Backwards Beauty examines ten cultural lies young women listen to regarding beauty to help them unpack how they’re looking at themselves through the wrong lens. The “tips to feel ugly” range from “compare yourself to every other girl” to “eat junk and diet, diet, diet.”
Reading a book by Jessie Minassian is like sitting down with a friend and talking about the hard things in life. Girls will be able to find freedom and hope in the midst of a culture that idolizes beauty.
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How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps
By JESSIE MINASSIAN
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2016 Jessie Minassian
All rights reserved.
Kale, Kate, and the Great Longing
A few months ago, an ad for Shape magazine caught my eye.
Actually, since it's just us girls here, I might as well be honest: One particular picture of one particular person in one particular Shape magazine ad sent me on a mini body-image spiral. Let me explain.
I was on a mad Google hunt for a kale salad recipe. For real. But you know how those searches go: Whatever you start to look for usually gets sidetracked by lots of stuff you weren't looking for and didn't really need to know or see. Ever. (It's amazing how many rabbit holes run through that virtual wonderland we call the Internet.) So there I was, feeling pretty good about myself for searching for kale, period. But my determination was sidetracked before my third click.
The person who hijacked my search for a delicious cruciferous salad? Actress Kate Hudson, looking glowing and fabulous and oh-so-trim in her workout clothes. The article claimed that Miss Kate had a revolutionary workout that got her body rockin' like three minutes after the total-body-stretch-and-plump, also known as getting pregnant — a process I'm quite familiar with and have willingly undergone. Twice. (You are welcome, my children.) At this point, maybe I should mention that I've always thought Kate Hudson was beautiful. Really beautiful. Not in an obsessive way or anything. More like a "I sure wouldn't complain if I got mistaken for her twin" kind of way. So when this ad made it sound as though anyone could look just like that golden beauty — even after having kids — by following four simple exercises, I fell for it and clicked through.
So there I was, reading an article I had no intention of looking for, jealous of a woman I will never meet, and later, practicing Pilates moves on my dirty, sticky kitchen floor. I wish I could say my jealous tirade stopped there, but alas, it continued. The article mentioned that Kate had recently launched a new line of workout clothes, which she just happened to be wearing in the photo that had first caught my attention. So now I was on her workout clothes website, admiring Kate in spandex leggings, slouchy hoodies, and neon-colored sports bras. It sounds ridiculous to admit, but I couldn't help but ponder the next dumb question: Would I look like that if I wore those? It was as if someone opened my head, took out my usually logical brain, and put it on ice while I oohed and aahed at the promised butt-lifting shorts and tummy-slimming tops. I spent way too long browsing the entire "Kate's Picks" page and — as if wasting my time weren't enough — proceeded to waste my hard-earned cash by ordering a pair of black leggings and a camo-print tank top, complete with matching headband.
The clothes finally arrived, and when I tried them on, I didn't magically transform into Kate Hudson — big surprise. Don't get me wrong. They were cute, but my hair didn't spring into golden loveliness, and my booty certainly wasn't any tighter. I was still me: perfectly imperfect Jessie.
To be honest, before celebrating Kate Hudson Envy Day that fateful afternoon, I hadn't been spending a whole lot of time worrying about my looks. I guess you could say that as I've gotten older, I've become more comfortable in my skin (or maybe my skin has just gotten more comfortable as it stretches out). God has done amazing work in my heart and life over the past decade to help me see the beauty that was hiding in plain sight all along. So given my normally steady beat, I was shocked at how quickly I reverted to complete preoccupation with my looks based on one advertisement. My body-image relapse reminded me that every single girl out there — even of the Christian variety — feels the tension of a powerful longing at work in her heart.
The Great Longing
Can I tell you something about me? Something I don't usually start a conversation with?
I want to be pretty.
There, I said it. Does that make me a conceited starlet? An insecure whiner? A Hollywood wannabe? No, it just makes me a woman. And if you're female, I can guarantee with 100 percent certainty that you want to feel pretty too. How do I know? Because God made us that way.
Let's go back to the beginning. Do you remember the story? God made the sky and the water, the land and the animals, and then on the sixth day He made Adam. He set Adam up in the gorgeous Garden of Eden — the perfect backdrop to start this whole humanity thing — and gave him the job of taking care of all the plants and animals. But even with that lush setting and all those animals, Adam was lonely, and it didn't take long to realize that no lion, tiger, or bear was going to fill his need for companionship. So God put him to sleep, took a rib, and let His divine creative juices flow once again. And the rest is history: Eve was the culmination of artistry, God's final act of creation on planet Earth. And He declared that creating girls was a very good thing (see Genesis 1:31). (Can I get an amen?)
