Women and The Media

IMG_4207-0

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.

IMG_4208

Buy this make up, and you too can have perfect flawless skin.

IMG_4212

Wear this perfume, you’ll smell good and feel beautiful.

IMG_4211

Use this toothpaste, and your teeth will be white as snow.

IMG_4216

Buy these pads, and you can finally do all of your sporty skateboarding tricks perfectly!

IMG_4217

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.

4

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

Rest

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.

Advertisements

Learning to Kiss the Wave

Wave

I walked into a room full with nearly 300 women, hungry, eager, craving to connect to each other and learn from God’s Word. I couldn’t believe my eyes–it was my greatest fantasy come true! 

We started off by going around the table to introduce ourselves. One by one, each of them shared who they were by sharing about their job, the number of years they’ve been married, and the number of children they have. At a table of 12 women, I realized I was the only one without children. 

While they were proudly identifying with their motherhood, I was becoming more aware of my barrenness…and began identifying with fear and insecurity. Immediately, I thought, “How do I get out of this? Can I run? Can I hide under the table? Can I fake an illness? Maybe I’ll just pretend to pass out, or that I’m receiving a phone call–quick, woman, think!!!” 

When my turn inevitably came around, I skipped over the awkward by identifying myself as “not a ballerina” and confessing my addiction to books.

I’m just so clever when I’m forced to think on my feet. 

We moved on to the next woman, and no one noticed we never got to the question about children for me–I never had to say the words, “I have no children.

WHILE THEY WERE PROUDLY IDENTIFYING WITH THEIR MOTHERHOOD, I WAS BECOMING MORE AWARE OF MY BARRENNESS…AND BEGAN IDENTIFYING WITH FEAR AND INSECURITY.

After months of being at peace with infertility (mostly out of relief from stopping all the crazy doctor stuff and my hormones finally weren’t raging anymore) the grief, the shame, the embarrassment, the insecurity, and the awareness all resurfaced again that day.

I watched a new mom holding her tiny newborn, another woman walk by with her baby bump, and another begin to nurse. I felt so alone.

Alone. Outcast. Different. Insecure.

Seems like most days walking through infertility isn’t so hard. Most days, it’s not even on my mind. It’s just a “not yet” or a “someday, LORD willing,” hope-filled thought. Then there are days where I am surrounded by hundreds of moments that remind me of what I am not, days where grief comes like a tidal wave. In Sara Hagerty’s book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, the author talks about her journey through infertility and reminds us that “grief’s tide can’t be predicted.” She shares how grief is like rain; some days have a light drizzle that you hardly notice, other days a gushing downpour.

Usually, in my suffering, I want to run away and feel sorry for myself. I want to believe the lie that I am an outcast, a leper, that no one, no one, understands. I feel alone and start believing the lies that my story is unique and my pain is too severe for anyone to understand. Rather than going to God in those moments and looking upward, I pull away and start looking inward.

MY IDENTITY DOESN’T RESIDE IN MY JOB, MY MARRIAGE, AND MY BARRENNESS.  MY IDENTITY IS IN CHRIST.

Most of us want to run from our pain–it’s only natural. We touch something hot, we pull back; we get a headache, we pop an Advil. We don’t naturally desire to lean into the pain. But God’s way is supernatural. And that day, my heart was breaking and being comforted at the same time. 

I didn’t expect the grief to come that day. Infertility was something I thought I was at peace with–a light drizzle in the background–but instead, the grief came as a full on hurricane, overcoming me like a tidal wave.

As I fought to keep from believing lies, I was reminded of the gospel. I am not an outcast, I have been grafted in (Rom. 11). I am not forgotten or alone, I am chosen and loved (Eph. 1:4). I am not a product of my past mistakes or being punished for my past sin, I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). My identity doesn’t reside in my job, my marriage, and my barrenness.  My identity is in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon is quoted saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages,” and it’s true; I am never more aware of God than when I’m drowning in the midst of pain and overwhelmed by circumstances outside of my control. It’s through the pain and grief that I’m pushed up close to the presence of God.

I HAVE LEARNED TO KISS THE WAVE THAT SLAMS ME INTO THE ROCK OF AGES

Suffering isn’t meant to knock us over; it’s meant to anchor us in. Pain takes us to a deeper place of healing, sending us to our very knees, where we can know the God of all comfort and the Prince of Peace in ways we never thought possible. Though we may often wish suffering away, God uses it to draw us near. 

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. (Hebrews 6:17-19a)

I’m learning to trust His purpose, not my plan.
I’m learning to find refuge in His love, not in trying to control my circumstance.
I’m learning to hunger for more of God, not for more of my own comfort or the comfort from others.
I’m learning to lean in, rather than pull back
I’m learning to hold fast to the hope set before me, in the midst of the storm.
I’m learning to anchor my soul to the Rock of Ages.

I’m learning to kiss the wave.

One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  (Proverbs 27:7).

*This post was originally published at SelfTalktheGospel.com. You can read more of my articles here.

Infertility Awareness Week

20140425-122141.jpg
April 24th-30th is “National Infertility Week”. Since I started writing about infertility, women have contacted me and come out from hiding to process their pain. Women who’d rather be at the park pushing their kids in swings with everyone else and are instead sitting in a doctor’s office or in front of a computer trying to figure out “what’s wrong with me”.  Women who are a part of a club they never wanted to be invited to. Women who are sitting in this, silently suffering, through grief, shame, embarrassment, and confusion. Women who are figuring out what it’s like to lean into this, to lean into God, and put one foot in front of the other.

