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Where is my Hope?

I need to admit there have been days during which I’m so happy that my old jeans fit, that I don’t give a thought to thanking my God for allowing me to live another day.  And that some days I like the way my outfit looks on me, yet I give no thought to how I’m speaking to my children in harsh, irritated tones.  I need to ask, where is my hope?  Is it in my “look” or “image” that I put forth to others?  What would happen if all my clothing/shampoo/makeup burned in a fire?(yes, I do think about this stuff!)  Would I still be me?  I know the right answer is yes, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that my appearance does not define me.  My hope is in the One who created me, and I need to seek Him out to find satisfaction in this life.  Even if I could stay perpetually young and thin, would I be content?  Probably not.

I am freed by the fact that my value in God’s sight is the person of the heart, not in the beauty of the outward person.  I hope it reflects in my countenance in a world of hopelessness…

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” ~ Proverbs 31:30

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Cookies!

I was laying in bed last night thinking about how many cookies I ate during the day.  I would drift off and then wake suddenly, thinking “wait, was it three?  No, it was four!  Four cookies in one day!  Sheesh, what a pig!” and on and on.  It’s kind of ironic that I was feeling this guilt because of cookies.  On one hand, I feel like I’m supposed to encourage other women to be satisfied with their appearance(and hopefully be satisfied with my own as well) and not to be obsessed with how much they eat.  Don’t be on a constant diet.  Have freedom!  On the other hand, I’m laying in bed, feeling bad about eating cookies.

So I guess this is a confession.  I felt guilty about how many cookies I ate last night.  Of all the things I could  have been thinking about as I drifted off to sleep, I was thinking about those four cookies.  I shouldn’t have eaten four!  But they were so yummy.  So why the guilt?  I think a lot of women can relate to feeling guilty because they ate something that’s considered “bad”, like cheese fries, lots of chocolate, or cookies. But isn’t guilt a feeling we’re supposed to have when we did something wrong?  So did I do something wrong by eating four cookies?  My thoughts went to something I read recently from “Comfortable in Your Own Skin” by Dr. Deborah Newman ~

~ “It is not a sin to be overweight.  The real sin for many heavy(as well as skinny) people is turning to food(or other substances) to meet needs only God can meet.”[p.81]

I’m not saying I think I’m overweight, but I can relate to turning to food for comfort instead of God.  So the cookies aren’t the problem.  If I ate them with the motive of trying to gain some comfort and peace, then I had a reason to feel guilty.  But I didn’t.  I ate them because they were yummy.  When I thought all this through(I know, I was being a little obsessive here;-), I knew that I didn’t have anything to worry about.  I can enjoy my cookies now, guilt free;-)

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This post begins with a question:

Are the struggles Christian men have with lust(the objectification of women) related to the teaching on the submission of Christian women?

I believe these issues are related.  Here are some ideas that tie these issues together(in my opinion):

Beliefs about women in the early church ~

~”From within the then reigning viewpoint of Greek philosophy, males were assumed to be connected with the superior ‘mind'(spirituality) while females were connected with the assumed inferior ‘body'(carnal lust).  Thus Origen ‘taught that women are more closely connected to the flesh than men and thus not as spiritual,’ and Augustine ‘associates women with the evil flesh that must be controlled by the spirit, which he believed was superior in men.'[19]  Thus the ‘goal of salvation was to free the pure soul from the evil material body.'[20]….Flowing from this, female sexuality came to be viewed as ‘responsible for the Fall of creation and the descent of man’s soul into perdition.'[23] Viewing women with disdain as the conduits for sin led of necessity to their subordination to males.”

~ page 54-55 of “What’s With Paul and Women” by Jon Zens

[19]  Jann A. Clanton, In Whose Image?  God & Gender, Crossroad, 1991, p.41.  “Underlying the Victorian notion of ladies’ frailty was an ancient conceptualization of the female that entered European scholastic tradition with the Greeks,” and then “received the stamp of Christian orthodoxy when Thomas Aquinas accepted the Aristotelian position” (Alice B. Kehoe, “The Shackles of Tradition,” The Hidden Half: Studies of Plains Indian Women, P. Albers & B. Medicine, eds., University Press of America, 1983, pp. 55-57).

[20]  Bussert, p.7.

[23]  Bussert, p. 7.

In light of the above paragraph, let’s consider what the Bible says about submission…

“…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wife, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father  and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” ~ Ephesians 5:21-32, ESV

The above passage in Ephesians has been used by some Christians in the past(and present) to illustrate a Divine Hierarchy in which the husband is a leader and the wife submits to his leadership.  I point out that this passage does say that a wife should submit to her husband, but it does not say her husband should lead her.  The husband is the “head” of his wife. How does he perform this responsibility?  By loving his wife, giving himself up for her, sanctifying her, cleansing her, loving her as himself, and loving her as his own body…there is no use of the word authority or leader in this passage.  (Christ is our authority, of course, but in this passage, I think the point is to show the unbreakable connection between Christ and the Church, not how Christ is our leader.)  Using Christ as the head of the church is a metaphor for the deep connection between the husband and wife; we are one flesh, and separating the two is extremely painful.  (For anyone who believes that the husband should perform his duty as leader by having the final say in decision-making, please refer to 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.)

