Category Archives: For All She’s Worth

Helping Women Discover Their Value

“Take a Pill and Call Me in the Morning”

In my last post, I admitted to battling clinical depression for the last few years, and that my exhaustive search for answers led me to a certain medication and to a deeper prayer life. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on the subject, but I know that there have to be some negative responses that are still unexpressed. Am I suggesting that taking a pill will make everything in life okay? How can a believer be so shallow as to even entertain such thoughts? Can’t you just “get over it”?

I can’t answer any of those questions from my own experience because mine is…mine. So, hear from some prominent Christian women who have their own battles with depression and how it played out in their lives.

Grammy award-winning singer, Mandisa, fell into a deep state of depression after the death of her best friend. Mandisa seriously contemplated suicide to rid herself of her hopeless feelings. She also gained over 100 pounds from an eating disorder that accompanied her depression. In an interview on Good Morning, America she said, “It got pretty bad — to the point where if I had not gotten off that road I would not be sitting here today…[I] was this close to listening to that voice that told me, ‘You can be with Jesus right now, Mandisa. All you have to do is take your life.’ “It almost happened,” she continued. “But God … saved my life quite literally.”[1] An intervention, orchestrated by some of her friends, helped Mandisa decide to seek professional help.

Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Christian musical artist Steven Curtis Chapman talks of her bouts with depression. “Ten months had passed since Maria, our five-year-old daughter, had died in a tragic accident at our home,” Mary Beth said. “Slowly my grief had turned to anger, then to a hopelessness that refused to lift no matter how I struggled against it. I fought with all my strength, to no avail. I recognized it for what it was: depression, an illness I’d battled most of my life.”[2]

Christian comedian Chonda Pierce has also battled depression for some time. She speaks and even jokes about her struggle. In her book Laughing in the Dark she writes about seeking help by numerous trips to doctors, beginning with her gynecologist. She writes, “I entered the exam room, slipped into one of those gowns they give you … climbed onto the, uh, recliner, (and by the way, the “cup holders” are still in a very awkward position), and then stared at the new ceiling tiles and light fixtures while I waited.”[3] Only she could look at such a trying experience with humor, but she does not diminish the seriousness of her illness. She is coping now using medicine and stress management.

Three women with different experiences—all believers willing to talk about their weaknesses—hoping that their encounters with depression can help others to cope with mood disorders.

Obviously, this problem (and its solution) is an inexact science.

In  these three women, however, there was an event that brought their conditions to light—the first two in the loss of loved ones. Chonda’s problems began in childhood. In an article in the magazine Psychology Today Dr. Michael Miller, editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that grief and depression aren’t necessarily the same, but that circumstances can trigger or at least bring clinical depression to the foreground. [4] Sadness and anger are natural forms of the grief process, but going through those difficult times and staying in a state of despair for an extended period of time could mean that you need to seek professional help. Each person and situation is unique, so don’t give up and don’t expect a quick fix.

Besides depression and grief, an oppressive environment can make us feel worthless. Thank God my husband and family are such positive influences in my life (in that they believe in me and tell me so often) so I don’t live with negative vibes in my home. However, I have felt worthless in other arenas regarding my job, my education, and my age in places other than in my home. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I have often reminded myself of this quote whenever my environment (and Satan’s lies) seemed to work against my sense of value. In my work environment, like in the music industry, feelings of relevance can ebb and flow quickly as younger, more talented, more dedicated, and more influential people come up through the ranks. I can’t tell you how many times I have stood in a group of “industry” folks and felt invisible because I didn’t have a cut on a big country record, or have a killer voice, or known by famous people. But moving away from the Nashville scene didn’t change my sense of value entirely. In fact, those same feelings of inadequacy followed me here as I went back to school and then became a university professor. I don’t come from academia, I don’t have a PHD, and I have never taught at the college level before so I was jumping out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Let me hasten to say that most of those fears were dispelled by the embrace of this incredible community. Though I came into this environment with so many insecurities, my colleagues and students have helped me to see that I have a place to work and serve that needs me. So, there it is. Being needed is an important part of our sense of worth and we’ll deal more with that later as we see how the natural life cycle can deal pretty heavy blows to a woman’s sense of value.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/mandisa-reveals-deep-depression-led-suicide/story?id=47025988

[2] https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/emotional-and-mental-health/fighting-depression-with-hope-and-faith

[3] Pierce, Chonda. Laughing in the Dark: a Comedian’s Journey through Depression. Howard Books, 2015, p. 98.

