Monday, September 8, 2008

Total Package?

A phrase I've seen and heard used quite a bit lately. In context, it's referring to Governor Sarah Palin and how she's apparently 'got it all'. Looks, charm, intelligence, strong values, patriotic, sense of humor, etc., so on and so forth. To a lot of people, Sarah Palin is simply the total package. I'm sure her husband feels the same way. I'd be willing to bet a year's worth of chocolate however, that in a one-on-one girl talk, she'd have a list of faults & flaws about herself that might just rival your own list of faults and flaws. Us women usually do have such a list, as much as we'd like not to.

a well travelled packageAs I continued to see and hear this phrase being used recently, it made me think of how the vast majority of American and Canadian women (and maybe European too, I'm not really sure how the culture operates there) definitely do not see themselves this way, but rather see themselves as the damaged package. Chalk it up to slick media influence if you like, but I suppose this kind of prevailing attitude on what beauty or attractiveness is, or isn't has been around since Adam and Eve's kids first began to have attitudes about things. Media influence has only served to influence attitudes we already had to begin with.

While I certainly can't speak for all women, I think it's fair to say I can speak for many when I say we are pressured by culture to definitely not feel comfortable in our own skin, have an extremely low opinion about the current body image we have, and often find ourselves either giving in to the pressure of cultural standards or battling against it.

You may have just read that and completely disagreed, and that's GREAT! I'm glad you're one of the women completely unaffected by all this nonsense. For the rest of us, it's a struggle. We need to lose weight, wear this brand, use that mascara, purchase this eye cream, take these vitamins, spend a day at that spa, use that shampoo and on and on and on the list goes. We have to be thinner, leaner, more toned, faster, smarter, new and improved every time we turn around. From the coffee/tea we drink in the morning to the hand cream we use to the number on the scale and the wrinkles around the eyes, we're told all day long that we have to IMPROVE, constantly. The message that comes through loud and clear and neverending is: you are not good enough the way you are, right now.

Now, I'm not at all against getting or staying in shape, or using a better product if it works for you. We all like to look better and feel better and there's nothing wrong with that at all. What does bother me, is the idea that so many of us women are told so often that we MUST improve, that many of us simply do not feel like we ever measure up, in various ways.

I remember as a girl, the way I thought about things. Kids are usually rather simplistic and uncomplicated, and thats the way I was too. If someone had asked me what my "body image" was, I would have answered "yes, I have one." That would have been it for me, as I couldn't have cared less about such things. The first time I do remember having a strange thought or feeling about my appearance, I was about 12 years old and overheard a teenage girl jealously comment about my dark summer tan. I have the kind of skin that does tan very well, and her comment fueled my immature, 12 yr old ego, like mad. I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that it's not still a bit of a temptation sometimes even at 43, to go bake myself in the summer sun for a day and get a deep golden tan. There are a lot of very good reasons I don't do it, but the truth of the matter is, it does feel nice to be complimented on things like that. The struggle for me is the idea of the persuit of the compliment. I have to ask myself "why would I want to feel like I'm being affirmed by such things?". I'm no more immune to the society we live in than anyone else is, I just know it's a toxic society and I try hard to keep these things in perspective.

I think what bothers me the most about such things, is that many young girls and women (young and old) just don't know how to balance these things in a healthy way. The extreme obsession with image and appearance takes the form of repeated cosmetic surgeries (if affordable) and absolute obsessive thought and effort to "improve" in other ways. Sometimes those other ways take the form of dangerous eating disorders, or obsessive discussions or thoughts about how one's nose is too big or their hind end is too wide or something else is too this or not enough that. How many have heard someone say "I hate the way I look" or "I hate my hair" or something else along those lines? I certainly have, and I would be willing to bet you have too. I've even said those things myself, not that I'm proud to admit it or anything.

The saddest thing of all in all this, is that we (women especially) allow cultural or societal standards dictate to us our general value or worthiness as a person, based on our outward appearance and general impression people have of us. People that don't even know us, or have a clue what we're like when no one's looking.

Many of you reading will remember the Farrah Fawcett poster. Yes, that one. Hair salons all over North America were swarmed with females from 10 to 60 going for that hairstyle, and that bathing suit became the hot seller that summer. It was only a small slice of female society that could pull that look off, but you saw the hairstyle AND the bathing suit everywhere you went that summer. Females were convinced that this was the new standard of beauty and if you looked different, you didn't measure up. This is but one example in the thousands or tens of thousands of ways we're influenced by the message of culture.

Most girls never want to hear that their true beauty is the character they possess on the inside. That is SUCH an old fashioned thing to say, and we all know that cute boys are not looking for astounding character. Young women are for the most part, absolutely brainwashed into believing that they MUST look "hot" for anyone to notice them or care about them, and even older women are not immune to this way of thinking. They get this message from the culture we live in, and the message of inner beauty and godly character is all but drowned out in the minds, hearts and lives in so many of our young women. Many of those young women mature into adulthood with this same attitude and go on to be a slave to it until they get old (and fight that off with all their ability too!) Sixty is the new fourty? NO, sixty is still sixty just like it's always been, even if society tells us it's okay for a sixty year old woman to dress like a twenty five year old. It doesn't make the older woman look younger, it just makes her look like an older woman trying desperately to hang onto her youth. It's quite sad, actually when you realize that her beauty and her image is essentially her false god and she cannot see past it.

I'm the mother of six beautiful girls and one very handsome son. I've told and will continue to tell them all, that they are perfectly made exactly the way God wanted them to be made. They are all different from each other in many ways. Some of my kids are super thin and always have been, some are heavier set and always have been. Some are blonde, some are brunette, some have green eyes like their mom, and some have blue eyes. Only one of them has a turned up nose like mine, and some have a cute little cleft in their chin like grandma, and like great-grandpa. Some have dark circles under their eyes, some are athletic some are bookworms. All of them have deep laugh lines like me, and I find that rather adorable in their faces. All of them are different, all of them are beautiful and all of them are made in the image of God. I never want any of them to become a slave to the message of culture that tells them their value is dependant on thier outward appearance, since we all know that is such a horrendous lie. You can be a heavy person and simply beautiful, and you can be a well packaged thin person and as ugly as the day is long - and we all know people just like this. Outward appearance fades, while inward character grows and matures over our lifetimes.

This is a battle nearly all women face, and nearly all mothers face too, as we bring up our kids to understand what is real, what matters, and what's of eternal value. It's a rough battle, to be sure.

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