My point is that men and women, husbands and wives, believers and other believers, are to submit to one another, prefer others’ interests to their own(Philippians 2:4), and in general serve one another in the name of Christ.  Could the teaching of the unique(and I believe wrong) submission of “wives only” be demeaning to women, with one result being that men do not respect women as people, resulting in their objectification?  The Christian church has a long history of devaluing women, due to their “carnal nature”.   In our egalitarian culture, women have the freedom and liberty to choose what they want to do with their lives, but they are still being devalued by the media industry by being portrayed as body parts and not people. Could this be a result of the idea that women are to be submissive, that we are somehow here for men’s pleasure and service?  The Church used to be very influential, and had an enormous impact on culture, the legacy of which can be seen in our culture today.  I believe this legacy can be tied to the objectification of women in our society today, in the church and the secular world.

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Harriet Tubman

I’ve been reading “Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman” by Dorothy Sterling to my children for the past few weeks.  A post in her honor is timely in light of February being Black History Month.

Here’s an excerpt from the book describing how many times Harriet made the journey from the North(in the U.S. and later Canada) to the Southern United States on her mission to free slaves:

Harriet crossed the line dividing the free states from the slave states six times, twelve times, eighteen times, and the count of the men and women and children she led to the North ran into the hundreds.  From Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, Americans knew of her plodding feet.  They talked of her in the swamps of Virginia and the blue hills of Kentucky, and in Maryland’s rolling fields.  To the slaves, she became known as “Moses,” and the stories about her became legends.

Did you read that?  She led hundreds of slaves to freedom…hundreds!  And she didn’t drive them across the border in her SUV.  She walked most of the time, staying hidden from the countless men who were hunting her.  She trudged through swamps, swam across rivers.  This was one tough lady.  This afternoon I found myself pondering her heroism,  and wondered what her life must have been like.  She decided at a young age that she was going to escape slavery, and when the opportunity came, she did it.  Once she achieved safety, she didn’t stop.  I would’ve considered myself lucky to be alive and settled into a new, safe lifestyle.  Not Harriet.  She kept going back for her family members, then to help more slaves get free.  Wow.  That’s pretty amazing.

So what’s the point of writing  about this on a blog about body image?  While reading the above paragraphs, were you wondering what Harriet looked like?  Were you concerned about the size of her arms, her thighs, her butt?  I doubt it.  What did Harriet look like?  We don’t think about it much, because it doesn’t matter.  We remember her for the extraordinary things she did.  It’s been more than one hundred years since Harriet Tubman took a stand against injustice, and people are still talking about her heroic actions and solid character.

In our media saturated culture, it’s really difficult to ignore the voices telling us the most important thing about being a woman is how we look.  It’s a lie that takes effort to fight against.  It helps me to remind myself daily that God and other people care about and will remember me for my character, and that they don’t really care about my looks.  Folks like Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry look beautiful now, but what will they be like in twenty or forty years?  Will people remember much about them?  What are they admired for now besides their looks and maybe a few catchy(and meaningless) pop songs?  I know I want much more for my life, and my children’s lives.

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Beauty Marks

From my point of view, there are two kinds of beauty…

The first is “flawlessness”.  Beauty equals perfection.  No cellulite, no wrinkles, no gray hairs, no bulges, no stretch marks.  The appearance of any of these “flaws” disqualifies you from beauty. 

The second kind of beauty turns “flaws” into the evidence of real work, of labors of love unto God and fellow humans.  It is the marks of a life well-lived.  The lines around your face from smiling and laughing.  The stretch marks from bringing new life into the world and nourishing it.  The ache in your hands from washing, fixing, mending, sculpting, painting, writing, holding…these are the marks of real life.  They are true beauty marks, proof you’ve been doing the job of living, using this gift of life for good works. 

The first kind of beauty can be attained by very few women in this world.   Most of us can never achieve it, and that fact can be devastating.   

The second kind of beauty, real beauty, can be achieved by all.  Realize the gift of life God has given you, pursue the work He has for you, let Him guide you and watch your character develop.  The pursuit of flawlessness and eternal youth will leave those who pursue it empty inside, because it is a facade.  True beauty comes from the inside out, as wisdom, intelligence, and kindness grow and shine through to the people around you.  This is the kind of beauty I am committed to going after.  How about you?

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Yes, I’m a Feminist

Why I’m a Christian AND a Feminist:

I want to be treated with respect as a thinking, feeling human being, made in the image of God…

…here is an accurate definition of feminism…”Feminism:  a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic, social rights and equal opportunities for women.”    

