Things are getting bananas, people.
Toddlers are wearing tiaras. Parents are giving teenage girls breast enhancement procedures for their Sweet Sixteens. Dark-skinned girls are lightening their skin with bleaching products. Chinese women are getting their legs broken—on purpose!—in leg-lengthening surgeries. It’s nutty, right?
It’s also completely understandable.
Today women and girls are bombarded with messages meant to persuade us that we’re not really acceptable the way we are. And even though we’ve been told, at church, that “God thinks you’re beautiful,” we’re not feeling the love. Because it’s much easier to believe what we receive from the media, we end up feeling stuck, ugly, and ashamed.
There has to be a better way.
Use these exercises together to start conversations that lead to life:
Shame says that there is something fundamentally unacceptable about who you are. So smart advertisers capitalize off of our fear of rejection to sell us products that they promise will, at last, make us acceptable. A wildly successful 1920s campaign for Listerine mouthwash warned,
They talk about you behind your back.
Halitosis makes you unpopular.
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
Peek through some magazines to find the ads today which subtly, and blatantly, suggest that we’re unacceptable the way we are. Think about this theologically! (Rom. 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…”) What does this say about how God views us? What does it say about how we treat others? Isn’t this exactly the kind of striving from which Jesus came to free us?
Opening Our Eyes
When God issued the second commandment (Ex. 20:3), to keep us from serving idolatrous and false images we’ve created with our own hands, he might have been thinking ahead to…Photoshop.
When we compare ourselves to images in the media—Barbie dolls, supermodels, and Hollywood heroines—we’re not only trying to squeeze into a mold that doesn’t fit us, it doesn’t fit anybody! These images we’re seeing of women—who were already beautiful in the first place—have all been digitally altered. I promise you this is true.
To peek at the tricks happening behind the scenes:
- In Google Images, type in “Ralph Lauren Controversial Ad” to see the way very thin models are digitally squished to appear unhumanly thin. It’s a little scary.
- On YouTube, find the “Dove Evolution” video. Enjoy and discuss.
Take a field trip to your church nursery to check out the toys! (Fun, right?) Specifically, look for the ones related to gender. What are little girls and boys learning from these “harmless” toys?
Ideas to start your discussion:
- Look at how female dolls—Barbies, Bratz, etc.—are dressed and styled. In what types of activities are these individuals prepared to engage? Could a Barbie, dressed as she is, stand in a lab all day doing research, or just sit under a blow dryer? Would one of these female dolls be prepared to play ultimate Frisbee with her guy friends, or just be ogled by them?
- How are female and male dolls and action figures sexualized? (Examine clothing, makeup, body parts, exposed abs, etc.)
- What else do you notice?
Ornamental or Instrumental?
Pass out index cards and pens, inviting participants to answer this question: “If there was one thing you could change about your body, what would it be?”
Gather these, anonymously, to be shared with the group. Let the group identify which ones are ornamental (pertaining to how we are viewed) and which ones are instrumental (pertaining to how the body functions). For example, thigh cellulite would be “ornamental,” and legs healed of cerebral palsy would be “instrumental.”
As a wrap-up, list all female body parts, from head to toe, and name the way that each one is ornamental and/or instrumental.
Ethnicity and Beauty
Women of all ethnicities are trying to squeeze into the Barbie doll mold of beauty. Black women are chemically straightening their hair. Latino women are dying theirs blonde. Women with wide or long or bumpy noses are getting plastic surgery to change them.
Check out some skin-lightening commercials on YouTube by typing in keywords “fair and lovely” (or visit margotstarbuck.com/Resources.html). What messages do these commercials communicate about ethnicity? What features are valued as worthy? Who is valuable?
Now, consider this: With our own choices and dollars, how do we actively disagree with these messages?
Wombs, Breasts, and What Really Matters
Jesus is teaching when a woman calls out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!” Although Jesus’ culture esteemed women’s bodies that squeezed out lots of babies, Jesus isn’t willing to endorse his culture’s values by accepting the compliment. Instead, Jesus replies, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:27–28).
This is huge! Jesus is saying that the bodies—the people—who are really blessed, are those who respond to God. What does this mean for us as Christians, in light of our own culture’s nutty values?
Ability, Disability, and Love-ability
God made bodies to do stuff, like loving and serving others. Specifically, we’re made for relationship with others.
- Grab a whiteboard marker and brainstorm 100 ways that we can use our bodies to serve others. (Starter ideas: push neighbor’s baby around the block in a stroller, shovel for mom, clean the basement, etc.)
- This may look a little different for folks with physical disabilities, but every body is still a vehicle for relationship. If you or a friend or a relative has a disability, how does your/their body still facilitate relationship with others?
Can’t Get No Satisfaction
The big goal here is to save all the energy and effort and money we spend trying to make ourselves look better and instead be satisfied with who we are. To catch a glimpse of this rarity, watch India.Aarie’s “I am Not My Hair” video and Sesame Street’s “I Love My Hair” clip on YouTube (or at margotstarbuck.com) to get a peek at freedom!
Do you know anyone like this? How do you begin to live into that freedom?
From “Me” to “You”
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis (who wrote before gender-inclusive language) writes,
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him (p. 128).
Women who aren’t obsessing over their own navels are freed up to take a genuine interest in others. When we’re not consumed with ourselves, we can then be for others. Do you know anyone like this? Share about her with the group. Isn’t it just fabulous to be around people like this? What would it look like for you to be a person who takes a real interest in others?
Fake It ’Til You Make It
It may be that you never get to the point where you absolutely adore every inch of your body. Understood. To live into the reality that you’re completely acceptable as you are, one doctor recommends this strategy: fake it until you make it. Though I’m typically not a huge fan of faking, I think she’s on to something big.
If you decided to behave as if you were already entirely acceptable, what would be different about your:
- Use of time and energy?