Friday, December 13, 2013

All I Want for Christmas

To the tune of "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth":

All I want for Christmas is two big ol' boobs
A tiny waist and sexy legs.
All I want for Christmas is a perfect face
So please bring me a plastic surgeon

Dear Santa,

Is it ethical for me to have plastic surgery?

For that matter, is it right to wear make-up? I cover up age spots with foundation. Am I capitulating to the culture that elevates youth and physical beauty?

Or is it simply adornment? If I may wear a necklace to accent my appearance, why is it wrong to camouflage or eliminate unsightly elements?

It's fine to wear jewelry and make-up. Even plastic surgery is acceptable, especially if the goal is to hide signs of aging and not to meet culture's unnatural vision of perfection.

Here's the problem. Our culture says a woman's value is tied up in her appearance. When I watch an aging male broadcaster on TV, I think, "He's wise and experienced." When I see an aging female, I think, "She should have some work done." I hope I can teach my children better. I want them to judge both women and men by their character, not by appearance.

So Santa, what I'd really like is equal treatment for women. Will that fit in my stocking?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hear Me Roar

Last week, my eight-year old daughter and I watched Katy Perry's "Roar" video on my smart phone. I forgot that I had forbidden her to watch pop music videos. By the end of the song, I remembered why.

At the beginning of the video, Perry and a young man are exploring the jungle. He's soon taken out of the picture by a tiger, and the rest of the video focuses on Ms.Perry's exploits. She hunts, builds herself a hut, and tames animals. I like the idea that a woman can survive on her own. But may I speak to someone in the Jungle Wardrobe Department?

By the end of the video Perry wears a grass skirt and a leopard-skin top that reveals a lot of cleavage. Granted, a woman must have appropriate clothing for the jungle heat. But let's face it -- the point of the outfit is to show off Perry's body. Maybe her curvy body helps us associate femaleness with power. Nice idea, but I'm guessing that's not what girls hear. They get a mixed message. "You can do anything you set your mind to. But your value is also tangled up in your appearance."

I guess it's progress. In my childhood, many female leads were beautiful, but helpless. Today, some of them are beautiful and powerful. Let's hope we'll continue to advance, and one day rock stars will sing in the tropics without showing so much skin. A woman who tames the jungle while keeping her dignity -- that's a real tigress.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Aiding and Abetting

Are we fighting for the enemy?

A few months ago I mentioned the issue of how we talk to young girls. I want to follow up. As parents, teachers, and friends of girls, we try to plant the right ideas in their minds. We fight the messages we grew up with, the ones that tell girls, “It’s important to be pretty.” But are we guilty of conveying the same thing? 

Have you ever greeted a child with, "Hey, pretty girl"? What happens in her mind at that moment? Does she feel good about herself? Perhaps. It’s not always bad to compliment how a girl looks.

But when the first thing out of our mouths is a statement about her appearance, a girl learns that adults think being attractive is important. These comments pile up over the years, and their weight shapes the way she thinks. Every music video and magazine rack reinforces the message. On the Internet she can hear it at the click of a mouse. “You are your physical appearance. You are female, and nothing else matters for you.”

Here’s how to fight that mindset. Let the first thing out of your mouth be a comment on her interests, not her looks.

Is she on the playground? Ask, “What’s your favorite thing to climb on?”
Are you at her school or in the public library? Ask, “What do you like to read?”

Is she your neighbor? Say, “I see you walking your dog every day. What’s your dog’s name? Do you enjoy taking care of animals?”

These questions show her that we value her and what she thinks. She’ll start to believe us when we say there is more to her than appearance. Please keep this in mind the next time you interact with a girl so we can fight the lies of the culture.

Let’s stop unintentionally aiding and abetting the enemy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vashti's Valor

Vashti, Queen of Persia, does not get her due. And that would annoy Queen Esther.

You know the story of Esther, the Jewish young woman whose courage  saved her people. But you wouldn't know of Esther if it were not for Queen Vashti.

King Xerxes was throwing  a party and drinking too much, and he decided to trot out Vashti as entertainment. The king ordered her to put on her crown and display her  beauty to the guests. She refused. We don't exactly know why. But I suspect  that a woman with enough courage to disobey the king is the kind of person  who refused to be treated  like an object.

