Beauty


 

In the hearts of women and men everywhere, there lies the myth of the perfect woman.  She is beautiful, put together, and does it all. We think we see glimpses of her–When Martha Stewart displays the perfect meal. When a mom drops her kid off at school, looking completely unruffled with flawless make up, as if every morning is a breeze. Or when we see a women at the grocery store, in her “after the gym” attire,” yet it doesn’t look like she even broke a sweat and she has a body that makes you think she doesn’t even need the gym.

We see glimpses in TV ads and shows, that tell us “she’s out there, you just have to change these twenty things about you, and you will be just like her.”

From the time we received our first Barbie doll, we have been bombarded with the image of the perfect women, making us believe she exists.  But have you ever noticed that this perfect woman–who doesn’t have PMS, mood swings, or insecurities–also doesn’t have a voice?

The women who portray her on TV, are only following a script and rarely does it reveal the true heart of a woman.  The media, our society, and even the organized church have given us one dimensional views–though different–of what a woman can be, do or care about. Rarely do they truly speak to the complexities that we face in the world and inside of ourselves.

So often, I hear the phrase that women want to “have it all.”  It is thrown around as if we are selfish, driven, myopic beings. Some of us are, yet the majority of us just want to be able to share with the world all that is inside of us.  Some of us want to use our talents and abilities in the business world. Others of us want to take on the heroic task of nurturing children by being mothers. Some of us want both. We are artists, leaders, teachers, ministers, businesswomen, writers, etc.–who are trying to give life to what is inside of us, while also trying to live up to the cultural expectations that we should become the mythical “perfect woman.”

In her article, Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect, the president of Barnard College, Debora Spar writes:

“…we are laboring…under a double whammy of impossible expectations—the old-fashioned ones (to be good mothers and wives, impeccable housekeepers and blushing brides) and those wrought more recently (to be athletic, strong, sexually versatile, and wholly independent). The result? We have become a generation desperate to be perfect wives, mothers, and professionals—Tiger Moms who prepare organic quinoa each evening after waltzing home from the IPO in our Manolo Blahnik heels. Even worse, we somehow believe that we need to do all of this at once, and without any help.”

So, what do we do as women who are being measured by–or measuring ourselves up to–this mythical creature? What do we do as women who have so much in our hearts that we are striving to make into a reality?

I believe, we need to start speaking.

We need to start using our voices to speak truth into the lies the mythical woman would have us believe. We need to begin living into our own skin and encouraging others to do the same. We need to start telling the world the truth about us women, rather than letting the world tell us who we are.  And, we need to give each other permission to talk about when we have failed, because when we do, I am sure we will discover we are not alone.

I also believe, we need to let some things go.

Rather than trying to make all of our dreams become reality, we need to pick the most meaningful ones and seek to give them life. We need to accept that we aren’t humanly able to look like, be and do all that “perfect woman” image tells us is possible.  Rather than trying to do it all, we need to be OK, when some things get dropped.

As much as we all would like to believe we are Superwoman, we are not.  She is fiction, and we are reality.

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Today, as we close out our week on Body Image, I want to share five fabulous women’s stories or words on body image that inspire me. I hope they inspire you too!

“People always ask me, ‘You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?’ It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl … It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see. Your body is your temple, it’s your home, and you must decorate it.”

—Gabourey Sidibe, actress in Precious

In the blog world…(these are some incredible reads!)

Sarah Bessey writes a letter to her daughters, promising not to call herself fat.

Pam Hogeweide explains why she can’t write a love letter to her body.

Enuma Okoro writes “These are Our Bodies Broken for You” at She Loves Magazine.

“…I can say that I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something. Then again, maybe you have been sick, or gone through surgery that has changed the way you look. You have gotten glimpses of your body as you have bathed or changed clothes, but so far maintaining your equilibrium has depended on staying covered up as much as you can…This can only go on so long…”

-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p.37-38

This past Monday, on her new talk show, Katie Couric talked openly about her struggle with Bulimia that lasted through college and into her twenties. Because Katie has always seemed so put together, Fox News asks is this the “Most Surprising Celeb Confession?”  They say that they “didn’t see it coming.”

Yet many of us women know better.

Whether “put together” in the eyes of others, or a little rough around the edges, very few of us have made it to where we are today, without at least some insecurities about our physical form.  We have body issues that often come back to haunt us in different seasons of our lives.  Many of us have at least approached experiencing what Barbara Brown Taylor describes as a “loathing for your body.”

Blame it on the media, an ignorant comment a kid made in Jr. High, or on our tendency to compare ourselves with the women around us–whatever propelled us, each of us has traveled down the path of body discontentment.  And many of us have gone as far as hurting ourselves physically or emotionally.

