Saturday, December 12, 2009

In a Barbie World

As far as guilty pleasures go, some of them have varying amounts of "guilt" involved. There is mild embarrassment, and then there is complete clandestinity. I mean, I feel like this phrase gets thrown around a lot. I tend to use it for things that I'm just a little ashamed of liking so much.

Take this marathon of America's Next Top Model that I've been revisiting throughout the day in between the things I have to do. I know how contrived, ridiculous, and pretty shallow it is. I would not hesitate to say that Tyra Banks is one of the most annoying people on the face of the planet. It's just so addictive, though! And it's harmless enough for reality TV, isn't it?

That's how a lot of crap appears. And a lot of things might really impress in some people's minds, but then not affect others at all. Or does it?

Life could be a mirror-land where everything may not be as it appears after all.

Cracks appear in the mirrors all over the place, though, if you're looking hard enough. It never occurred to me that it's my problem if I go through about 6 outfits before going anywhere because I am so convinced that I can't even be seen unless I look perfect. There's something wrong with my mindset when I can't bring myself to touch pizza or macaroni and cheese for months at a time, even with a ten foot pole. These kinds of little things became my reality so gradually that I didn't really stop and wonder about where they came from, and what they're doing to me. The whole cliche about the frog in the pot of slowly warming water makes a lot of sense. When my mind quiets down and little red flags in my thinking go flying up, I can finally spot how I've been worn down by worldly expectations without knowing it.

I don't think the struggle girls today face with body image and appearance in general can be overemphasized. If you don't spend much time with them, I'll fill you in on the secret world of self-deprecation that goes on pretty much every day. For example, consider the bathroom in our cabin at Campus Crusade's Fall Retreat, a weekend in the woods where the last thing a person should care about is looking nice. Yet everyone is frantically sharing the counter, washing faces, putting on make-up, straightening hair, dressing up, spraying various things all over the place. It'd be interesting if there were some kind of closed-captioning for the interesting array of sentences uttered over the course of the morning: "Ugh, my hair looks awful!" "Oh no, I messed up my mascara." "This just isn't a good day for me. I have huge bags under my eyes." "Oh please, do you see my skin?"

If you're not convinced, I'll let you in on another secret: I said all of those things.

But a girl's game is to one-up someone else's self-deprecating comment with some negative thing about herself instead. I think that's it's definitely just misguided humility in some cases; it doesn't sound very nice to hear someone else tear herself to shreds in the mirror and then smile at yourself and walk out the door. Everyone has some kind of insecurity. But at the same time, there can't be anything right with matching these inward insults by hating yourself, too.

My roommate one time mentioned something that a speaker said at a retreat that she went to at the beach. To paraphrase, he said: "You know how when we say something that isn't very nice about someone else, we often feel pretty bad about it and retract it really fast? I feel like I hear myself and other people constantly saying, 'Oops, I didn't mean that. I'm sorry.' We know that it isn't right to say negative things about another person that the Lord loves. Did it ever occur to some of you girls that you're His creation, too? Isn't it just as insulting to a Creator to insult any of His works, whether it's another person or it's you?"

I get pretty sick of hearing the whole inside beauty speech. Yeah, yeah, Proverbs 31:30, I've heard it before. I used to brush off those lessons because I have heard it a hundred times. Obviously, though, they haven't sunk in; the problem is that I am so deeply entrenched in a quicksand pit that the world has laid out all before me, and I know for sure that most women are fighting the urge to sink in, too. And to be honest, I don't know what it takes to get out yet. I've tried looking to other things to make me not care anymore about how I look. Friends, schoolwork, and being all involved in clubs and whatnot seem to be fairly good at sucking up time that could be spent otherwise nitpicking in the mirror. But no matter how busy or distracted I get, the recurring thoughts creep up on me throughout the day, or as soon as I get home. The point is that they can't be replaced by some other obsession with being perfect.

If I've learned one thing in this life, hopefully, it's that the Word is the only place that truth can be devoured, if only I kept turning to it every time I felt the slightest bit worried.

"The king is enthralled with your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord." -- Psalm 45:11

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." -- Proverbs 31:30

So there are those really popular verses that seem directed more at self-conscious, God-fearing women, and they affirm us directly. They're pretty blunt statements. You're beautiful. So there. I'll forget to live like this is true in about 10 minutes, but they're nice things to read.