Xerxes' advisors warned that if Vashti was not punished, all the Persian women would follow her example and refuse to obey their husbands. Getting rid of Vashti was an attempt to keep women in chains, enslaved to men.

To replace Vashti, Xerxes chose Esther based on her beauty. But it was Esther's courage that saved the Jews from the evil intentions of Haman, Xerxes' second in command. However, if Vashti had not defied Xerxes, Esther would not have become queen, and countless Jews would have died.

It's as if God said, "You keep women in shackles and value them only for their physical beauty. But I raise up leaders whose true beauty is their valor."

God calls us to speak up, to fight forces that treat women as objects. It may be risky -- just ask Vashti and Esther. But God grants courage. Let's start breaking some chains.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Brave Girls

Sex sells. And you can use a woman's body to sell everything from
aftershave to vacation spots. Advertising feeds an undercurrent that says
a woman's purpose is to entertain a man with her body. In its uglier forms,
this mindset spawns strip clubs, prostitution and human trafficking. How
do we fight evil on such a scale?

Start at the source, which is disrespect for women. And don't lose hope,
because we've made great strides. Some media outlets have actually progressed in their portrayal of girls and women. Think of your favorite animated movie from the '60s or '70s. While the heroine was noble, she was in dire straits at the climax, waiting for her prince to come. Fast forward to the 2012 movie, Brave.  Merida is a teenage girl who excels at archery and refuses to be handed off to a husband like a trophy. Brave's creators paint girls as smart, athletic, and . . . well, brave.

That's important because ideas have consequences. Discriminatory attitudes about women lead to crimes against women. But even when crimes occur, all hope is not lost. Our allies in law enforcement fight alongside us with sting operations like the one this summer that captured 150 suspected pimps and rescued 105 children from alleged sexual bondage.

Even little things aren't so little. Are you a parent who fights to protect your children from Internet sites that degrade women? If you work with children, do you point out women leaders so girls know they can serve wherever they're called by God?

This blog is called Beauty Battlefield for a reason. When we fight together for justice, we're a force to be reckoned with. Where's your battlefield?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Media Monster

I quit. This blog is a waste of time.

"Lord, help me accept the things I cannot change." Where was that prayer
 when I started this? I try to help women believe in their worth as people  made in the image of God. I fight the culture's lies. But I'm battling a Hydra, the monster of Greek legend. It had nine heads and every time a warrior cut off one head, two grew back in its place. There's no killing it.

Lies are everywhere. From the time they are toddlers, girls are valued for their looks. We inflict damage every time we greet a child with,  "Hey, pretty girl." You disagree? When was the last time you said, "Hey, smart girl," to a child? Every comment emphasizing looks is like the steady drip of an IV into her veins. The message, "Physical beauty is paramount," is infused like poison. As we grow up, every grocery store magazine rack, every photo of a beautiful model flashing on an electronic billboard tells us we're not acceptable. And today we have a behemoth called the Internet where we can find negative messages at the touch of a screen. It's hopeless.

On the other hand, this blog is only possible because the Net exists. I can spread a message to hundreds of readers in minutes. And as a Christian do I dare discount the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts?

I pray God would convict and heal people who make money by poisoning minds.  We have to monitor what our daughters (and sons) see and hear and fight back with messages that affirm.  I'll take all the supernatural help I can get.  O Lord, fry the motherboards of the enemy.  We'll know what happened if we're driving down the highway and one of the electronic billboards reads: "Hacking Courtesy of the Holy Spirit."

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Beautiful Cinderella

Cinderella has been taking orders from her stepmother for a long time.  Turns out, little girls have heard the tale for centuries. In the book,
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, author Paul Fleishman says the story  may have originated in ninth century China, but versions are found  around the world.  Cinderella lives with a cruel stepmother who forces her to work day and night. Animals help Cinderella. I recall kind mice, but other girls would hear of a helpful snake (India) or sparrow (Germany).  Cinderella wears a lovely gown to the ball. Of course, in Japan she dons a red kimono.  And then there are the glass slippers. Except in Iraq, gold sandals adorn  her feet.

The story is popular because of its universal theme of wrongs made right. What's not to like?