All of this, I believe, breaks the heart of God.

In Genesis 1:27-31, we find that God created us in His image, and saw that He created us good.

In Psalm 139, God revealed to David, that He created our “innermost being” and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

And in I Corinthians 6:19, we are that our bodies are meant to be temples.

But often, it feels as if the world we grew up in as women, is screaming otherwise.

So Barbara Brown Taylor invites us to pray.

But not just anywhere or any how. She encourages us to pray in front of the mirror, naked. Now, I will admit, I haven’t done it (I am all for baby steps).  But I do believe that she has a point–our struggles with our bodies “can only go on for so long.”

We can only believe the lies that tell us we are not pretty enough, thin enough, curvy enough, tall enough or short enough, for so long.  

And so we need to pray. We need to look in the mirror and pray.

Because of past weight struggles and believing I was ugly for all of my adolescence, I admit I haven’t been able to do the naked part yet.  But lately, after I am done getting ready for the day, I have made myself look in the mirror a little bit longer.  And as I look, I am beginning to ask:

“Ok God, what do you see?”

The answer, I am sensing, is far better than I think.

“Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.”

-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p.38

 

I didn’t have any confidence in my beauty when I was young. I felt like a character actress, and I still do.

–Meryl Streep, age 63

 

“My appearance has changed a lot over the years, but it has far more to do with how I feel about being a woman. I`ve never thought of myself as vain. When I was at Cambridge, I shaved my head and wore baggy clothes. It was partly to do with the feminism of that time: militant and grungy. That`s all changed now, though I don`t think it is liberating to get your tits out. I don`t hold with that. But I am much more comfortable with being a woman now than I was in my twenties.” 

–Emma Thompson, age 53

 

“Now all of a sudden I’m so less interested in pretending to be a lot of other people, and much more interested in being me.” 

–Jamie Lee Curtis, age 53

 

 

 “There were times when I hated my nose. But you grow up and you start to recognize that maybe it wasn`t a bad thing that you weren`t born Barbie.”

–Anjelica Huston, age 61

 

Why does it seem to be the common experience of women to spend most of our lives feeling ashamed of our body or looks?  Why do so many of us silently struggle with our size, nose, or smile? Why do we feel somehow that we will never measure up?–That we will never fit the definition of beauty?

Sure, we could go on for hours and days talking about the media’s part, the cultural messages we are sent, and the billions of photoshopped images of women that are in our faces every day.

Yes, all of these things have played a pretty big part.

But why have we believed them? Why are these women in their fifties and sixties saying they are just beginning to accept themselves? And rarely do I hear women in their twenties and thirties being able to say the same?

What is the switch that needs to be turned on inside of us as women, that will enable us to fully accept ourselves, imperfections and all?

I don’t want to wait until I am fifty, forty-five, or even a few years from now when I am thirty-five; I don’t want to wait any longer to begin embracing the body, personality, and heart that God has given me.

And, wherever you are on this journey, I don’t want you to have to wait either.

What step can we take today, to begin to embrace ourselves a little bit more?

This Friday’s Fabulous Female is an author, civil-rights activist, a mother, an actress, an educator, a playwright and much more. Yet perhaps what makes her most famous is her poetry that she has recited in venues all over the world, including President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

I was first “introduced” to this incredible women in High School, when, for summer reading, I was assigned her book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.Today’s Fabulous Female is none other than Dr. Maya Angelou.

In my own immaturity, the summer I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I couldn’t understand why our school would have us read a book in which someone experienced so much brokenness. In the book, Angelou chronicles the first seventeen years of her life in which she was a victim of racism and rape, in which she struggled to find her voice, and in which she became a single mom at the age of seventeen.

What I didn’t understand then, was that Angelou was giving us an incredible example of what it looks like to not only survive the brokenness we all face in life, but to continue singing even when we find ourselves caged in. And she has continued that example by going on to live an awe-inspiring life.

As a young woman, she toured Europe as an actress, studied modern dance, and was a part of the Harlem Writers Guild. For a year she lived in Cairo, Egypt, where she was the editor of The Arab Observer. A year later, she was in Ghana, teaching at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, writing for The Ghanian Times, and serving as feature editor for The African Review.   She mastered French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and the West African language, Fanti.  During her time in Ghana, she met Malcom X. She served with both he and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil-Rights movement.

Later, she wrote I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and over 30 bestselling fiction and non-fiction books.  She has written screenplays and scores, and appeared in Famous Films such as Alex Haley’s Roots and Poetic Justice.  She is now eight-four years old, and she is not done living.