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-grief/201203/when-does-grief-become-depression

Pardon My French…

 

…but I always called it “The Whiny-Butt Disease.”

To me, people who suffered from depression were just chronic complainers, especially the women. They were spoiled “delicate flowers” whose basic constitution was fueled by neediness. They were just demanding attention. They were crippled by their own insecurities. They had “daddy” issues or whatever.

It was maybe fifteen years ago when my view of clinical depression changed. It was when I went through it myself.

I had probably always had problems with coping mechanisms; that is, when external or internal stresses came up, I wouldn’t know how to manage them, or how to adapt. And instead of becoming irate or inconsolable, I would internalize the stress which just made me feel worse and unworthy. Through my earlier years, however, these were infrequent, intermittent episodes that I eventually worked through.

Then I approached the age of 50, and the minor episodes turned into a lifestyle. My feelings of worth hit bottom and stayed there for quite a while.

With hormonal changes of menopause, with the development of chronic back pain, and some work circumstances beyond my control, I became…well, impossible to live with. My poor husband! He knew I was struggling, but he didn’t know how to help. Basically, he would often just shake his head and leave me alone. In a sense, that is what helped. I started seeking solutions on my own which began with my seeing a long list of doctors. It was a start anyway.

I was first having episodes when I couldn’t breathe and my heart seemed to beat out of my chest. The first doctor ruled out heart problems with a plethora of tests. Another doctor prescribed hormone replacement which helped with some of the symptoms. That doctor also put me on anti-anxiety pills which made me too sleepy to function, so I took them at night leaving me with intolerable days. It did help with the insomnia. Another doctor said that my back pain was causing me to be depressed, so for a year I chased that theory going to every kind of physician (reputable doctors and quacks). Nothing worked. I was pumped full of steroids through injection not knowing that this was not only making my condition worse, but it was having adverse systemic effects as well. Finally, I found an “angel” in the form of a neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. Surgery was successful and I’ve been back pain free for a decade!

But the depression was still there, even after I fully recovered from surgery. Clinical depression affects people differently, but for me it felt like there was an itch somewhere deep inside of me that I couldn’t scratch. It was horrible. I was either extremely agitated or completely depleted of energy. I didn’t dare, however, think or say the word “depression” because I had always reserved that for whiners. It was definitely a sign of weakness, I thought, and I never wanted to admit to that!

However, that was the breakthrough for me—realizing that I needed help. One day, I just collapsed on the sofa with a cry, “God, you’ve gotta do something!” The next day I got back to the circuit of doctors and went to see my family physician—a laid-back older gentleman who was notorious for minimizing general complaints. I expected him to dismiss my feelings and imply that I was just a high maintenance female and I should just get over it. Instead, the doctor asked me what I thought was the matter with me. (I realized that he was used to his patients becoming experts on the human body by staying on sites like WEBMD and others.) It was then that I broached the subject and used the “d” word: depression.

The doctor sat back in his chair. “Yeah? So?” He asked and waited for a response.

“Well, I hate to come in here whining, asking for help with something like that.”

“Why?” the man of few words asked again while writing something on my chart.

“I feel like there’s a stigma attached to depression that I’m afraid to admit to—even the possibility of it.” Then I think I started to cry.

“Well, what do you want to do about it?” He asked rather matter-of-factly.

“I guess maybe try an antidepressant?” I asked in a whisper.

“Which one?”

That’s when I said, “You’re the doctor! You tell me!”

He didn’t even look up. He just said, “Tests have ruled out other causes for your condition and I figure you’ve already researched this, so what do you want me to prescribe for you?”

Then he did look up and added, “There’s nothing wrong with trying to feel better, you know. You’re doing the right thing.” He briefly described the side effects of certain medications and the do’s and don’ts of the different kinds of remedies and without fanfare, he wrote me a prescription for a low dose of Zoloft.

