Thin is a poverty of spirit

During nighttime prayers recently, my eldest daughter asked God to always keep her looking young. In the past my girls have heard me say “never grow up” but this sounded different. After her prayer, I asked why she said that.

She hemmed and hawed, but direct questions revealed the truth. My daughter’s classmates—seven- and- eight-year-olds in second grade—have been talking about how to be thin, pretty and lose weight. One girl, apparently, bragged about the pills her parents buy to help her stay thin. I don’t know if that’s true or if she thinks saying it makes her seem more important.

As happens with children, this kind of thin thinking has rubbed off on my daughter. She didn’t really understand what they were talking about, but she tried to fit in anyway.

My heart grieved to learn that my daughter was already facing this subtle persecution that chips away at women their entire lives, lies dripping on their soul, eroding a healthy sense of self bit by bit. I also grieve for her classmates with mothers and fathers who may not affirm their inherent dignity and build up their sense of self-worth. I grieve especially for those girls with no father at all to demonstrate with affectionate words and loving actions what masculine love is meant to be.

This story would be sadder still if I felt it was the job of my daughter’s peers or the culture at large to raise her and to teach her the nature of herself and the world. My wife and I know this is our responsibility and we take it seriously. We have chosen to steer our children away from falsehood when possible while concurrently teaching them about the fallen nature of this world.

It’s become a great joke among my in-laws, but I like to use the word “deception” when teaching my children. (Say it with a hiss for better effect.) If we examine the media world of today, fairly everything is a fabricated version of truth meant to change our attitudes, beliefs and actions, and quite often to encourage us to part with our money. The most insidious lies being promoted today are those intending to deceive about the value of women and what brings true happiness in relationships. Even here, language fails. The term that best conveys my meaning is economic in nature. Perhaps it is best to just stand back and behold.

Sadly, economics is the key to understanding how women and men alike understand the significance of women today. Women’s bodies are used to sell consumer goods of all kinds and in the process, become objects themselves. Jean Kilbourne is an author, speaker, and filmmaker who has fought for decades against the harmful portrayal of women in the media. She says it’s getting worse. But we knew that.

What we don’t know nearly enough is why these sexist and sexualized media messages are harmful and why they must be stopped or, better, overcome by goodness, beauty and truth. Kilbourne explains: “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”

Women suffer from many overt forms of violence, such sexual exploitation or verbal and physical abuse. They are also at risk from emotional and psychological violence stemming from lies about their true nature as beloved beings made in the image and likeness of God.

I’m grateful that my daughter shared her thoughts and that I was there to hear them. I thanked her for being open about what she experiences at school. That night, I spent the next 15 minutes—with her younger sisters listening—sharing the truth about her: that she is an amazing girl who is unique throughout all of time, the rarest of treasures made by a loving God to be His beloved child. She heard how much her mother and I loved her just the way she is and what her true qualities of beauty are: her tender heart for those in need, her prayers of faith, the song that pours out of her mouth each day, the creativity with which adorns her room, and the unique blessings of being a girl, including but not limited to, her ability to one day conceive and bring forth new life within herself.

She also heard that night and regularly that the world is fallen and that many people are willing to use and even harm others in order to get what they want. She learns that what little she does see on TV is often not true. She is reminded why our family does things differently than other families—not drastically, but enough for her to notice the difference.

Our job as parents is to promote the good, the true and the beautiful to our children. We teach that these categories are mutually inclusive in God’s design. Something cannot be truly beautiful if it is a lie. Truth, goodness and beauty work in harmony. The so-called beauty of women most often portrayed in the media is a poisonous lie.

There are, indeed, enticing deceptions in this world and our children will be curious. Ours is to nurture the truth that it may outpace the lies that constantly vie for their attention. We need to especially tell our daughters the truth of what it means to be human and highlight the unique aspects of true femininity. Lead and end with the truth.

To that end, I commend the video below. I highly encourage you to spare five minutes to watch it. It may change your life and the lives of your daughters.

(Please note: the video includes some highly suggestive images. All are easily found within the popular media, but they may still be a trigger for some. Watch with caution.)