Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Our Obsession with Beauty

This is what showed up under an article I was a reading this morning.  That's right. Two articles are about ways to get skinnier. Three are about women who "weren't pretty enough," so they decided to succumb to someone else's ideal. Two of these women did so primarily for revenge on an ex. The last one is a click bait type article showcasing a scantily clad "sexy" woman. Every single article shares one glaring message: you aren't pretty enough.

I'm a heavyset person.  According to my BMI I am obese.  I wear plus size clothes.  I have dimples around my elbows.  I have an extra half chin.  I have to buy wide shaft boots because my calves are too thick for standard ones.  And yet, a lot of my friends tell me I don't look "too fat." When I had jaw surgery a year and a half ago I lost about 20 lbs.  When I was finally given clearance to chew food again, I told my doctor I would be getting a burger on the way home.  He told me not to go overboard because I didn't want to add all the weight back on I'd lost.  I didn't  realize I felt that way.

I'm becoming more and more aware of the visual obsession in humanity.  I used to say it was just our society, but as I do more research I realize it's been an obsession since the fall of mankind.  Don't believe me?  Check out Genesis 3:6-11

With the fall into sin, mankind became obsessed with appearance.  Using the Bible as the original history book, you will find passage after passage that talks about our obsession with our appearance. Judah's daughter-in-law, Tamar, uses her beauty to trick him into sleeping with her.  Joseph is imprisoned on false charges because his boss' wife thinks he's hot.  David's daughter, who just happens to also be named Tamar, is raped because some slime ball thinks she's pretty. Did I mention the whole Bathsheba episode?  How about Esther and the beauty contest?

The obsession continues in the New Testament.  Jesus called out the men in his sermon on the Mount, saying that if they look lustfully at a woman they've already committed adultery. Here is Romans 1:22-27
Then, there's James chapter 2, 1 Peter 3, and others.
Just a quick glimpse into fashion history will reveal that the Bible isn't the only place where our obsession with appearance shows up.  Cleopatra was considered one of the most beautiful queens. Historians have documented all sorts of beauty rituals she followed.  The Greeks and Romans used vinegar, goat fat and ashes to bleach their hair, as blond hair was considered more beautiful.  From powdered wigs, to crinoline cages, to breaking little girls feet, history comes alive with example after example of mankind chasing an unattainable standard of beauty. Even more recently Hitler's obsession with Aryan Beauty caused the death of millions.
Let's not forget the crowning achievement in the pursuit of beauty: the corset.  They were originally made of iron or animal bones. They were worn with such regularity that women's bones eventually shifted and warped to the shape of the corset.  Even some girls were expected to begin corset training at nine years old so their figures would be the right shape as adults.

Along with our historical obsession with beauty, comes an overbearing sense of shame.  Our sin nature likes to remind us ad nauseam that we aren't good enough.  It's the same attack that forced Adam and Eve to cover themselves with fig leaves.  Ad campaigns like Dove's "Real Beauty" are intended to help us get past our shame, but in light of human history, they are limited in their capacity.

So, where is the hope in all this?  How do we overcome such overwhelming oppression?

First, we must recognize that we are cursed.  You can't break a curse until you admit it actually exists.  I realize this probably sounds very mystical and archaic to some, but it needs to be said.  The curse of sin is real.  Jesus is the curse breaker.  The only way to overcome the curse of sin and death is to admit and accept that we are cursed and then ask Jesus to take it away.

Second, you have to actually believe the curse has been lifted.  You can't think of salvation as a one time deal that just gets you into heaven.  That is not victory over the curse.  Sure, it's nice to know that there is a heaven awaiting you after death, but what about now?  If the crucifixion only covered our ultimate fate post mortem, then why pursue it right now?  Oh sure, there's the whole, "You never know when you might die" argument, but that whole line of thinking comes across kind of pessimistic and fear based.  How is anyone supposed to look at God in a positive light if they are being told that they should ask him for fire-insurance in case of accidental death.  Salvation from the curse is for now, and freedom from shame is just one of the perks.

Third, you have to start renewing your mind.  This isn't a new concept.  Every culture in the world understands this concept.  The Yoga practice of Savasana teaches students to symbolically lie in a death state and let everything negative fall out of us into the floor.  The Hindu's celebrate Dwali as a time of renewal.  The Buddhists have Fusatsu, a time for renewal of vows and purification. There are more.
Let me be clear here: I don't recommend any of these religions.  I think they are like taking ibuprofen to cure cancer. I think they take bits and pieces of God's redemptive plan and elevate them to become just another distraction from true freedom from the curse.  I'm simply showing that mind renewal is not a new concept.

As you allow God to renew your mind, several things will happen.
  • You will begin to see yourself through God's eyes: His beautiful creation, as He intends you to be, not as fashion dictates you should attempt to be.  
  • You'll begin to realize that beauty isn't defined by the rich and famous, but by personal preference. 
  • You will realize that diversity is not just about gender or skin color or sexuality.  It's about everything from the size of someone's calves to the way their eyelids close.  It's about God loving everything He made from Jennifer Aniston to the Duggars to Tess Holliday.  
  • You will not only stop feeling shame for yourself, but you will start to see value in others. The people you once saw as undesirable and unlovable will suddenly have more worth in your eyes.  
These are only a few of the benefits of freedom from the curse of shame.  Everything you do will start to change, even how you eat and exercise. You will stop seeing yourself with the shame of the curse, and begin to see yourself through the eyes of a loving God who wants to have a relationship with you.

If you want to know about how to begin the process of healing or want to share some ways you've found freedom from shame leave me a comment below.