Oh, bitter-sweet beauty…

Cameron RussellI recently had a very good but also disturbing catch up with a group of girlfriends. While sipping our respective teas and coffees, we came to talking about our love-hate relationship with beauty. I realised again how hard it is for women to talk about this topic without emotion creeping through. So many girls feel they don’t have it – even supermodels like Cameron Russel who recently shared on TED how insecure models really are about their looks – and many others have been abused because of it.

One of my friends who has just returned from a conference in America mentioned how one of the speakers, Jim Laffoon, criticized the Western notion of beauty as very narrow. As a pastor he travels all over the world to cultures that define thin as ugly, and what westerners call ‘plus size‘ as desirable. Others shared their sense of shock that people actually need to ask themselves whether Robin Thicke’s music video “Blurred lines” – where men wear suits and women, well, their birthday suits – has crossed the line. Because women just love walking round naked. The lyrics aren’t much better – in my friend Mags‘ words, little more than a rapist manifesto – and it’s not the only song of its kind.

We sighed collectively. Something is very wrong here with our treatment of beauty. Over the years beauty has been demonised, sexualised, and commercialised, and we seem unable to walk a balanced path of celebrating it on the one hand, and respecting it on the other. I don’t believe that telling a woman not to wear make-up and hide everything but her ankles (as is done in conservative cultures) is God’s picture of freedom. Conversely, it’s also very far from His best when breasts help people sell cars, hamburgers or music for that matter. And here is where we got really sad, because the women who danced for “Blurred lines” could have said no. It’s not just men who contribute to this problem: if we women all refused to profit from our culture of objectification, it would have far less power.

How do you define beauty? When do you think we cross the line from enjoying our bodies to objectifying them? How can we broaden the narrow definitions of desirability that are portrayed in the media? If you have thoughts, please share them with us – because our world sure needs answers…

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