Only this. Cinderella is good and beautiful, and her step family is cruel and . . . less than beautiful.  Every illustration I've ever seen shows the stepmother and sisters in an unattractive light. If I use the standards of my time and place, a beautiful woman has large eyes, a dainty nose, high cheek bones, and rather full lips. There's nothing wrong with being physically beautiful, and we admire Cinderella as much for her character as we do for her lovely face. But why must women who do not meet this standard be the villains?  Cinderella's stepmother is a conniving slave-driver -- and she's not beautiful. The stepsisters are selfish and lazy -- and not beautiful. Do I want to read my daughter a story that associates beautiful people with virtue and less-than-beautiful people with vice? She gets that message enough already -- that a woman's goodness and value are closely associated with physical beauty.

What if we tweaked the story -- remove all references to physical beauty and ugliness and illustrate the story so that all the characters are somewhere in-between -- not ugly but not ravishing beauties either. With the physical element neutralized, the focus would remain on character alone.

Our daughters would hear, "What matters is your character. Do you treat people with respect and kindness or are you cruel and selfish?"

Or am I taking this tale too seriously? "Come on, Wendy. Just enjoy the story and don't analyze everything."

We should enjoy the story and its magic. But I refuse to ignore its hidden messages, especially when they're directed at my daughter. Her value is not wrapped up in high cheekbones and large eyes.

I will keep the magic, of course. Because coaches and horses do turn back into pumpkins and mice at midnight. Hold onto that glass slipper, Cinderella. A happy ending and a shoe that fits: that's the beauty of a good story.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Men Battle Culture, too

"Have you noticed the men?"
asked my friend as we strolled down the beach. "Some of them are
 grossly overweight, but it doesn't seem to bother them to go shirt-less."

Men don't seem to struggle as much with body image. But a male friend
 told me that he has his own battles with our culture. He feels pressure to
 meet an achievement standard. The culture lies to men, too. It tells them,
 "You're not a real man unless you're strong, wealthy, powerful."

But at least man is judged on the fruit of his hard work and ingenuity.
 A woman is judged on her looks -- which are more the result of genes than
genius. There's something healthy about recognizing a person's determination
and talent. On the other hand, a perverse understanding of success can infect
our esteem of men. Sometimes a man of integrity watches his profits go south
 because he makes a moral business decision. Our culture calls him a failure.

I have a fourteen-year-old son and a seven-year old daughter. I don't want him judged by his wealth and power, and I don't want her judged by her physical beauty. I want both of them to be measured "by the content of their character," as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it.

Women are not the only victims of our culture. We need to help our brothers battle the culture's lies about manhood, and we need their help as we fight lies about beauty. Sisters, have you ever shown a blog like this to men in your life?  I'm not above shameless self-promotion. All in the name of fighting the culture's lies. That's what I call success. It's a beautiful thing.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Beauty of Justice

"First-world problems," someone wrote on my friend's
 Facebook wall. My friend had a bad day at work, and the writer of
 the post reminded him that his problem was not life and death. Most
 of us don't worry about going hungry or surviving a civil war. I have
 the luxury of thinking about beauty and body image, and not where
 my next meal -- or the next airstrike - is coming from. To be clear:
 many people in the world do worry about those dangers. But I am not
 among them, so I have time to ponder something self-centered like
 body image.

Is this blog full of narcissistic fluff? A detractor could say, "Wendy,
get a real problem and write about something that matters -- a justice issue or something." But could this be a justice issue?

The culture tells me my worth lies in meeting its standard of physical beauty. The purpose of this blog is to help women believe in their worth as people made in the image of God and to fight our culture's lies about beauty. Those lies are a form of oppression. To oppress is to dominate or persecute by unjust use of force or authority. American media claims to be an authority and says you are worthless if you do not meet its standards. That is emotional abuse, and it's a form of injustice.

Are there bigger problems in the world? Yes. But the psalmist says, blessed are those "who execute justice for the oppressed," and that means, fight oppression wherever it festers. Kill it before it morphs into something worse. On this blog, I discuss ideas we get from our culture. Bad ideas grow into bigger problems like hunger and war. Call this a pre-emptive strike.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Beach Body

"You're wrong, Wendy," my friend protested.
"The beach is the BEST place for it."            