 ~ Vicki Beeching

Yes!  There is NOTHING wrong with wanting women to be treated as equals in society AND in church settings.  If you haven’t noticed lately, our society treats women as equals, sort of, except for the little fact that we are supposed to be smart AND sexy.  This is where body image and feminism come together.  Women are expected to be sexual objects, or everything else we do, however well we do it, doesn’t matter.  In other words, we can be smart and successful, as long as we look good while we do it.  I think this attitude is infecting the church community, and here’s how it works:  Christian men have good intentions with their efforts to avoid pornographic images and Victoria’s Secret cataloges, BUT, by focusing on the avoidance of these images, they are still focusing on women’s bodies and treating them as objects instead of humans made in the image of God.  (Here’s a disclaimer…when I say Christian men, I realize there are exceptions; my statement is a generalization.)

I’ve been to several Christian conferences during which the men and women split up and go to individual sessions.  Inevitably, the women’s sessions focused on submission or beauty(or how the two work together), and the men’s sessions focused on leadership and lust(sexual purity).  I’m just wondering if Christian men have ever thought about teaching other Christian men how to avoid objectifying women in the first place, instead of focusing on how to NOT lust after them.  And I don’t just mean telling men to think of women as “someone’s daughter”, or “someone’s wife” in order to stop themselves from lusting.   This kind of thinking still avoids the real problem, which is not seeing women as fully human enough to relate to them as people and not sexual objects.  My value, and yours, does not come from our relationship to others(as in I’m someone’s wife or daughter).  My value comes from being created by God, regardless of earthly relationships.  I am me because of Him, period.  God created me(and you) to love and glorify Him, and that’s why we are not to be looked at as objects of lust.

When I say I’m a feminist, all I mean is that women should be treated like Jesus treated them.  In love, fairness, justice, and equality under the law.  The majority of women around the world today are not treated with fairness and justice.  That’s why I call myself a Christian feminist.”  ~ From Abby at Little Stories

Think about this…

on focusing on modesty…”It treats women’s bodies not as glorious reflections of the image of God, but as sources of temptation that must be hidden.  It is the other side of the objectifying coin: one side exploits the female body, while the other seems to be ashamed of it.  Both sides reduce the female body to a sexual object.”

and

“Women’s bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting.  On the contrary, women’s bodies glorify God.”

~ Thank you, her.menuetics (n.) the Christianity Today blog for women

So what it comes down to is as women, we are not our bodies, no matter what we dress like or look like.  This is a feminist issue AND a Christian issue.  They go together, and that’s that.

I realize this is a strong post, as I’m a very opinionated person;)  You are very much entitled to disagree, but if you do, please be nice…  thanks!

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The “Male Gaze”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of the “male gaze” lately.  I’ve encountered the term in several books and blogs I’ve read on the subject of body image.  Lillian Calles Barger explains it this way in her book, Eve’s Revenge: “Because we expect to be looked at, because we have internalized that phenomenon, we have formalized the gaze and created various rituals  around it: fashion shows, cheerleading, the Miss America pageant, the elaborate wedding ceremony in which any woman can be Miss America for the day.”  And,  “The expectation that women parade under the fixed gaze of many sets of eyes is as old as the world and often captured in Western art.  The female nude painted by such artists as Renoir and Rubens expresses a containment of women under a male gaze that assumes passivity and vulnerability.”

It seems that as girls grow up in this culture, we gradually grow to believe that one of the main reasons we are on this earth is to be attractive to men.  For some, no doubt, this realization is not so gradual(I’m speaking of those women who were exposed to pornography at a young age).  As a young girl, I was constantly exposed to media gradually, whether in magazines or on television.  As I viewed these images on a daily basis, I came to realize, directly or indirectly…it is very important that I grow up to be pretty(fill in your word of choice here…thin, sexy, hot, beautiful, attractive.)

As Sierra of The Unspoken Words: A Non-Prophet Message puts it so eloquently in her blog post

I am arguing for ditching the mentality that everything you wear and do is a performance for men.  Modesty is a doctrine that is predicated on the male gaze.”

and

Women deserve basic human dignity for their achievements and character, not their looks.”

Sierra’s blog post is about modesty, but I think it applies to body image just as well.  We grow up thinking that it is our responsibility to look good, to maintain our lowest weight, to wear makeup, to look “hot”, and on and on.  We reinforce it by our preoccupation with how our clothes, hair, and butts look to others.  We are constantly aware…we are being watched and scrutinized.  But, did you know ~

You are capable of much more than being looked at.  Do you know who you are?  Have you grasped the powerful role you can play in a world so badly in need of your unique talents, wisdom, and light?”

~ written by Lexie Kite of  Beauty Redefined

You are not here to be looked at.  Neither am I.  And although I definitely haven’t “arrived” in this area, I’m in transition.  Each day I remind myself, I am not here to be looked at, I become more confident and more determined to fulfill my calling here on earth, and I am free to think less about how I look, because it doesn’t define who I am.

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