Every few months, I go on a rampage about the way that women in our culture are barraged with demands about how we must look. Sometimes it's more overt, like in TV shows like The Swan. Usually it's so subtle that we don't realize it. But honestly, can we women turn anywhere and not be reminded that our bodies are somehow "flawed"?
We don't talk about it much, even though people are often saying that it's a problem; however, whenever I mention my anger at the pressure I feel to have a certain type of body, women always agree with me. That means this is a problem.
Our culture is so superficial when it comes to expectations for women, and most of us in the church have wholesale conformed our minds to the pattern of this world. I'm shocked when I probe the depths of my own depravity in this respect (and I'm sure I'm not even scratching the surface). I wonder what kind of response I would get from my friends if I were to 'fess up to the ways I mentally denigrate my body when I stand in front of the mirror. (If I were in a sorority that circled the body flaws of their pledges, it would hardly be a surprise to me if they marked my body nearly from head to toe - I've already done it to myself in my mind.)
Would my friends be horrified or relieved to hear my own thoughts? Would it be, "Oh good - misery loves company," or "What does she have to complain about"? Or could we find a way to exhort each other to look at ourselves - heart and body - through the eyes of Christ.
I can't recall what I've heard our CCEF friends say about things like this; so this is sort of an ad-hoc preaching of the Gospel to myself.
1. I've believed a lie. On the negative side, it's that I have to attain some (impossible) standard before I'll be good enough.
On the other side of that same lie is discontent with how God made me. I'm telling God that he didn't do good work, that I'm junk. It's one thing to recognzie that sin and the curse have made me dwell in a decaying body - that makes me eagerly await heaven. It's another thing to hate something that God created and has pronounced to be good.
2. My worth is not based on what I look like. Yes, there can be sin in how I take care of my body - sloth, laziness, gluttony, anorexia, alcoholism and drugs. However, I often find that I am seeking my significance in how I feel about myself ("the heart is deceitful above all things"), how attractive I feel on a particular day ("and desperately wicked").
But, God is not basing his evaluation of me on what I look like or what I do ("I the Lord search the heart"), whether I commit sins of the heart or sins of the body. Whether I abuse my body or take care of it perfectly, what commends me to God is Christ's own body, which was pierced for me.
(quotations are from Jeremiah 17:9-10)
3. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Unfading beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit. Do I spend more time each day working on my inward beauty or outward beauty? Rhetorical question; the answer is obvious to me. I don't ask myself this to be legalistic; I ask it to help myself reprioritize.
I also like to remind myself that beauty is fleeting because it helps me to ward off men. No, seriously! I don't consider myself gorgeous by any stretch of the imagination, but I am still suspicious when a guy who barely knows me asks me out. Why? Because he's almost certainly basing his assessment of me on something that I must continually remind myself is fleeting. If he's that shallow, there is a very strong likelihood a) that he's not the kind of man I'm seeking in a husband and b) that he'll be veeery disappointed to find out that I'm (gasp!) a sinful person ... not to mention that I look terrible in a bikini and in the past have proudly gone a week without showering.
So what it comes down to is believing a lie and living out that lie. It makes for a pretty complete - if godless and hopeless - world and life system. Not to sound cliche, but that seems to be the modus operandi of American entertainment / pop culture. And it sets a seemingly inescapable agenda for many American women.
Again, I find myself in the somewhat frustrating situation of not really knowing how to specifically apply the Gospel in this area of struggle. It's not enough to "rage against the machine" of American culture. God calls us to be transforming culture, through the transformation of our minds first of all. So, without knowing exactly where to go from here, I begin by repenting of my superficiality. And one immediate area of change is to be more transparent with my struggle. Misery does love company; but if my friends are not seeing my heart, they will have no way to speak to my struggle and draw me back to the cross where I must continually put to death all of my sinful desires and see life through God's eyes.
"Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:3-4).