In a blog post I said the beach was the worst place to go if you have body image issues. There are hundreds of practically naked people. When I lounge on the shore, I occasionally glance up from my magazine and watch humanity walk by. That's when I am sorely tempted to compare myself to other women.

"Au contraire," said my friend, who writes the blog, and is a size 28. "At the beach it's obvious that no one has the body the media promotes. It's the great equalizer."

She's right. How often do you see someone with the perfect body? What is perfect? And how many times have you thought, "Well, at least I look better than that woman. Honestly -- someone needs to tell her that heavy women should not wear bikinis."

Who is allowed to wear a bikini? Leaving modesty issues aside for a moment, if we insist that a woman's body must be perfect to don a bikini, aren't we saying that most people are unacceptable? And our standard is a lie preached by our culture.

Now, I wish some people would wear more than the handkerchief-sized suit they strapped on. But my reason for that should be, "modesty is important," and NOT "you're too fat/busty/flat-chested/fill-in-the-blank."

Don't buy the lies sold by the media. And let's hear it for a bit more modesty. It'll save you money on sunscreen.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Senior Pictures

Remember that black shoulder drape they made you wear for your high school senior picture?

That was so 1980s. Or 90s maybe.
Nowadays some parents are shelling out major bucks for a private
 photo session on location. And did I mention the hair stylist and
 make-up artist who work you over before you smile for the camera?

After reading about this trend in the Wall Street Journal and feeling
indignant, the truth came back to haunt me.  I said to myself,
"Now, Wendy, did you not just pay a professional photographer
to take pictures of your seven-year-old daughter in a lovely little
garden near your home?" Okay, I'm busted. I'm just jealous because
I didn't have a makeover and wardrobe consultation when I had my
senior pictures taken.

But something caught my eye in the Journal article. One young lady noted that in the photos her face looked "flawless with no blemishes . . . . It's just so reassuring." When one photographer took the photo proofs to the students' homes, the girls "would pore over them for hours looking for imperfections."

Ah, perfection, that elusive dream. At least the girl whose blemishes were erased realized a photograph doesn't always show reality. A photographer can touch up a spot here, erase a wart there. Does the girl understand that they do the same thing with the pictures of professional models? Does she know her real face is beautiful simply because it's her face? When she applies mascara does she know her eyes are the window to her lovely soul, to paraphrase the old proverb?

God delights in your beauty. So go to the photo shoot and have fun. But remember that your beauty doesn't need to be retouched. For you are forever graced by the fingerprints of God.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Anorexia and OCD

Is your fight against the culture's lies a mental
struggle or a mental illness?                                                       

Every woman wrestles with our culture. Media tells us we're not pretty enough or thin enough or curvy enough. But what if the struggle takes over your life? One example is anorexia nervosa. The mental fight crosses a line, and the obsession with being thin drives the victim to starve herself.  It's a physical illness requiring medical intervention.

In my case the illness is not anorexia but obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A psychiatrist diagnosed me thirty years ago. It affects how I view my body.  I am small-busted, and our culture constantly tells me my figure is ugly. "You're not a woman," is what I hear whenever I glance at a magazine cover.

I've thought about it every day since I was twelve. That's 11,680 days of feeling inadequate. (I'll do the math for you -- I'm 44.) Thanks to a drug called Wellbutrin, OCD no longer controls my life, but it's probably involved in my body image issues. This realization led me to talk to a counselor about it a year ago, and the counseling has helped.

Have you -- or has a friend -- crossed a line? I know nothing about diagnosing eating disorders. I know a lot about suffering from OCD, but even so, I'm not an M.D. If you think you may need it, get a professional involved.  

And leave a comment here or on facebook for me. You may not need the help of a professional, but if you're like me, you do need the support of fellow soldiers in the fight against our culture's lies.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hooters = The Louvre?

Thank you, Hooters, for helping me get some intellectual exercise.

It's ironic, since  a woman's intellect is not exactly what's on display at Hooters. Recently, a Hooters waitress sued the chain. She had an unsightly scar from brain surgery, and wearing a wig was uncomfortable. Hooters said she would have to wear a head covering. After all, Hooters sells an experience, and a bald woman doesn't exactly fill the bill.

I've never liked Hooters. A Hooters Girl doesn't strip, but she does sell her body.
She cheapens womanhood -- her own and every other woman's.