“However, don’t expect it to work immediately,” he warned. I had wanted a quick fix, but I was willing to wait a day or two for it to kick in.

“How long do I wait for it to work?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Everybody is different. Try this for, oh, a month, two months, or six months and then come back to see me. If you don’t feel better then we’ll try something else,” he said and he walked out of the exam room.

I walked out, too, feeling just as confused as when I walked in. I didn’t, however, mention this to anybody, except my husband, of course. If it was clinical depression, I would just take my pill and keep this heinous disease to myself, and I have kept that promise to myself—until now. I choose now to be transparent and say that I suffer from clinical depression which is controlled with medication.

When I think back to those days of agony that I didn’t understand and then compare my mental and physical state to now, I am amazed. Though the medication has helped tremendously, I know that it is by God’s hand that healing has taken place. I asked Him to help me and He did. Just like He used spit and clay to heal a blind man, and the hem of His robe to deliver a woman from her bleeding disorder, God used a medication (accompanied by prayer and the power of His word) to make my life and the lives of those around me not only bearable, but joyful and triumphant. (Maybe there’s a song there?)

Seriously, I want to apologize to everyone, especially my family, who had to bear my sullenness, my wrath, my withdrawal, my general orneriness through those bad years. I still have some down days, but I’m grateful that any time I get down, I don’t stay there and spiral into an abyss so deep I can’t dig out like before.

This is just my story…so don’t think that yours will be like mine. There are many versions of depression that are not chemical imbalances. Some are natural and circumstantial and manageable without medication. Often, time is the best healer for those episodes.

However, some of my readers have had similar experiences with the chemical imbalance kind of depression that you’d like to share. If so, I invite you to respond. If you’re not sure what’s wrong, I encourage you to keep searching for ways to try and feel better.  And pray.

I also plan to explore this topic some more in other posts before I move on to another topic in the series.

 

 

Half…and Half

As I was preparing to sing at a friend’s funeral this week, I was reminded that the loss of a spouse to death is something I’ve never experienced (thank God!). Neither have I been divorced nor lived an adult life without a spouse. (Again, thank God!) So, I can only imagine the despair that losing one half of oneself can cause. Half? Yes, I know it’s not PC to say it anymore, that in marriage two shall become one, but that doesn’t negate the scripture that says in a couple of places, but first in Genesis 2:24 “…a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Some believe this refers only to sexual consummation that God sanctioned for marriage, while others take it more literally (yet spiritually): two human beings completing each other–morphing from individuals into a singular creature. The second interpretation is where I stand.

Two lives into one.

Of course, if this is true, does death cut a happily married couple in half leaving the remaining half barely alive? That’s where my friend, Cindy, probably is right now. After 30+ years of her “doing life” with her husband, Bill, will she have to now be half of a complete person for the rest of her life? Maybe for a while it will feel that way. Though I don’t think she’ll ever replace that missing piece of herself that was also Bill, I do believe that she will experience the kind of healing that only God can provide.

I believe that the same Christ who “completed” lame and blind and deaf people to fully functioning humans…who raised lifeless bodies to walk and talk and eat again…can do that even today with broken people, even those who have lost a part of themselves no matter the circumstances. I believe in not only restoration, but re-creation of a person after losing a part of who they have become. And why not?

“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

When the Glass Slipper Falls Off

Several years ago, two of my friends, Karla and Claire, wrote a great book entitled When the Glass Slipper Doesn’t Fit or When the Silver Spoon is in Someone Else’s Mouth. These were real life experiences that explored the notion that life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. I love the book and still read from it occasionally. However, like me, these ladies have been married to the same guy all of their adult lives and don’t know what it’s like to have a husband walk out on them. I haven’t had that experience myself, either, so I can’t speak to that issue with authority. But I can imagine that being single again sends severe blows to a woman’s self-esteem no matter the situation that caused the divorce.  I have many friends who have had husbands abandon them and so I thought I’d let you know their thoughts of a couple of them, with their permission and cooperation of course, on this image busting event.

