The Beauty Paradox

As promised, I’ve gathered my notes and tried to type up a summary of the fireside I recently taught (for both women and young women) called “The Beauty Paradox: The Surprising Relationship between Righteousness, Self-Image and Power.”  The links to my quotes, references and study materials are all listed at the bottom of this post.  Sorry, but there was no way to do this briefly and do it justice.  Grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for a while.

There is opposition in all things.

For everything good and powerful and designed to bring happiness, Satan creates a counterfeit.  He sets easy traps, and when we fall into them, we cannot enjoy what we wanted in the first place . . . the real deal.

Even when it comes to beauty.

People have many different opinions about beauty and modesty and self-image.  Even among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve found that some take modesty standards more seriously than others.  Some think that standards must be more closely followed and enforced, and some think that we should just teach general doctrines about the body and divine nature and stay away from specific standards.  Some think that women and young women should not be held responsible for what men think about their clothing choices, and others would argue that females should be taught to dress themselves modestly with a better understanding of the inner workings of the male psyche.  All these (and other) different approaches have valid points, but they make it quite difficult to teach principles of beauty and modesty without some serious inspiration.  Luckily, my inspiration came one morning during my daily devotional time, otherwise known as a shower.  After many weeks of study, the previous evening I had studied a talk by Sister Elaine Dalton where she taught about the principle of “deep beauty.”  The ideas began to flow, and I literally wrote them with my finger on the foggy shower door in hopes of not forgetting them.  When I finished, I wrote it all down as quickly as I could.  This is what came into my mind that helped me organize all the principles I had been reading and pondering:

I know it looks crazy, but it truly gave me the direction I was seeking.  I’ll start at the top, then left column, then right column.

Dictionary.com defines Beauty as:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from [1] sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), [2] a meaningful design or pattern, or [3] something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

The first of the three defined sources of beauty-satisfaction is what makes up SURFACE beauty.  The last two fit more meaningfully in the category of DEEP beauty.  Surface beauty is the element of beauty that Satan has latched onto and the world-at-large has bought into.  Deep beauty is what God sees as beautiful and wants us to strive for.

Surface beauty is measured by outward appearances: usually by clothing, body, and makeup/hair.  These are the elements of beauty most embraced by our media culture and most flaunted by those who try to copy it.

Clothing: (It’s important to distinguish that from here on out, any advice to young woman can and should apply to adult women as well, and vice versa.)

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke to mothers about their daughters and asked them to teach the following:

“Our daughters as well as your sons are coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual, and thoughtless promiscuity. Immodest, unchaste women are glamorized and all too often celebrated and emulated. While there are steps that we can take in our homes and families to minimize our exposure to these unsavory elements of contemporary living, your daughters cannot entirely avoid the blatant sexual messages and enticements that surround them. You need to have frequent, open discussions during which you teach your daughters the truth about these issues.

For example, they need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”

Notice that he talked about sending the wrong message to young men.  A Catholic blogger recently wrote an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which he lamented the prevailing trend to abandon “pretty” in favor of “hot.”

“Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence.  I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is.  But some things were different in the back then.  First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue.  And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact.  That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different.  When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend.  Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity.  Its value is temporary and must be used.  It is a consumable.”

I remember talking to some young men that I taught in seminary and asking them if it was hard to fulfill and focus on their priesthood duties at the sacrament table if there were women and young women in the congregation that were immodestly/provocatively dressed.  They vigorously nodded their heads to the affirmative, and the young women in the room were surprised by their answer. Now, some may be on different sides of the argument about how responsible a woman should be for the way a man views her.  Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I think we can probably agree on a few simple principles as outlined in the Proclamation on the Family.  When the Lord sets forth the divine roles of women and men with regards to families, he proclaims that men are to “provide” and to “protect.”  I think it’s very interesting that these same concepts are mentioned by the blogger as being naturally inspired by the virtuous and modest appearance of women.  The proclamation also states that within our divinely appointed gender roles and interactions with one another, husbands and wives — and I think it’s safe to extend it to men and women in general — “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”  We can, and should, help one another to be our very best selves and to fulfill our divine roles as outlined in the Proclamation.  While acknowledging that men are ultimately accountable for their thoughts and attitudes toward women, we can promote respect by showing respect for them and for ourselves. Modesty in dress is one way we can do that. Continue reading

Just keep swimming…

I pretty much overbooked myself the last couple days, and I survived, and it’s all good.  I’ve discovered I can handle high-stress days in small increments (like maybe 2-3 days max), but not over a sustained period of time.  It’s nice when it passes and you can sit back and breathe again.

