When my brother was in the hospital, I got to drive up and down the freeway many times. I soon became familiar with all the billboards. This was one of my favorites (and by favorites, I mean it made me want to beat people up.): A lovely, buxom woman smiled down upon us shapeless freeway drivers through the huge words, “All I want for Christmas is my two front … .” The meaning behind “…” became clear as you read the name and number of the Plastic Surgery Clinic that she was referring you to.
When we were house hunting in Utah, we tried to make an appointment for a second showing of a house we were interested in. The Realtor informed us that we could not come until after 3 p.m., because the homeowner was hosting an eyelash extension party. Excuse me, a what? I had never even heard of such a thing in my life. I have since seen and heard about this phenomenon many, many times.
I read this article this morning, and I found it really interesting. I recommend it. It reported:
Though no religion-specific data exists to show rates of eating disorders or body image issues, numerous accounts from diligent parents, priesthood and auxiliary leaders of struggling girls, and women speak for themselves. And one of Forbes magazine’s annual rankings may indicate that our quest for perfection took a wrong turn somewhere along the way: Salt Lake City, home to the worldwide headquarters of the LDS Church (and where an estimated 50 percent of the population is LDS), was ranked the “Vainest City in the Nation” in 2007 and 2008, and was in the Top 5 in 2009. This ranking is due to the city’s record-breaking amount spent on beauty products and treatments like Botox, an amount that is ten-fold the amount spent in cities of comparable size. If you’ve looked at the billboards along any Utah freeway, you won’t be shocked to hear Salt Lake City has the most plastic surgeons per capita, at six per 100,000 residents, trumping New York City and Los Angeles.
Why? I don’t get it. Of all the people in the world, we should be the most embracing of our God-given selves. Though the LDS doctrine does teach us to strive for perfection, with an emphasis on following the example of Jesus Christ, it absolutely does not teach or endorse that we should make our bodies measure up to society’s definition of perfection. In fact, Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following:
I plead with you young women to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. . . . In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.” And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us.
You may have heard before that Utah also leads the country in the use of anti-depressants. This is, again, a mystery. There are some who argue that it’s probably a product of the high expectations of the LDS church culture and people feeling like they don’t measure up. I don’t buy that, because a careful study of any of the counsel that comes from the general leadership of the church never has that kind of tone. On the contrary, there are consistently messages of love, encouragement, and acknowledgment of our goodness and power and influence. This is especially true for women. Not anywhere else do you find more empowering words or praise for womanhood than you do from our own pulpits. There are also myriad talks about adversity, challenges and tribulation, and how to deal with them, which clearly eliminates the expectation of living enchanted, perfect lives. So what gives?
I’m obviously not an expert on these sociological matters, but I think I can see where some of this struggle originates. LDS women are like other women throughout the world; we have struggles and sadness and insecurities. There are also rampant mental health issues throughout our society, to which we are not immuned. As I have become more and more of an adult, I have begun to see how many people, including many friends and family, struggle with depression, anxiety and consistently high stress. Life is a pressure cooker that seems to take a great toll on our mental health. We often need help. It is safe to say that we all self-medicate. When pressures are high and our ability to deal with them feels low, we turn to something to help us feel better. Within the LDS faith, because of our doctrinal principles, we do not turn to the same things that many, many other people turn to in times of stress– drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, pornography or self-serving sexual behaviors, for example. Perhaps our anti-depressant numbers are seemingly skewed because of this. Other people with the same struggles self-medicate differently. (I want to make clear that I do not have an anti-medication stance. At all.) Perhaps this also explains, in part, the obsession with beauty issues. When women feel overwhelmed and empty, they look for ways to make themselves feel better, and for LDS women, fake eyelashes is not “against our religion.” Whatever the reasons, which I really don’t know, I think we all need to do a better job of turning to the right place for help.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:38
I am not advocating throwing out your mascara or your Prozac and just dedicating yourself to scripture study. That would be naive. I do think that no matter what level of struggles we face, we can find much more relief the more and more we learn to rely upon the Savior. We will find more sense of self-worth. We will find forgiveness for our imperfections. We will find strength in our trials. We will find love and acceptance and be filled in the places we feel empty. A careful study of all those Your-Life-Will-Not-Be-Perfect-So-Be-Prepared talks that come from the general leadership of the church will point us in the direction of Jesus Christ. So this is basically a war cry to LDS women everywhere: When life hurts, and it will, you are not alone. Turn to your Savior and let Him share your burdens and remind you how beautiful you are, just as you are. As a completely average, A-cup, almost 20 pound “overweight,” frazzled mother of young children who’s still wearing my pajamas, I give you my word that it works. It really does. Let’s get a few billboards for that.