Each week in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
If you’re female and on the Internet (one of which describes me), you’ve probably come across the story of Bethany Townsend, the aspiring model with Crohn’s disease who audaciously took some bikini photos with her colostomy bags showing and posted them online. They went almost as viral as that potato salad thing, and got picked up by nearly every tabloidy site on the Web, including HuffPo, People, BuzzFeed, and a host of others. The cynic in me wants to say they only went viral because she looks good in a bikini, but hey, it’s cool that people can be more open and honest about their bodies.
I ran across the story several times, which almost definitely has everything to do with the fact that I’m all about affirming a positive body image and nothing to do with wanting to look at bikini pictures. I ran across yet another link to it yesterday, this time over at Women’s Heath, and figured I might as well read about it again, because I thought it was an interesting story, and definitely not because I felt like looking at more bikini photos.
So I started reading. The article was a bit more in-depth than the ones I had run into before. Hey, that’s cool, I said to myself, she had given up her dream of becoming a model, and then this happened! Good for her, and—
It was at this point that my reading was interrupted by one of those “popover” ads (you know, the ones that are like popups, except in the same window—like the ones on Upworthy that make you click “I am against equality” before you can watch the video). “Enter your email address below,” it said, “to access the 21-Day Bikini Body Plan!”
“No, thank you,” I said, hunting for the tiny “x” that would make it go away. “I already look as good in a bikini as I’ll ever need to.” I closed the ad and continued to read all the fascinating words in the article, doing my best to ignore those pesky bikini photos, until I got to the end and saw the banner ad: “Lose weight 3X faster! Show off your new body in 6 short weeks!”
And at this point, I said to myself, “If I were female, I’d be really confused. Am I supposed to love and accept my body or not?”
I couldn’t remember the last time I saw it laid out in such stark clarity, that the people telling you to love your body are the exact same ones telling you to hate it. That women’s—people’s—most vulnerable insecurities are being commodified and sold back to them.
It might seem counterintuitive to see such clashing messages come from the same source, but it’s not terribly hard to understand if the source is a moneymaking outlet. If they can teach you to hate your body, it’s easy to sell you diet programs, exercise regimes, cosmetics, and clothes; and when the negative message gets too much to bear, they know you’ll line up to hear the opposite. The one message primes you for the other, keeping you in an endless cycle of buying stuff.
Remember that Dove Soap “Real Beauty” campaign? The one that taught us that we were all beautiful despite society’s unattainable standards, and we’d all see it if we just used the right soap? Well, just FYI, Dove is owned by Unilever, a global conglomerate that also sells the proudly misogynistic Axe body spray. They crusade against female objectification when they’re selling soap to women and happily teach it to men when they’re working to make the world smell a little more like a middle school locker room. Why? Because there’s money in it. You won’t be primed to buy the “Dove” message without hearing the “Axe” one.
I’m not here to tell you whether you should buy Dove soap by the case or boycott it, nor am I here to tell you to stop reading Women’s Health (or to start). But I would encourage you to ask yourself what end your emotional needs serve. If you hate your body, that’s a problem; if the only thing that makes you feel better about your body are the words of a salesman, that’s arguably the bigger problem.
So, Christian woman (and, for that matter, Christian man), I would encourage you not to think of your body in terms of what others think of it, but in terms of what you know about it objectively and eternally. Your body has been washed in the waters of baptism and made Beautiful for all time. Your flesh has been perfected in a real sense by a God who took it upon himself and dragged it to hell and back to make it divine. Anything on top of that is just gravy.