It feels a little indulgent, but several of you have asked about the notes from the fireside I taught last night, so I’ll work on a blog post in the next few days (after I breathe).  I saw one young woman recording the whole thing on her iPhone, so I wish I would have just asked her for a copy of it, but oh well.  Despite the nerves and the self-induced pressure to just get it right, I felt like it went well.  I’m satisfied when I can walk away from a teaching opportunity and say, “Well, that’s the very best I could do.”  You just hope it’s enough.  For those of you who expressed curiosity, this is what I wore.  (I know it was silly of me to post about that, and I really knew the right answer — which you were all so kind to share–, but you have to admit you’d feel the same way if you were going to stand up in front of a group of people as some kind of “beauty” expert.  Ha!  Even typing that made me laugh.)  Anyway, voila:

I know, I know.  “[Insert name of real beauty expert* here.], eat your heart out.”

*I couldn’t think of one since I’m so in touch with the fashion world and all.

In the meantime, if any of you are dying to study some great reference material about beauty, modesty, self-image and virtue, here’s a link to a list of things I studied in preparation for the talk.  There’s a lot of great direction available to us.  It made me realize that our leaders have given us a lot of clear direction, so it’s surprising that there’s still so much confusion.  I guess Satan does a good job of scrambling signals.

In other news, after several failed attempts to communicate to Clark my complete dissatisfaction with finding his recently-washed clothing back in his dirty clothes basket instead of put away, I finally decided to take a more practical approach.  I informed him on Sunday that he is now in charge of the laundry for a while.  I’ve spent the last couple of days teaching him the system.  They’ve always sorted their dirty clothes and put away their clean clothes (in theory), but I decided to let him actually wash them all, switch loads, dry them all, fold them all, etc.  This photo I took tonight shows you how happy he is about the new arrangement:

Well, that’s about it.  I’ll finish up with one of my favorite quotes I found while preparing for the fireside (thank you to my friend Velda for making it look pretty for me):

 

Botox and Prozac and Diets, Oh My!

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.

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Beauty, self-esteem, and laugh-out-loud hilarity

I love Dave Barry.  Have you ever read any of his stuff?  He is FUNNY.  At Women’s Conference, Renata Forste gave a really, really good talk (click here to read it), wherein she quoted this Dave Barry column exploring the differences between the ways that men and women measure and value appearances.  It was so funny that I may have laughed a little bit over-the-top irreverently.

If you’re a man, at some point a woman will ask you how she looks.  “How do I look?” she’ll ask.  You must be careful how you answer this question.  The best technique is to form an honest yet sensitive opinion, then collapse on the floor with some kind of fatal seizure. Trust me, this is the easiest way out.  Because you will never come up with the right answer.

The problem is that women generally do not think of their looks in the same way that men do.  Most men form an opinion of how they look in seventh grade, and they stick to it for the rest of their lives.  Some men form the opinion that they are irresistible stud muffins, and they do not change this opinion even when their faces sag and their noses bloat to the size of eggplants . . . . Continue reading

That’s what I said.

I walked right up to a complete stranger at the swimming pool last week.  She was talking with a girlfriend and I sheepishly interrupted her.  I said,

“This is going to sound really stupid, but I promised myself a while back to never suppress a nice thought.   There are a lot of moms here who are trying really hard to be sexy, supermodel moms, but when you’re out there in the pool playing with your kids and laughing, you’re authentically pretty.”

And I meant it.

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Image Credit

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“The gospel teaches us that true beauty is more than skin-deep. A young woman whose countenance is aglow with both happiness and virtue radiates inner beauty.” — Lynn G. Robbins

“This Light of the Spirit cannot be faked. All of the theater lights and stages and camera trickery and Photoshop manipulation may convince the unaware that artificial light has the same effect. It does not. Artificial light ends with the flipping of a switch. It is merely a backhanded tribute to Light. Christ is the Life and the Light—the Light that lightens hearts through thick and thin.” — Truman G. Madsen