It’s overwhelming when I think about the number of women who have walked this road, and are currently walking it, and still feel like there’s not safe place to bring their pain. It can be isolating, hopeless, and devastating.

And I realize I every time I write about infertility I am making myself vulnerable to the many comments that will come my way. Some that sting, some that soothe, and some that leave me comforting others because they grieve deeply for me!  However, I know that many of you out there are hurting and can never speak up or share. So for you, I’m sharing some things that have helped me along the way.

1. Don’t isolate. It is hard enough going through this, but to go through it alone can spiral you into hopelessness and depression. Find others who have walked this road and meet with them. Have your people you trust to love you and pray for you and share with them when you’re hurting.

2. Choose your community wisely. The whole world doesn’t need to about this either. I sometimes regret blogging about this because it’s opened me up to anyone who’s read my blog to speak into my life about it. It’s healing for me to write, but there are really a handful of people that I share the details with. The ones who know about my doctor’s appointments, treatments, etc. And they’re people who will push me closer to God and pray me through it, not just feel sorry for me or ask how I’m doing to know the gossipy details. They’re people who truly care and truly pray.

3. Go through it together. I made the mistake in the beginning of going to doctor’s appointments alone. The first appointment I had with the fertility specialist, I thought he was just going to ask a few routine questions, instead he had read me the results of my tests, shared my diagnosis and told me as I sat covered in a tissue-paper blanket, I have a 1-2% chance of ever conceiving. The walls started to close in on me. I realized I should never be sitting in those appointments alone after that. So now, even though it’s terribly inconvenient for my husband, we go the appointments together.

4. Give yourself space. I sat down with a friend who has walked this road, and now has 4 children, awhile ago and she was so helpful in reminding me to care for myself through this. She told me the week I’m going through treatment, set aside time for myself. Get a pedicure, take a nap, whatever it may be. It’s physically and emotionally draining and it’s okay to do something for yourself through this.

5. Let Go of Control. Ugh. This is the biggest lesson in all of this. We can’t give way to worry and try to control every little circumstance. It puts too much pressure on our end. I never gave way to charting, taking my temperature, and obsessively taking ovulation kits. We can’t overanalyze and control every little thing through this process. We must be willing to release and surrender, otherwise we make ourselves crazy.

6. Seek Peace. Seek the God of circumstance, not the way out of the circumstance. I had lunch with a friend and she asked me if I have peace knowing eventually this will happen for me and I’ll get pregnant. And I told her no. I don’t have peace from thinking someday this will happen. I don’t know if children are “promised” to me. But I do have peace knowing God holds my future and works in ways far beyond my understanding. I have peace knowing when I cry out to Him, he hears and He comforts.

For friends and family who are walking alongside loved ones going through infertility:

1. Don’t try and fix. This is so hard, and I catch myself doing this for others too. But really, the quickest way to shut someone down who is hurting is trying to give them the answers. I’ve written about this before here and all the suggestions that people have given me, but really we don’t need advice or technique. There is truly nothing to say. We’ve tried everything. We just need a friend who listens and who loves.

2. Pray for them. Don’t just say you will, really, pray for them. And I don’t just mean pray for a baby. Pray for their heart. Pray for their hope. Pray for their marriage! When people ask how they can pray for me, I don’t tell them to pray for my womb. I ask them to pray for our friendship in our marriage. By God’s grace, 3+ years into this, we are still good friends.

3. Give them grace. Usually, if you’re in the season of trying to get pregnant, so are your friends. I have had up to 3 baby showers in one weekend. Another friend insisted that I hold her newborn at a family gathering, and I just couldn’t. I felt so much guilt feeling this way, but there are times we are just going to say “no” and it’s hard, and we feel awful, but please give us grace.

4. If you’re pregnant, tell them privately. During the 3 years we’ve been “trying”, 6 (soon to be 7) different babies have been born out of my small group. I have so appreciated those that have been considerate to tell me privately they’re expecting. This is so hard and so awkward because you are genuinely happy and yet genuinely hurting. Both of you. This is the kind of community I treasure the most, the ones that are willing to face the joy and the pain head on.

5. Ask how they’re doing. I will most likely not offer up my feelings to anyone. But if you ask, I will. Again, this is the kind of community I treasure most, the kind that will just dive right in to the awkward and the painful, and just ask. How are you? Where are you at? Whatever it may be. Don’t ask all the time, but ask.

6. Don’t forget about the husband. This is sometimes the worst. The woman may get more support than the man. He is struggling to lead well, deal with his own hurt, and comfort his wife. I can only imagine how isolating it is for the husband in this process.

There are a million ways you can help or hurt people walking through this. These are just a few I found helpful. There are a few other articles and posts below that may be helpful too.

25 Things Not to Say to Couples Living with Infertility {Huffington Post}

Infertility Etiquette {Dreaming of Dimples}

Is My Infertility a Punishment? {Self-Talk the Gospel}

I so appreciate you reading and entering in with me. If you know someone who is suffering with infertility, please share this post. Bearing one another’s burdens is hard and vulnerable, and messy. But it is truly the best way to live.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)