Nikki’s husband, just after their fourth child was born, left her for another woman. Here’s what Nikki writes:

“When my husband left me for another woman, I was completely devastated.  For so many years, my identity was completely wrapped up in the fact that I was someone’s wife.  Being someone’s wife meant that at some point someone had chosen me.  It comprised a huge part of who I was.  The fact that the person with whom I had chosen to do life had decided to ‘unchoose’ me, sent me spiraling down a deep abyss.  I felt like trash that had been thrown away.  I felt completely unloved and unworthy.  I now had the overwhelming task of trying to figure out who I was since my husband didn’t want me to be his wife.  I spent many days comparing myself to this other woman…”

Becky was married many years with almost grown children when her husband “unchose” her. Even though her abandonment happened several years ago, she’s still reeling from the stigma attached to this tragedy and the loneliness that has ensued. Here’s what she said about her life now:

“Rejection is an ongoing problem for the divorced woman who is a believer. Gone is that circle of friends that you ‘did life’ with because it’s mostly couples. You no longer live in their world.

“The hardest place to fit in is the local church. ‘God Hates Divorce’!!  It’s true!  And, therefore, there is a certain place where the divorced reside. I already feel less holy and it’s obvious that others feel the same. My small group doesn’t fit. I’m immediately an outsider.”

I happen to know that both of these women are attractive, brilliant women, and yet their self- worth meters dropped considerably after their husbands left them. They both have struggled with worthlessness as a result of this betrayal. That, of course, is understandable and no one would fault them for feeling that way. So how do the “unchosen” cope with such humiliation and isolation? Nikki still has her children with her and that gives her a sense of duty and purpose for now. Becky, however, is a grandmother with her brood living their own independent lives—not needing her for their everyday needs.

In both lives, there is little or no hope of reconciling with their husbands. That’s off the table. How do they deal with the loneliness and the feelings of being marital misfits?

Nikki’s words of wisdom continue:

“… I had to realize that long before my husband chose me, the Creator of the universe had chosen me to be His own.  I didn’t have to be someone’s wife.  I didn’t have to be someone’s mother.  I was His and unlike my husband, God would never send someone to knock at my door and send me papers saying that He didn’t want me anymore…”

I’m not into simplistic answers. I’m also not a stranger to the pain of betrayal, but I agree with Nikki that marital status—never married or single again—doesn’t define who we are. Like any other earthly pain, this struggle needs daily attention and surrender to survive it. Address the pain with daily dialogue with God.  Psalm 147:3 promises,

“He heals the heartbroken
and bandages their wounds.” (The Message)

 

White Picket Fence Syndrome

At the dinner table one night I, as a young teen, was sharing news that a girl at school had excelled academically to the point that she could skip a grade. The response? “Yeah, but she’s ugly and she’ll never get married.” What? This message screamed at me. In fact, it was ingrained in me to the point of driving me to two goals: be pretty—get married.

Once when I asked why I wasn’t given a middle name. The response? “You won’t need it. When you get married, you’ll drop it anyway and use your maiden name in the middle.” When. Not if. When.

When my mother was trying to identify a woman she might have known as a teenager or young adult, she would ask, “Who was she before she married?” I always knew what she meant. She wanted to know a married woman’s maiden name. Once I decided to respond with a snippy retort, “She was the same person before she married as she was after.” I now regret the decision to sass my mother. However, the idea that marriage is strongly attached to a woman’s identity was another message that shaped my own sense of value. I needed a husband to protect and provide for me. That was the dream that my parents had for me. I willingly adopted that dream by going to college, not for a good education or training for the workplace, but for an “MRS” degree. It was okay with my parents, then, that I went to college because that was where a smart, successful husband could be found. Imagine my surprise at how many males I met who were neither smart nor headed for success.

But, I did get married and I did take my maiden name as my middle, and let me say I have never regretted that decision. Ever. But I wonder sometimes if the expectations for me to be a wife and mother hadn’t been so ingrained would I have raced the clock to get hitched? I was barely 21 on my wedding day after all. Didn’t want to be an old maid!

According to statistics compiled by pewresearch.org, in 1960 72% of U.S. adults were married. In 2014, less than half of Americans were married. In 1960, the median age at first marriage for both men and women was in the early 20s. In 2011, the median age at first marriage is an estimated 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women.[1] The reasons behind these changes in these 50+ years are varied, but I imagine that, for women, the change is due to more women receiving higher levels of education and more women in the workplace. Women are now more independent and don’t have to rely on a man to support her.

