Occupy Beauty

How many people are actually as beautiful as the media ideal?  Not too many, I dare say.  A very small percentage, I expect.  I actually don’t know what that percentage might be, but I’m betting if we looked at the worldwide population (and especially if we do something daft like limit the “media ideal” to the North American/European ideal), it might be around 1%.

This of course makes me think about the Occupy movement and the idea of the 1% vs. the 99%.  (I know this is an imperfect analogy, but bear with me.)  The way I see it, the 99% of human beings who are not considered beautiful by the media aren’t therefore automatically ugly, even if that is what the beauty/dieting industries would like us to believe.

So I think the 99% of non-media-beauties need to Occupy Beauty.

Own your own beauty.  Recognize it.  Embrace it.  Celebrate it.

Better yet, learn to own the beauty in others as well.  Recognize the beauty in other human beings.  Embrace it.  Celebrate it.

Because all human beings have beauty in them—and I’m not just talking about “inner beauty,” either, whatever that’s supposed to be. I’m talking about physical beauty.  I truly believe that if we open up our eyes and really look at one another, we will see the beauty in every human being.

People of every age, every race, every ability, every size, every health level are beautiful.  People with scars, people with skin conditions, people who are tall, people who are short, those who are fat, those who are thin, those who have four limbs, those who have less: we are all beautiful.

I’m not talking about some kind of philosophical aesthetics here.  There are people who have spilled a lot of ink on the nature of Beauty.  Psychologists will tell you about how babies prefer pictures of faces that are more symmetrical than others.  I’m not trying to deny that there are people who are aesthetically more pleasing to look at than others.

What I’m trying to say is that human beings aren’t art objects.  We shouldn’t be judged by the philosophies of aesthetics.  A sculpture that lacks aesthetic qualities can be called ugly or deemed to be “not art.”  But a human being should never have their worth demeaned simply because they didn’t have the genetic good fortune to be symmetrical and have, I don’t know, “great bone structure” or something.

As a follower of Jesus, I find human value in the fact that we are all made in the image of God.  When you think about that, it’s pretty neat.  Despite the absolutely mind-boggling amount of diversity in human appearances, each one of us is made in the image of God (which probably says something amazing about the nature of God).  In my mind, that automatically makes us all beautiful.

Here’s the really neat part: in the Occupy Beauty movement, there is no “us” and “them.”  In many cases, being a part of the 1% isn’t the great privilege that it’s supposed to be.  Those who look like media beauties are often subject to more criticism about their appearances, and they especially suffer from the fear that that privilege of Being Beautiful might at any time be taken away from them (cue the Keats poetry).

But the 1% have the same right to Occupy Beauty as the 99%.  They, too, are—of course—made in the image of God and therefore are beautiful according to that standard.  When we recognize and celebrate the beauty in one another, we brush away the differences that are meant to keep us apart.

For I believe that it is not actually the 1% who are trying to maintain their position of privilege over and above the 99%.  I believe it is the beauty/dieting industry that is trying to keep the 99% in a place where we are always striving after that illusive 1% ideal, for the simple reason that they want to profit by our pain.

So, I implore you to fight any message that tells you, “You aren’t beautiful.”  Fight it with every fibre of your being.  Because you are beautiful, just as you are.  You don’t need anything—clothes, cosmetics, diets, anti-aging creams, muscle-building powders, hair dyes, whatever—to make you beautiful.

Today and every day, then, find a way to Occupy Beauty.

Body Size Discrimination and the Church

From a Christian perspective, discrimination on the basis of body size/shape is especially heinous.  We are called to love all people, sinners and redeemed-sinners (otherwise known as the saints) alike.  We are called to love them because they are made in the image of God.  I think, however, that healthism is creeping into the Church, preventing us from loving some of our neighbours—or our brothers and sisters in Christ—as well as we are called to do.

Now, you might argue, loving overweight people means helping them to become healthy.  Yes, yes it does.  But consider this quote from Dr. Jon Robison:

“Health can be redefined as the manner in which we live well despite our inescapable illnesses, disabilities, and trauma.”

Robison makes a very Christian point here, whether he intended it or not.  One of the things we know as Christians is that there was a Fall.  Human beings, though made in the image of God, are now dying beings, experiencing the on-going effects of the first sin.  Our brokenness means that we will suffer disease and illness, that some of us will be born with physical or mental challenges, that we can be injured and maimed, and that we can make mistakes when it comes to taking good care of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live.

We also know, however, that we are being redeemed.  Our world, our selves, and our relationships with God and others are all part of that ongoing redemption.  When we interact with someone, we are interacting with them both as children created in the image of God and as people who can be or are being redeemed.

Health is a part of that redemption.  But it behooves us to note that, in some cases, ideal health (whatever that might look like) will never be possible.  No matter how virtuously a cancer patient lives her life, she may still die young.  No matter how hard a blind person prays, he might not receive healing.  Someone with a chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis lives as well as he can despite the pain and difficulty associated with the brokenness of his body.  Regardless of how often a fat person tries to lose weight, statistics tell us that in 95% of cases, the weight will be regained (sometimes with interest) within 2-5 years.

So, encouraging someone to live a healthy life sometimes means accepting that their body will not be made perfect on this side of the general resurrection, and that, frankly, we don’t know what perfect will look like on the other side.  Helping someone live a healthy life means helping them to love themselves well.  It means helping them to see that their bodies are giving them cues about what to eat and when and how much.  It means helping them to find healthy and pleasurable ways to move their bodies so that they are experiencing fullness of life.