Or does she? Why is it okay to admire a classical painting of a nude woman at a museum, but it's not okay to enjoy the beauty of a waitress at Hooters?

Two reasons. A Hooters Girl is there in the flesh. And she's showing too much of it.

Studying a nude portrait of someone you don't know is not the same as watching a real live woman taking your order for chicken wings. Admiring the beauty of a woman is fine -- unless you're admiring skin she should only reveal to her husband. A portrait of a nude in the Louvre elevates female beauty. Ogling a Hooters Girl reduces a woman to the status of an object.

Let the Hooters people try to tell me they're no different from a museum. The truth is, they're much greasier, and they denigrate the dignity of women. So I've still got a bone to pick with them.

Pass the ranch dressing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

You're beautiful when you dance

Does it matter what men think?

In the history of my unhappiness with my body, my main concern is whether I'm pleasing to the eye of a man. Not that I would EVER Google such a thing, but I hear some women visit sites like, "Men who like small breasts," or "Men who prefer big women." We seek male affirmation.

Is it okay for a woman to wear make-up and nice clothes to catch a man's eye? I think so.

But bottom line:  what a man thinks has nothing to do with my worth as a woman. My value is based entirely on what God thinks of me. And -- this is important -- God's not male. Or female. God is Spirit, and God's opinion is that I have great worth, whatever my shape.

My husband and my seven-year-old will attend a Father-Daughter dance tomorrow. She'll wear a pink dress, and her hair will be fancy. It's good for her to dress up and look lovely. There will be dessert at the dance, too. By the end of the night, she'll have ice cream on the dress, and her hair will be messy. That's okay because her value is in who she is, and God just loves to watch her dance.

So dress up for the ball. But dance until you're sweaty, and don't worry if you drip ice cream on your gown. That's what dry cleaners are for.

God just loves to watch you dance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I can stop at one click . . .

I fell off the wagon last night.

I'd been sober for weeks, but that glass of wine was calling to me. Except it wasn't booze. It was a story on the Internet.

A movie reviewer was raving about how beautiful some celebrity was, what a great body she had. I had to know -- what does she look like? How do I measure up to her? So I clicked. I looked at the photo and compared myself to her.

Where would you have started? Her face, hair, breasts? Waistline? Legs? I'm never happy with my body when I do this.                                 
I have so little self-control. It doesn't help that clicking is free. I pay a fee for Internet service, but I don't pay by the click. Maybe that's good --at least I'm not spending the grocery money on my addiction. But I am paying a price.

So I need your encouragement. And you need mine. When you see a headline that trumpets a star's body, don't read the story. It will only reinforce our culture's skewed idea of beauty and value. Not to mention reducing the celebrity to the status of an object.

And if you find a friend sitting at her computer, struggling with temptation, grab her hand and pull it away from the mouse. Friends don't let friends click on junk.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Barbie's Hip(s)

My daughter and I were cleaning up
her toys last night when I stopped to look at Spotlight Barbie. She's a rock star, and she's wearing metallic silver pants that fit pretty tight. As I stared at the doll I thought, "This girl's got hips!"

Granted, she wasn't terribly wide, but that doll was curvy. She did not have the boyish figure of a runway model. Mattell has responded to criticism that Barbie's body was unrealistic. One report online said if the original Barbie were a real woman, she'd stand 5'9" tall, measure 36-18-33, and she'd have too little body fat to menstruate. But our Spotlight Barbie looked a little more realistic than the dolls I played with in 1980.

Mattell has also added dolls in a variety of professions. Barbie has been a vet, a pilot, an ambassador, etc. I'm glad to see her moving into fields traditionally reserved for men.

Barbie is still thin and beautiful, and perhaps she still contributes to an unrealistic body image. But maybe there is hope for Mattell if their designers will continue to move Barbie toward a figure that is healthier for my daughter to see. I hope she'll branch out to new professions. My area of study is theology, and Mattell has yet to create a theology professor doll. She could wear academic regalia. Place a Hebrew Old Testament in one hand, a Systematic Theology text in the other. Hang a sign around her neck reading, "Will lecture for food." You better lecture a lot, Barbie, because you need to eat more. Theology professors don't make a lot of money, and you could still stand to put on a few pounds. Can I get an amen?