Another factor, of course, is that the present millennial generation couples are cohabiting rather than marrying. The day and place in which I was reared, living together without marrying was hardly ever an option. And being unmarried, never married that is, stigmatized women. Though nowadays the humiliation of being single is less attached, the strong desire to be married is still out there. For a woman who wants to be married, but isn’t yet,  this might shape her sense of worth.

I found a blog entitled The Briefing written by Australian native Emma Thornett and it includes an entry called “Satan’s Lies About Singleness.” The untruths that she recognized, as a never-married woman, include: 1) you’re single because you’re undesirable 2) God is not powerful enough to find you a husband 3) you’re single because God doesn’t love you 4) getting married will fix all of your problems. One of the lies, however, speaks especially to the idea of personal worth. The lie is that since no one has married you, you have no value. Emma writes, “Someone marrying you will not make you valuable. Doing things for other people will not make you valuable. You cannot be made valuable, because you already are valuable.  You are valuable because God Almighty himself tenderly created you—in his own image, no less! You were valuable the minute God wrote your days in his book and nothing that happens to you in this life can change that.”[2]

Next up: Divorced women discuss how their marital status greatly affected their sense of value.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/data-trend/society-and-demographics/marriage/

[2] http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2013/08/satans-lies-about-singleness/

No Cake for You

Birthdays were always big deals in my growing up years. Always a party. Always presents. Always cake. Since my mother wasn’t very good at baking the traditional layer cake, she would bake her sure-thing pound cake and put the traditional white icing with pink and green decorations on the outside. Of course, everybody knows that you bake a pound cake in a cylindrical pan with a hole in the middle, which makes it light and delicious but also makes decorating it a bit problematic. My mom, who was pretty resourceful, would cut out a cardboard disc, place it over the hole in the middle of the cake and decorate over it. That was so wonderful because the paper disc had nothing but icing and the birthday girl got to have that all to herself! Mama always made a new “party” dress for me, too, to be worn on the special occasion.

But on my 19th birthday there was no party, no gifts, no cake.

Six months before this, my father had died suddenly at age 51. I was already away from home, in college, by that time. Not being one to show much emotion, however, I never let on that my father’s death was as devastating as it was in reality. Mostly I didn’t realize the effect the loss would have on me.

Anyway, my birthday, December 3, 1972 fell on a Sunday. I didn’t go home for the weekend because I was in the college band and we had a game the day before. It was the big game, too, and my team had lost. (CONTEXT: Auburn 17, Alabama 16. “Punt, Bama, punt.”) But that was only part of the day’s woes. My mother and the rest of the family were still reeling from my dad’s death, and though I may have gotten a phone call over the weekend to wish me a happy birthday, there was no celebration, no big to-do as I was accustomed. I had friends, and even a boyfriend, but they were all out doing other things, most of them not realizing it was my special day. So, I sat in my dorm room, looked out the window over campus, watched students come and go, laughing and talking, and I sank lower than I’d ever been emotionally. I threw myself a big ol’ pity party. Anyway, just as the sun set over Denny Stadium, I suddenly had an epiphany. I realized that I didn’t have be alone if I didn’t want to. In fact, in true Scarlett O’Hara fashion, I said, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be alone again.” And for the next year and a half, I stuck to that creed. Whatever it took, I would never be without friends, boyfriends, party friends, destructive behavior friends…ever again.

The late holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” (I find this a little odd since Wiesel and millions of Jews like him were victims of hate which is often thought to be the opposite of love.) I, however, in my prodigal years bought into Wiesel’s definition though I had never heard it. To be ignored meant to be unloved and unloved meant unlovable. And as the old song says, “You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.”
Like the main character in the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit, the once beloved toy who had been cast aside by his owner, I felt ignored and therefore not “real”, like the worn out stuffed bunny. Invisible. Nothing worse than that. During this time, I did whatever it took to make myself not only visible but the life of the party. I was anything but. I was a desperate girl in a desperate downward spiral.

