Last week, I asked for some help from women gathering magazines for an assignment I had for one of my classes. I needed to go through women’s magazines (both secular and Christian) and answer the following questions:
How does the culture view women?
Does the media teach us to see women in a particular way?
What was the least desirable portrayal of a woman?
What was the most desirable portrayal of a woman?
Who comes closer to most desirable—secular or Christian magazines?
How would YOU like to be portrayed in the media?
I’ll spare you the 13-page research analysis, but I will share with you some of what I found.
Let’s start with the secular. First I should define what I mean by “secular”. When I refer to the secular magazines, I’m using the language my professor used specifically to mean magazines that have no religious/spiritual basis. Also, I don’t think everything needs to be so divided between secular and spiritual, but for the sake of the research, I hope you can see why I am looking at both from a more compartmentalized view.
Let me just tell you, what I found was exactly what you think I’d find. A lot of articles that promote the message be perfect.
Have the perfect body, the perfect teeth, the perfect skin, the perfect sex life, the perfect career, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect home, etc.
Do this exercise routine and you’ll have a perfect body.
Buy this make up, and you too can have perfect flawless skin.
Wear this perfume, you’ll smell good and feel beautiful.
Use this toothpaste, and your teeth will be white as snow.
Buy these pads, and you can finally do all of your sporty skateboarding tricks perfectly!
Buy this product, wear these clothes, do these exercises and you’ll be perfect! The magazines were flooded with ads for different beauty products that were meant to make you look and feel perfect.
While the magazines are doing well to diversify who is on their cover and in their ads, the message in them all still seemed the same. There were magazines with women on the covers who were models, celebrities, self-proclaimed feminists, and lesbians, yet the message inside was: keep striving for self-actualization and perfection.
These magazines play on the woman’s desire to be beautiful and perfect. They advertise straight to our imperfections, or even worse tell us what is considered an imperfection and what product will fix it (i.e. curly hair and a million products on how to make it straight). The media sends a message that true beauty comes without imperfection. Get the cellulite cream, buy the teeth whitening, and do the workout . . . then you’ll be perfect and beautiful.
It wasn’t just the area of vanity, body image, and fashion that the magazines portrayed women to be perfect in either. There were also articles on meal planning, keeping an organized home, giving bedroom makeovers, etc. that furthered the idea of a perfect woman. Our body not only needs to be perfect to beautiful, so does our home.
True beauty and value can be found in perfection.
At the same time I was doing this little research project, I had my nose in the books studying Genesis 1-2, specifically Imago Dei, and what it means to be created in the image of God. In my understanding of Genesis, both men and women are created in God’s own image. He forms us, creates us, numbers the days on the earth, and calls it good. We have both value and beauty because we are created in God’s image. So I had high hopes that the Christian magazines would offer a different perspective of the “ideal woman”.
The Christian magazines had little advertising for beauty products, much more positive messages about true identity and body image, but spoke a lot to balance. How to balance your life as a mom and career woman. How to schedule in date nights and meal plan. How to raise well rounded children. How to keep your home in order and still make time to serve others.
There seemed to be a different kind of perfect being portrayed here:
Be perfect by finding balance.
Make enough time for you, for God, for your husband, for your kids, for your job, and for serving. These magazines had suggestions for your quiet times, recipes, craft ideas, marriage advice, beating burn out, 10 tips for your prayer life, and more.
Though I think the heart behind these magazines (both secular and Christian) is to help women find their identity and feel beautiful, after I finished looking at both, the word that came to mind was
We all have a tendency to strive for perfection, and that’s the beauty of the Gospel, it liberates us from that! The Gospel tells us we don’t have to strive for perfection, in our body image, in our meal planning, in our fashionable clothing, in our quiet times, in our marriage, etc. We are made perfect through Christ.
We are God’s image bearers. According to Genesis 1-2, He makes us so that we go around reflecting His image on the earth, and our image bearing may not be perfect! We’re not called to perfection; we are called to bear His image, and then made perfect through Christ.
It is through His broken body, that He redeems our bodies.
It is through His beauty, we are made beautiful.
It is His perfection that makes us perfect.
It is His garments of righteousness that we are to wear.
It is in His rest that we are able to beat burnout.
It is in the Communion meal that we are able to find true hospitality and be filled.
I was tired after looking through these magazines because both of them to me said, “keep striving for perfection”. I am tired from striving. I don’t want all of my time, energy, thought life, and money to go toward trying to be perfect. I want rest.
God tells us “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I think Jesus said it best in Matthew 11:28 when He tells us “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I want this kind of rest. I love the way The Message speaks Matthew 11:28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I want women to know this kind of freedom and liberation. I want to know this kind of freedom and liberation from the race of perfection! The kind of freedom from body image that comes in knowing we’re created in His image. The kind of freedom that comes from knowing the value God has placed on us when He knit us in our mother’s womb and called us His own. I want to know the quality of true beauty that comes from reflecting that as His daughters to the world around us.
Don’t let media be the loudest voice in your life for what constitutes true beauty or true womanhood. For those of who will never have flawless skin, six pack abs, the perfect quiet time, and healthy meal plans, would we know the love that’s been lavished on us perfectly in our imperfections, and rest in that.
*Forgive this post for not having perfect pictures, perfect flow, or perfect grammar, I’m giving up perfection today.