It means not judging someone because they go to the gym and then have an ice cream afterwards.  Instead, why not complement them for going to the gym?  It means that you welcome people of all abilities and sizes into a physical event—whether sports or dancing or gardening or otherwise—and make sure that everyone is having fun and no one gets hurt.  It means affirming someone as made in the image of God and helping them to find abundant life in the body which God gave to them, even as that body is marked by the brokenness of the Fall.

Objectification and Theology: Part 3

Is Christian theology strong enough to help women fight back the pressures of objectification?

I believe it is.  I believe that if we look into the Christian story, we will find a narrative that describes all the ways that God has said, “Yes!” to human bodies.  And if God is saying, “yes”, then who am I to say, “no”?

As we explore this topic, I will touch on the following areas:

  • Creation: God gave human beings bodies, and said that they are good
  • Incarnation: God loved human bodies so much that He took one for Himself
  • Resurrection: The body of Jesus didn’t stay dead, and He didn’t come back as a ghost
  • Ascension: The body of Jesus is ALIVE and IN HEAVEN right now
  • General Resurrection: All our bodies are going to be raised up to new life

I think that if we can come to believe that all these things are true, then we will be able to fight back against the forces that want to treat us as objects.  We will find worth for ourselves that transcends our bodies but doesn’t leave those bodies behind, either.

Feminism has rightly accused Christianity of treating bodies in general, and women’s bodies in particular, as if they were bad.  I hope to defend Christianity against that charge, even as I admit that some Christian thought has definitely contributed to the damage that women are suffering.

I hope instead to offer a Christian theology that tells the story of the goodness of the human body, the equality of women, and the amazing hope that all Jesus-followers have for an eternity of embodied awesomeness.

The God who created us wants us to be whole persons: body, mind, and soul.  I believe that without reservation.

I also know that a lot of damage has been done to women in the way they relate to others, to themselves, and to God.  Objectification is a cancer that is spreading through our culture, but I hope that if enough of us can learn to fight it, then it will someday be stopped.

Men, please don’t feel left out or accused.  You are victims of this culture of objectification as well.  You are increasingly becoming victims of objectification yourselves, and you have learned destructive ways of relating to women’s bodies and to your own bodies because of objectification.  I know that not all men are complicit in objectification, either.  Many of you are fighting for the rights of women to be treated as subjects, and that is very, very exciting.  I hope that you, too, can learn something about how much God loves you, body and soul.

Nachos with a side of legs?

Several months ago, I went out for food with friends from church.  We went to a local pub renowned for its tasty nibblies.  It is also a sports bar.  I mentioned that I’d never been there before, and one of my friends said that some of the guys from church liked to go there after services on a Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a good place to come watch the games, I suppose,” I said, trying to deduce what would bring the men from our Baptist church to a bar after service.

“Yeah,” she said, her voice laced with irony, “and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the length of their skirts.”  Just then, I caught sight of one of the waitresses.  My mouth curled sardonically.  The woman (girl?) was wearing a skirt too short to sit down in and a baby-doll t-shirt with the restaurant’s name emblazoned on the front.

“Ah, yes,” I said, letting my disappointment and frustration fall silent on my lips.

I know it’s considered normal behaviour for men to come to a bar to ogle the waitresses.  I know that Christian men don’t (can’t?) always exempt themselves from normal.

But they should.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to expect them to live up to better behaviour.  I mean, these waitresses know what they’re getting into, right?  They’re laying it on a plate, so why shouldn’t someone order the dessert cart?

But Christian men should be expected to show better behaviour.  When a man looks at a woman as a sex object—even if she is complicit in behaving as a sex object—he has taken away her humanity.  Objectification creates objects.  It takes a living, breathing human being with hopes, dreams, family, friends, ambitions, and so on, and turns her into a thing.  Everything that makes her a unique person with a unique personality is stripped away and she becomes a set of legs, a pair of breasts, or a perfectly shaped bottom.

Anyone who follows Jesus Christ should be ashamed to treat any human being as a thing.  Every person is made in the image of God, and it is our responsibility as those who are following Jesus to treat them as image-bearers.  Treating them instead as objects that titillate our desires is reprehensible.  It doesn’t matter if it’s something that culture treats as normal.  It doesn’t matter that the women involved may have chosen to dress that way, act that way.  Your responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to treat them the way that Jesus would treat them: as children of a loving Father who wants them to grow in faithfulness and to live an abundant life filled with obedience to the Spirit.

We are called to treat them as people, not as things.

It bothers me to think that brothers with whom I worship on a Sunday morning treat any women as objects, because it makes me question how they treat me and my sisters.  Do they respect us?  Do they see us as sisters, made in the image of God, following side-by-side with them as we try to be more like Jesus?

All people deserve the humanity which God gave to them.  I urge my brothers to treat all women, Christians and non-Christians, wives and daughters, sisters and mothers, as human beings, made in God’s image, as deserving of respect and honour as any man.  To my brothers who are going to the bar to watch women as much as watch the game (if not more), I would strongly suggest that they search their hearts, lay them before God, and ask God to shape those hearts according to His will.  Then find another place to watch the game.  You are not showing those waitresses the love of God by treating them as objects.  You are dehumanizing them, and in the process you are dehumanizing yourselves.

*Note, please consider this post gender-reversible, too.  I would suggest to women who are learning the bad habit of objectifying men from movies like Magic Mike or the Twilight series, to search their own hearts.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  You too can treat a man as an object, and it’s exactly as destructive as it is when they treat us like objects.