Age twelve. I sit in front of the mirror in the locker room after gym, watching my friend put on her mascara.
“We don’t like her.” She whispers to me with a cruel smile, eyeing a girl walking past us.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because she’s pretty.”
This dusty little memory popped into my head while watching the movie “The Help” a few months ago. Celia Foote, (brilliantly played by Jessica Chastain) spends her time trying to fit in with the high society women in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1950’s. I watched as Celia Foote, a lonely, hurting and stunningly beautiful young woman, pathetically peered through the window of another young woman hosting a bridge party that she was not invited to. She unassumingly leans over the shrubs, pie in hand, and the women inside duck and shush, snubbing her, until she leaves humiliated. The look on her red tear-streaked face cut right into the heart of me. I had tears running down my own face!
It’s because I’ve seen that look before–on the faces of many other women throughout my life, as well as my own. I think it is safe to say that all women have been on one or both ends of this kind of scenario at some point in their life.
My question is this: what makes the “more compassionate sex” capable of such ruthless behavior?
The most common answer among honest women would likely be personal insecurity. At the core of who we are, we want three things: To be loved, accepted, and admired.
The threat of losing those things can bring a woman to despicable action. Our primal survival instincts kick in when we think another woman has the ability to take them away from us. Unfortunately, our society has taught us that all three of them are contingent upon our society’s standard of what “beauty” is. It is the slow cancer that grows roots down into the crevices of our lives, affecting so much more than what kind of makeup we buy or the most recent statistics on teenage eating disorders. In a recent survey I conducted for a project, 92% of women said that on some level, the pressure they felt to be “beautiful” or “sexy” resulted in a difficulty to maintain healthy relationships with other women. Instead of appreciating each other’s beauty, we need to feel like we are surpassing it in order to feel comfortable in our own skin. I know that in the past, I have had to fight off the urge to size up a woman when I first meet her. Many times, I have been in situations where I want to look a woman in the eye and scream, “Relax! I don’t want to compete with you!”
A woman’s beauty is nothing less than an expression of God’s creative hand. Among many things, God made us to be beautiful. Just like the sight of Mt. Everest or the sun setting over the ocean, the sight of a beautiful woman should evoke feelings of awe, wonder, and respect for God’s creation. When we begin to compete with each other within that reality, we are choosing to worship ourselves instead. Beyond that, we are robbed of the gift of relationship. I long to see a culture of women rise up that celebrates one another’s beauty. What kind of freedom would be accessible to women if their greatest threats became their greatest companions—supporting one another, defending one another, rejoicing with one another?
It begins when we see each other for what we really are: sisters.
We forsake ourselves when we forsake our sisters. The refusal to affirm our culture’s beauty agenda is the game-changing choice that will turn the tide in the expectation on women to compete with one another. Let’s create a new norm for our daughters and granddaughters to inherit. No more competing! Let’s leave them a legacy of love and respect for other women instead of an obsession with a standard of beauty that doesn’t even exist.
Photo Credit: reasonstobreathe.tumblr.com