When I read her biography, I couldn’t help but think of St. Irenaeus’s words when he said “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  Maya Angelou has lived and served humanity all over the world.  She has given us an example of what it means to be a strong, feminine leader who shares her gifts and talents fully.  When she recites her poetry, she gives voice to the human condition, touching people where they feel their greatest pains, joys, injustices, and victories.

There is much more to her story,  and I don’t feel a blog post can fully capture it. So I believe it is best to leave you with an invitation to see her interviewed, and to hear her recite her poem, “Phenomenal Woman” that celebrates what it means to be Fabulously Female.

On Monday, I asked: “What would it take–not just to love our bodies–but to actually like them too?” And I promised to share one way that I have begun a cease-fire with the battles I have waged with my body.

In the past eight months, I have begun to “wage peace,” by asking a simple question:

What can my body do? 

It all began when my husband–who is a lot more athletic than I am–wanted us to begin exercising regularly.  I agreed, knowing that exercise can make you feel good and better about yourself.  But then, when we started, all these thoughts came flooding in: “How many calories did I burn?”  “How often will I have to work out to lose weight?”  “Maybe I can be thinner for my sister’s wedding?”

These thoughts started to become consuming, I was at war once again.  And when I am at war, I start praying.  As I prayed, some better questions emerged:

“Why does exercise always become about losing weight?”

“What does it look like to take care of my body without obsessing over it?–Without trying to make it into something it’s not?”

and finally:

“What does it look like to Celebrate What is?”

In the past, when I tried exercising, I always gave up because it was about becoming something I am not–rather than celebrating and taking care of what I am.  This time however, it has been different. My focus has shifted.

When I am at the gym it’s not “How many calories can I burn?”  or “How fast can I run?” (which still isn’t fast) It is “What can I do today?” and “Can I do more than I have before?”

This practice of shifting my focus onto what I can do, has not only helped me with exercise, it has also shifted how I see my body in all areas of my life.

I have two legs that can get me where I need to go.

I have two hands that can bake bread to feed people.

I have two arms that embrace those that need a hug.

I have a body that is healthy, which means I can enjoy new experiences.

When I focus on what my body is and what it can do, all of a sudden it is my friend again. My reflection in the mirror is no longer my enemy.  The battle has ceased.

Does this mean the war is over? –that I am successful at this every day? No.  But it does mean that by Celebrating What Is, there are more battles that I have won.

What do you have to celebrate?

 

This past weekend I went clothes shopping.  I walked into one of those stores where you admire the clothes on display upfront, and then make your way to the clearance section in the back, because those prices are a little more realistic.  But before making it to the back, I found a display for “skinny” jeans whose style names were “pencil stick” and “matchstick.”  And all I could think was:

“When are they going to start making clothes for real people?”

Because our culture has elevated one body type above the rest, our worth and beauty has been boiled down to a number on a scale and the size of our clothes. Never mind that our body weight is always fluctuating, that clothing size is relevant to the store its found in, and that God decided to create us a in variety of body types–it’s still, always “less is more.”  The lower the number on the scale, the “skinnier” the pair of jeans, the better.

Really?

You and I have gone over this before (just not together). We know in our heads, on some level, that this system of measuring our beauty and worth is faulty, and yet–we live as if it is Truth.

Some of us are conscious of our weight all the time.  Some of us have developed coping mechanisms in which we try to ignore our bodies as much as possible.

Up until about four or five years ago, I could have won a gold medal in that latter category.  Some days, I could still at least win a bronze.  What I have found to be the problem for me, is that by buying into our culture’s limited definition of beauty and what it means to be a woman, I have turned against myself.

By believing that beauty looks like fitting into skinny jeans–I have taken the possibility of being beautiful, off the table. I have turned my reflection in the mirror into my enemy–because it won’t squeeze into a pair of “matchsticks,” no matter how much exercise I do or food I don’t eat.  In this frame of mind, my body and my spirit are at war.

For years, my body was something I hated, something I hid under large shirts and sweaters. I became really good at taking care of other people so that I didn’t have to take care of myself. And the interesting thing is that my story is a common one.

Whether you have ignored your body or never taken your eye off the scale, have you too, been at war?

What would it take for us to call a cease-fire within ourselves?

What would it take–not just to love our bodies–but to actually like them too?

If we are going to Redefine Female, the journey begins within.  It begins with what we choose to believe about beauty and our own bodies.

Wednesday, I am going to share one way I have begun a cease-fire within myself, and if you have any ways that are helping you, I would love to hear them!

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