Lest you think that I’m still sitting here with my lip poked out like a spoiled child because no one loved me, I must state clearly that this whole 19-year-old epiphany was a lie. Lots of people loved me then and many love me now. But even if they hadn’t, I know that I have value because God has always, will always love me. Jeremiah 31: 3 God says, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.” (The Message)

In the next “episode” I’ll be talking about this related to marriage and how the quest to find and keep a husband to make us valuable can be another propaganda tape running in our heads.

Hall of Mirrors

Statistics[i] show that one fourth of the women in America have been sexually molested as children. Though nowadays there are laws and groups that are supposed to protect children from such abuse, it is still rampant primarily because most children do not tell anyone about it – ever. Sometimes there is disclosure but many years later – too late to stop the abuser before he (or she) has found other victims.

A girl who has been sexually abused will most likely have some adverse effects from it. A distorted body image will likely be one of them. The girl might hate her body and sometimes abuse it in her self-loathing. She might have low self-esteem because of the shame the abuse caused. Or a girl might start to believe that her self-worth is tied closely to her ability to please a sexual partner. Therefore, she may allow herself to go on “clearance” or “free to any taker.” Conversely, she may feel so devalued that she will take herself “off the market.” Her virtue has been exploited, but so has her self-esteem. We are now aware that girls and women are being sold into sexual slavery all over the world, so the sexual exploitation of females ranges from inappropriate touching to the marketing of females as property.

In any case, a woman’s sense of worth can be shaped and disfigured by psychological damage caused by an abuser. I borrow from the book Becoming a Woman of Worth, where the author explains a lie she calls a “weed” of doubt and self-loathing that sends this message:

Since I am no good—I might as well be bad.

Since I am trash—I might as well act like it.

Since I will never measure up—I might as well give up now.[ii]

An abused female can have these messages running in her head for the rest of her life if the lies or “weeds” aren’t exposed, plucked out, and destroyed.

I’ve never shared my own experience with sexual abuse until now, mostly because I didn’t feel as though it served a positive purpose. However, now I feel led to open the wound a little if it will help my readers who have had similar occurrences come to terms with their secret pain. My experience is limited to two events from two different males within a few months of each other. I was eight years old. I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell somebody about it, chancing that no one would believe me? Or place the blame on myself figuring I had done something to provoke these invasions? Now that I look back on these incidents I realize that I buried them deep within, but they did have some effect on my feelings about myself. How can something like this NOT affect a child sooner or later? I’m still trying to figure out what part these events have played in my struggles about self-worth.

A 1988 TV commercial advertising pantyhose used a ZZ Top song that said, “She’s got legs, she knows how to use them.” That message didn’t imply that a woman could run fast or jump high. Rather the woman should consider using her legs as a seductive device. Body image for most women takes on the appearance found in a carnival hall of mirrors. Many times, a girl’s body is nothing like the distorted one in her mind and the reasons for that distortion lies within…well, lies that she has believed throughout her life.

A good friend of mine recently recommended a book that addresses these questions of value. It is from the author’s experience who bore the shame of sexual abuse and other “recordings” playing in her head. I just finished reading it and, without hesitation, I highly recommend it to you. The author is Christine Caine and the title is Unashamed: Drop the Baggage. Pick Up Your Freedom. Fulfill Your Destiny published by Zondervan. It’s been a long time since a book has moved me this deeply.

[i] Excerpt From: James C. Dobson. What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women. iBooks.

[ii] Clark, Kristen Becoming Women of Worth: Stories of Hope & Faith, 2014

You’ve Changed!

When I was helping plan a 30-year college sorority reunion a few years back, one of my “sisters” declined the invitation saying that she had gained 30 pounds since college and didn’t feel good about herself. She was ashamed of her body, she said. Thirty pounds in thirty years. I assured her that we had all gained at least that much or more since we were 18 years old. It happens.

The human body was built to change. We all know this. A healthy infant grows almost overnight the first year; and for the rest of the human’s life, changes are inevitable. For adult women, it seems, our bodies change with every birthday. Those changes are quite normal and part of the Intelligent Design process. Females are born with more fat cells in their hips, thighs, and buttocks. These fat cells are to help support the child-bearing years that usually occur between our 20s and into upper 30s or early 40s. As a woman gains (or even maintains) weight during those years, the fat is usually distributed in those lower regions of her body. However, after 40 and beyond, hormone changes make the weight distribution shift to her upper belly—an area that some doctors call the “meno-pot.” (It’s the only “change” that seems to defy gravity.) In other words, from menopause and beyond, a woman’s shape may change from pear-shaped to apple-shaped without her permission. Men also get the bulge so don’t go and think it’s just a girl thing.

