Author:  Julie B. Clark, PhD

Summer is coming. What does that mean to you? Is it the renewal of life, warmer and longer days, wonderful smells and beautiful colors, playing outdoors, coming out of hibernation? These sound like positive and pleasant things. Unfortunately, for most women spring is not a time of rejoicing, but a time of remorse. “Oh, I just look horrible”, “I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of pie last night”, “I hate the spring and summer—it means shorts and the unthinkable “s” word — swimsuit.”

Most women, and perhaps men, really find the thought of swimsuits to be unpleasant. Society has done a great job of indoctrinating us with its notion of what the “ideal body” should look like — to such a point of brainwashing that stepping in front of the mirror is frightening, and a journey of self-deprecation for most girls and women. “If we could only look like so-and-so.” We have become skilled in making a mental list of all our physical deficits in a relatively short period of time. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” Unfortunately, when we look at ourselves we often judge unfairly. Wouldn’t we be happier if we could be fair with ourselves? Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

It is difficult to imagine what we might think “looks good” without the influence of the culture of “thin ideal”. Hey! Maybe this spring can be different. Instead of trying to live by the rules of the world, what if we really renew an appreciation for our bodies — not in a one-dimensional mirror image, but a multifaceted sense of who we are — keeping our souls alive. Then maybe aging would be an experience of growth and beauty. Maybe our eyes will see the beauty from the inside out, and really get in touch with what’s important and what we ultimately want to value. Will society ever accept us? Do we need society’s acceptance? It brings up images of a paper society all clipped out of magazines, walking around smiling and hoping no one rips us to shreds or blows us away. I wonder how differently we would deal with each other if we could really see the other person — or really be seen by others. It really doesn’t take much effort to think of all our faults. That negative barrage seems to flow so easily.

To change attitudes takes effort, work, and a determination to spit in the face of western culture’s touted expectations. Who gets to decide what looks good anyway? Do we? Could buying the magazines and paying for the weight-loss products be our way of saying “I agree” — “I should look this way”. We know that pictures of models are doctored up to look “better.” Why do we keep playing the game and paying for it emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually? If we don’t fight the illusions of societal beauty, who will?

Could spring possibly mean more than a time of dread, worrying about how others will view our bodies? “We are not troubled by things, but by the opinions which we have of things.” (Eepictetus) All of us need to press for a new view — a new vision and acceptance of God’s creation — us, versus man’s creation or image. Truly, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

 

Date Written: Unknown

Reviewed and Edited: November 2014