before. Sure, a large weight loss (say, 30 lbs or more) might mean that. But small weight losses (10 lbs or less) can really just be attributed to small lifestyle changes. I know that I usually drop some weight in the spring b/c I'm eating more produce (cause more is available!) and I'm running more b/c the weather is better. In the winter, I still run, but fewer miles, and I eat heavier foods. It adds up to 5 or 6 lbs by the end of winter. No big deal-- it's not sloth or gluttony.
    On the other, I think that part of why we compliment women is b/c it's hard work-- it's nice to have someone notice hard work. I agree, though, there is something a little yucky about it- especially when the woman was at a perfectly healthy weight before, so the loss was just for looks.
    It's hard! As someone who does enjoy being more traditionally feminine, especially in appearance, it's interesting to read how you feel about this stuff.

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  2. I actually think that's a great point--not even all weight loss was definitely sloth or gluttony. That's part of what I'm wrestling with, though--what if someone is just going through natural rhythms like you spoke of, and what if all spring you hear how "great" you look, implying that you looked the opposite of great, or at least not as great, before, when really you weren't overweight and weren't necessarily doing anything wrong.

    I'll touch more on it in tomorrow's (Friday's) post and beyond, but I'm really starting to think about our bodies and what "healthy" is. I'm not talking about fat acceptance where we say that 350 pounds on a 5 foot tall woman is great! and let people kill themselves.

    At the same time, like you said, I'm really wrestling with women whose bodies are perfectly healthy but they kill themselves (sometimes literally) just to look better per a standard that has nothing to do with true beauty.

    And that's different for every woman; as you'll see, I'm dealing with this myself. I know I need to lose more weight and not stay where I am, for sure, but what if the point where my body is in it's "good place" healthwise is way heavier, say 20 or 30 pounds, more than I hoped to be? And what if I do unhealthy things to get smaller and everyone heaps praise on me for working hard when, really, I was being quite unhealthy?

    I'm dealing with this because I've seen it happen in bad ways, I've participated in "you look so great!" talk with friends I love who are actually doing diets that kind of scare me, and I don't engage their hearts on why they're doing it and it all just feels very wrong. Thus, this series :)

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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