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More today than ever, we live in a world where beauty matters… way too much. And to be honest, I’m not really sure what to do about it.
We live in a day where: what you look like means more than who you are; the size of your waist trumps the size of your heart; the brand on your clothes is your first impression and maybe your last.
Social psychologists have proven, several times, that there is such a thing as “attractiveness bias” and its effects run deep. It effects decisions like teacher judgments at school, voter preferences over political candidates, jury rulings in court, even hiring in the workplace. Now come on America! Someone please explain to me how my tanning bed time correlates with my biology grade? Someone explain how political officers are elected based on their beach body? Please explain why the guy with a nice resume loses the job to the one with nice teeth?
From $200 designers jeans, to photo-shop skin, to gym memberships, to spray tans, to push-up bras and tummy tucks, beauty matters… way too much. I once witnessed a fifteen year old guy take, then retake, and then retake a “selfie” ten times for all fifty of his Twitter followers. Seriously? In recent memory, Victoria Secret came out with an ad campaign to target the “Bright Young Thing” living in your house. You know, the one studying Pre-Algebra (a.k.a. your middle-schooler). Seriously?
In her book, I Want To Be Her, author Michelle Graham writes this to women:
There’s nothing quite like a glance at a Victoria Secret Catalogue to invoke a flood of insecurities and feelings of disappointment.
She then goes on to describe a cultural icon created in the 50s that has since become the standard of beauty in the eyes of every little girl.
You recognize her?
If Barbie were a real human being, she would need some major reconstructive surgery just to survive. It’s been estimated that her proportions would make her anywhere from 6’2 to 7’5 inches tall. In order to achieve her hourglass figure she would need to have two ribs removed, along with several major organs. Barbie has no hormonal cycle to effect her complexion and no metabolism to struggle with. And if you ask me, that gap between her thighs could only be a result of a major bone deformity in her hips. What began as a fantasy of perfect beauty actually turned out to be a freak.
Some of you women reading this just said “Amen!!!” And you’re not even religious. It just kinda slipped out. Interesting…
This is the image that has been marketed to young girls all over the world as an inspiration to womanhood. And we eat it up. Barbie has become a 1.5 billion dollar a year industry… Don’t worry, I’m not on a Barbie-burning crusade. I just know that at a very young age I bought into the idea that unless my Barbie was physically perfect, she wasn’t as good as the other barbies on the block. In fact, she embarrassed me… As I grew into adulthood, I left my Barbie behind. Unfortunately I continued my Barbie philosophy of life. My body grew into the form that my Maker designed it to be. But I’ve struggled with the belief that unless I am physically “perfect”—a perfection that is unattainable and unrealistic—I’m somehow not as valuable as everybody else. Barbie moved out, but Victoria moved in.
Graham goes on to give some (not all that surprising) statistics:
* 70% of women feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after looking at a fashion magazine for just three minutes.
* $2 billion/year is spent on hair products
* $20 billion/year is spent on cosmetics.
* $74 billion/year is spent on diet foods.
* 7.4 million Americans spend big bucks on cosmetic surgery annually.
* In a survey where women were asked what they’d give up to be beautiful, 5% were willing to give up five years of their life.
* No wonder a similar study showed 89% of women want to see the definition of beauty changed for youth.
Look, I’m not anti-sex. Many Christians come off that way, but I think it’s good when it’s put in its proper place. I’m not anti-fashion. I’ve been known to wear cardigans. And it’s good too when in its proper place. And I’m definitely not anti-beauty. Beauty is a gift of God that is meant to be appreciated. And good when in its proper place.
All I’m saying is when something is mistakenly elevated to a place of ultimate importance, in life or culture, it can become the center of our existence and an object of cultural worship. It can take precedence over everything and destroy dating norms, families, health, even the moral compass of a society.
So the way I see it is you have a few options:
(1) Seek beauty relentlessly. Spend all your time, money, and emotional currency on it. Hit the gym, chest & bi’s. Get the nip and the tuck. GQ son! Make your appearance an ultimate end in life and feed culture’s fanatic frenzy to find America’s next top model. “Confuse role models for cover models.” But just don’t be surprised when you wake up the next morning to find that you need more. Don’t be surprised when you turn on the T.V. only to see someone hotter, or slimmer, or sexier, or stouter, or trendier. And don’t be surprised when that leaves you feeling empty.
(2) Be a hipster. (For the record, I love hipsters)
(3) Or put beauty in its rightful place and shed the labels that culture uses to shackle its values on you. God is the only one who reserves the right to put a label on you, and he’s already made abundantly clear what some of those are. (Also for the record, being a (2) doesn’t disqualify you from (3))
More today than ever, we live in a world where beauty matters… way too much. And to be honest, I’m not really sure what to do about it. But what I do know is this – Beauty should not be our formula for joy.
If this is what we consider success, then we’re all in for a tough life. Because we’ll get older. Time will take its toll. The wrinkles and gray will appear. The spare tire will sneak its way in. And hair will start growing in places that only other species can appreciate.
So perhaps I can just remind you of this one simple truth that can change everything: Find your self-worth in Jesus. To him, it doesn’t matter if you have a six-pack, a keg, or a big bowl of Hawaiian punch. You were created with care, for a purpose, on purpose. And I do believe his love is one size fits all.
Tyler McKenzie is the Teaching Pastor at Northeast Christian Church and Blogger at CrossShapedStuff.com. Give his blog a visit for more great content and join the conversation.