However, there are other verses in the bible about beauty that are either directed at men, or at women who aren't really going about things properly. They say a lot, though, on the topic of beauty and are worth taking a look at regardless:

"Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes," -- Proverbs 6:25

This one kind of struck me, mostly because it isn't hard for me to get someone's attention with my eyes. (Probably because they are the size of golf balls and make me look like a startled lemur, but that's beside the point.) However, there is an indirect message to be gleaned from this verse, even if it looks like it's only for guys to worry about. Solomon is directing men not to fall for beauty or seduction, so these are not traits that ought be found in a woman of God. He desires for His sons to pursue women who do not depend on or manipulate these qualities to meet their ends in life. Seeing it from this point of view kind of makes all the stuff about not caring about beauty practical; if your appearance is the thing that defines how you feel that day, and what makes you valuable at all, then you're not bound to find the kind of love that the Lord has in mind for His people.

"'And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect,' declares the Lord. 'But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his." -- Ezekiel 16:14-15

This is an allegory, yes, but the New Testament addresses all the details about loving your wife as Christ loved the church and whatnot, and the Lord makes it quite plain that this situation would be the same whether or not the woman symbolizes Israel. Anyways, these are pretty powerful words. The Lord has blessed things, including we ladies, with beauty. This fact is indeed famous; I have yet to hear of a culture anywhere in the world where the women is not considered the beautiful gender.

But just throwing around this beauty like it doesn't mean anything won't yield any meaningful results. In fact, it'll kind of rob you. Overdoing your face and hair to get attention and wearing clothes that don't leave much to the imagination are favors lavished on anyone who passes by, and your beauty therefore becomes theirs. I think this verse could be saying that we don't really need to depend on ourselves to make beauty known; God's got that covered. He's done a pretty reasonable job of it, considering books like Esther, Ruth, Song of Solomon, etc. We tend to over do it when taking it upon ourselves to share what we think makes us beautiful with the world. Trusting in it, using it as a bargaining chip or a sneak preview, is what ruins it. There's got to be something else to depend on.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." -- I Peter 3:3-4

That thing to depend on is the desire of God, and He desires so much more from us than simply looking good from the eyes of ordinary people. This verse, put in modern terms, would look a lot like this:

Your beauty should not come from short skirts.
Your beauty should not come from two layers of eyeliner and three touch-ups.
Your beauty should not come from diet pills.
Your beauty should not come from a treadmill.
Your beauty should not come from a cup size.
Your beauty should not come from the way you walk.
Your beauty should not come from a tanning bed.
Your beauty should not come from expensive shampoo, deep conditioning, blow-drying, straightening, fixing, fixing, fixing, fixing.

It should come from kind words on even trying days.
It should come from lending a hand to someone obviously trying to pick up the tons of papers they just dropped.
It should come from humility about one's appearance, whether you really do think you look like a supermodel or if you only look half-presentable after three hours of labor in the bathroom.
It should come from smiling at a stranger.
It should come from bringing coffee to a friend with ten papers due in two hours.
It should come from respecting a guy enough to treat him like you would treat family, and neither let him take advantage of you nor get his heart trashed by you.

It should just be from knowing who you are in the eyes of the One who made you.

So, to my fellow female friends, I want to tell you this to your face when I get the chance, but here it is anyway: I know. I know how it feels. I know the instant gratification of getting gawked at for two seconds, the rush of getting the right people's attention, the exhilaration of finally looking in the mirror and feeling okay with being seen for that day. It's hard to wean yourself off the constant, gnawing need to look like a Barbie, because it's scary to think of what would happen if you didn't care so much about that anymore. I haven't done it yet. We're in the same boat. But we both know that it's a fruitless pursuit; there's no such thing as perfect beauty, and even if there were, we wouldn't know what to do but try and improve it anyways. I know it hurts you the way it hurts me. Please, please, please don't let it run your life anymore. And don't let it run mine anymore either, haha.

America's Next Top Model kind of seems to glorify all the seeming demons out there, winning victims to beauty and fashion and desire in just one TV show. I guess liking it is a guiltier pleasure than I previously thought -- not that I feel guilty watching it so much as I feel guilty about things that I shouldn't, like the size of my hips or the condition of my hair that day.

But, friends, that's a broken mirror in a funhouse. If it takes walking out the door, then God help me, I want it.

This frog just wants to hop out of the hot water already.

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