Dr. Pamela Peeke, who contributes to webmd.com calls the rolls of fat spilling over the top of the pants as we get older as a Muffin Top. “Yep, like the top of a muffin rising from its paper wrapper, your rolls of fat are spilling over the top of the pants. Oprah coined the term ‘Dunlap Syndrome’—‘That’s when your stomach done lap over your jeans.’”[i] By the way, Dr. Peeke suggests smart eating, toning, and exercise to melt the muffin top and there’s no “secret” formula that can target that bulge.

Gravity is also a body-changer. We know this, too. Breasts, skin, and bellies start to pull down as the years go by. It’s during these aging years that many women develop negative feelings about their bodies—more than ever in their lives. This is where I am now. Gravity. Age. Change. And the process seems to be speeding up every day.

We can ask ourselves, “What about my body can I change?” If the answers are losing weight, toning up, changing my hair or makeup, then the solutions are obvious and positive. But, if the answers call for severe measures, like risky and expensive surgery, then further prayer and soul-searching needs to be applied before a drastic decision is made—especially if the goal is to create the “perfect body.”

Besides hormonal and age changes, there are other factors that can determine a woman’s feelings about her own body. Sexual abuse has been around for ages and is still rampant in every culture. In most cases these abuses can drastically affect a person’s assessment of her (or his) own body. I’ll unpack this more thoroughly later.

Obsession with outward appearance is just one of the traps we fall into. Be aware that men and women can become prey. But, our falling for the lies coming from media and inside our own heads about our bodies, isn’t the point of this post or the focus of this series. This is about letting one thing, in this first section about our appearances, define who we are and how much we’re worth. This is about widening our scopes and trying to see ourselves totally as having value in the eyes of the Creator. In fact, in all cases He went to a lot of trouble to bring each one of us into the world just as we are. No mistakes. No junk.

 

[i] www.webmd.com

Body of Lies

When I was growing up, the Miss America Pageant was a big TV night. While my mother pin-curled my hair for church the next day, the whole family watched the pageant. It was our chance to see the faraway (at least from South Alabama) glamorous Atlantic City and 50 of the country’s most beautiful girls. By the time TV coverage started, the preliminaries had already happened and the competition was down to the top ten. We got to see evening gown competition, swimsuit competition, the talent competition, and the impromptu question and answer for each of the finalists. Naturally our family pulled for the Southern girls, and we all had opinions on who would win. Of course, Bert Parks was the emcee and one year, 1959, our favorite, a Mississippi girl won. It was Mary Ann Mobley, and I thought she was the most wonderful creature on earth. She could sing and dance and had a perfect body and straight teeth and I wanted to be just like her one day. But as I got older and stopped growing in height at 5’1” I was told that I’d never be a Miss America (or a Rockette) because beauty queens (and Rockettes) are tall.  I was limited not by ability or even my looks, but by something I could do nothing about. The conclusion here was that my body limited me as to what I could accomplish, what path I took in life, and maybe how valuable I was to the world.

My friend, Bonnie is almost six feet tall, which is well above average for a woman. At 5’1”, I am several inches under the average. We each have dealt occasionally with inferiority because of our heights, yet there is absolutely nothing that either of us can do about that. Oh, I can wear 3-inch heels and gain some altitude, but you will never see me in 3-inch heels. Bonnie, however, doesn’t have any tricks to reduce her elevation. She could, then, try to appear “normal height” by slouching or slinking about trying to minimize it. Instead she proudly stands straight, wears high heels, performs on stage, and seems to celebrate the gift of vertical real estate. When I asked Bonnie what image struggles she faced, she said,

