By Kimberly Davidson
London, 1966. I was 11-years-old when the English phenomenon named “Twiggy” was elevated into the national spotlight. Her nickname was “Twigs” because of her skinny legs. Naturally thin, a new fashion and beauty era emerged. Thin was in. Youth was in. And I was on the front lines, ready to soak it all into my young spongy mind. Years later, anorexic teenage models like Twiggy began dying of heart attacks and other complications after living for months on lettuce and Diet Coke. I too fell into the hands of the same beast—bulimia. No one can argue that in our world, physical beauty is an elusive quest.
The models aren’t to blame; we are. The culture we live in has molded our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Without our even being aware of it, our desires have been hijacked by cultural images that entice and intimidate us into abusing our bodies through chronic dieting (which can lead to an eating disorder), body art and sculpting, and sex. Marketers have taken over important educational functions that were once the special domain of female relatives and mentors. The advertising machine created a new exciting ideal of physical perfection, changing the culture’s standards of the past.
American women in the 19th century had a very different orientation than we do today. The emphasis was on good works, not good looks. Before World War I, girls rarely mentioned their bodies in terms of self-improvement strategies. It wasn’t part of their struggle for self-identity. Their goal was to become a better person, which meant paying less attention to the outer self. They put their effort into learning at school, not swapping beauty secrets; into their spirituality, not the material. To improve themselves, they focused on the internal character and how it was to be reflected in their actions.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
When the mirror became a staple of the American middle-class home at the end of the 19th century, products to treat adolescent acne and dry wrinkling skin soared. By the 1920’s, both fashion and film had encouraged a massive unveiling of the female body. This new freedom to display the body was accompanied by demanding beauty and dietary regulations that took money and self-discipline. In the 1950’s a new lament hit female’s lips: “I must, I must, I must improve my bust.”
One century later, American girls are concerned about the shape and appearance of their bodies as a primary expression of their identity. It’s not just beauty products. Women have been instrumental in making psychology and spirituality the fastest growing and most profitable segments in book publishing and seminar development. With more help available than ever before for discovering our real selves, we still don’t know who we are. Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25) What is Jesus asking you to think about and do?