“The summer before I entered 8th grade, I grew three inches from a normal height to almost six feet tall. Classmates would literally walk up and say “What happened to you?” as if I had three eyes.  I was taller than every guy in school, their fathers and the faculty at large. My journal from this year is in a safe place, rich with drama and not a little comedy. Those years are life-branding for many of us and unkind remarks could have taken me down. Thankfully, years of studying classical piano required correct posture. It was tough being tall and skinny and feeling geeky and different. I credit immersion in the performance arts and a healthy fascination with [1960’s model] Twiggy for a dose of courage. High heels have always been an option. I embraced the advantages of being tall but don’t we all wonder at what we haven’t experienced? I’ll always be fascinated with what it feels like to be look up into a man’s eyes, to buy clothes without having to check insanely long inseams, to be the cheerleader, tiny and tossed into the air. “(personal interview)

I’ve learned a lot about my own body image by watching Bonnie (and secretly praying that when I get to heaven, I’ll be tall and can look Bonnie in the eye.)

You know, I’ve never met another person (especially a woman) who loved the way she looked, especially when it came to her body. There’s always something, maybe many things, that made her less than perfect; but what constitutes perfection is a lie that we may embrace as truth.

On a website called Mirror, Mirror.org experts who address eating disorders publish great insights about body types. Here is one about the perfect body:

“If we consider society’s idea of the perfect body image for women based on the average fashion model, we would think that the perfect woman was about 5’10” and weighed only 120 pounds. However, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the average American woman is only about 5’4” and weighs about 169 pounds. There is a big discrepancy there.” [i]

Indeed.

[i] www.mirror-mirror.org

 

Beauty Power

“Social media may be fueling plastic surgery trends, docs warn.”

This was a headline on my news feed this morning. The article says, “…in 2017, 42 percent of plastic surgeons from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) reported patients sought cosmetic procedures to look better in selfies, Instagram, and Snapchat.”[i]

I was outraged when I read this. I shook my head and wondered what has happened to the younger generation! How much more obsessed can they be with themselves? But then I remembered it’s not just the current teens and young adults who are preoccupied with their looks. This fascination with beauty, that beauty equals value, predates us all.

Sarah, of biblical fame, “used” her beauty for personal gain and familial survival. Sarah’s beauty was renowned. Not only did her husband think she was gorgeous but other men, powerful men, in other cultures thought so too. As the scripture says, she became part of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s harem because his officials had seen her and reported that she was a knock out! Remember this story?

“Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, This is his wife. Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.'”

“When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. “Genesis 12:10-16 (NIV)

Crisis averted because of a pretty face.

And who can forget the story in Greek mythology of Helen of Troy whose “face launched a thousand ships?” Her beauty brought about the fabled Trojan War. So in history and in literature, beauty is associated with value and power. Remember the tapes running in our heads that define our worth? This one has been on a loop long before tape recorders were invented, and whether I see my own looks as defining my value, I’m still inclined to regard it in others. Here’s what brought me to this conclusion:

The first time I saw Katherine, I was captivated. She was twenty-something, blonde, ever perfect smile and a gregarious spirit. It was impossible not to like her. She and her husband, Jay, were friends of our 20-something son and daughter-in-law and we learned more about her through our visits to the LA church where they all attended.  Katherine was a model, an actress, and a natural spokesperson for mission causes through her church in Los Angeles.

Six months after her first child was born and three weeks before her husband’s graduation from law school, Katherine had a massive stroke. Her chances of survival were slim; however, if she did make it through surgery, her doctors stressed, she would likely spend the rest of her life in a vegetative state. Katherine miraculously made it through a 16-hour procedure and had retained a small portion of her original function. There was substantial paralysis on her right side. Her face was contorted, her limbs were twisted; she could not speak or swallow. In spite of all of her impairments, she was still cognizant and was able to communicate in the most basic level.  Her survival and recovery have been miraculous, even as reported by her doctors and therapists—and she is careful to give God the credit for her recovery. However, one of the tragedies (albeit it minor in comparison) is that when I, and perhaps others, heard the news of her stroke and saw before-and-after pictures, my first response was “How sad. She was so beautiful. Read more about Katherine’s journey in the book Hope Heals and on her website www.hopeheals.com.

So, we’ve established that beauty can mean power and value, but what constitutes beauty? How is it measured? That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] http://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/2017/05/23/social-media-may-be-fueling-plastic-surgery-trends-docs-warn.html