God could have created another Adam, you know. They could have been best bros and had a great time chasing the animals, singing campfire songs under the stars, and having belching contests after dinner. But instead He created something new, something "other." God created Eve very different from Adam. Sure there are those "anatomically correct" differences you learned about in sex ed class, but I'm talking about the more subtle differences that make men and women unique. Here are just a few to get you thinking:
Of course, these are generalities, so please don't do the normal girl thing and start comparing yourself to everything in the right-hand column! I've included them only to help you consider some of those unique characteristics about your body that make you distinctly woman.
I'm sure you've heard the joke about how the first woman got her name. After God got done turning Adam's rib into a masterpiece, He brought her to Adam for the big reveal. Adam took one look at that hot li'l lady and exclaimed, "Whoa, man!" (Ba-dum-cha.)
Lame joke. But it holds a timeless truth: God made Eve to be Adam's beautiful counterpart. Did you catch that? From our softer skin and captivating curves to our sensitive and nurturing nature, part of our role as girls is simply to be beautiful! How cool is that?
The very fact that God didn't create another Adam says something. God created Eve's body and soul to captivate Adam, to delight him and enchant him. God wanted Adam to find Eve desirable. (Kind of helps with that whole "be fruitful and multiply" command He gave in Genesis 1:28.) And here's the really important part we need to understand before we talk about beauty: God gave Eve a desire to be desired.
She wanted to be wanted by Adam.
Fast-forward several thousand years, and you and I are no different. As Eve's daughters, our hearts are wired to want to be the object of a man's longing. We desire to be desirable, just like our Edenic momma. But here's where that desire gets twisted: In the twenty-first century, most of the voices we hear every day tell us that only a very particular kind of girl is physically beautiful. And if we don't feel that we match that image of beauty being shoved in our faces everywhere we look, it crushes a little piece of our identity. It's like a knife being shoved into our hearts and twisted. It makes us feel inferior, and we wonder if we'll ever be wanted. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that because you weren't tall enough or thin enough or curvy enough or smooth enough that you just weren't enough? Not just that you weren't as pretty as the next girl but that you — as a person, at the core of your being — weren't enough? Well, that's your woman-ness talking. And we need to get a handle on the truth of our beauty and our desirability if we're not going to get owned by our insecurities, especially if we're going to start believing what God says about us.
So first things first. To get to the truth of our beauty, we need to answer this age-old question: Does outward beauty matter?
"It's What's on the Inside That Counts" (And Other Truths We Pretend to Believe)
We've all heard it at one time or another. For me it comes like clockwork when I'm looking in the mirror on one of my worst hair days, or when I get a monster zit dead center on my forehead or on the tip of my nose. (Why they always show up in the worst possible places, I do not know. But I digress ...) From out of the depths of my gray matter, I hear her: my alter ego with a voice reminiscent of a ninety-three-year-old woman looking for her lost poodle. "Now, Jessie," she croons, "just remember: It's what's inside that counts!" If my eyes rolled any farther back, I'm sure I'd see her in the back of my head, knitting booties in a rocking chair, no doubt. And I want to fire back, "Oh yeah? No one's going to care what's inside when they get knocked over by this thing protruding from my face, now are they?"
But is it true? Is internal beauty really all that matters?
As we'll see in a minute, God's Word is crystal clear: Internal beauty is priority numero uno. It's definitely most important. That said, in real life, statements such as "It's what's on the inside that counts" and "God's opinion matters most" fall flat on hearts programmed to be desirable. And I'd rather wrestle through some hard truths together than give you pat answers. When you feel ugly, hearing "God loves you just the way you are" feels like bailing water from a sinking cruise liner with a thimble.
I think some of us Christians have focused so much on the superiority of internal beauty that we've stifled that God-given longing we have as girls to be beautiful outside, too. Maybe God had Bible writers like Solomon, Peter, and Paul remind girls about the importance of internal beauty because we already had the external part down! It comes naturally to us to care about looking good. I don't think any of us would argue that if left to ourselves, we girls do tend to care too much about looking good on the outside. So God wrote verses like these to remind us not to go overboard on our looks:
The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 SAMUEL 16:7
A beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig's snout. PROVERBS 11:22
Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. PROVERBS 31:30
Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. 1 PETER 3:3-4
These verses should be scrawled across our bathroom mirrors and posted on our closet doors. We need to memorize them, meditate on them, and let them flow out of our lives! But I also see room for balance. These verses don't tell us we have to choose between all internal or all external. That's great news for those of us who enjoy mascara, mud masks, and a perfect pair of shoes. We can enjoy being girls and still love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds (which Jesus said is the greatest commandment; see Matthew 22:37-38). Call me crazy, but I think it's possible to be outwardly beautiful while still having discretion, fearing the Lord, and cultivating a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4).
We can't ignore the desire God has given us to be desirable any more than we can wish away our uterus. It's just part of being a woman, my friend. So it should come as good news to us that beauty isn't bad. Looking cute isn't evil. Can it become an idol? Absolutely. And we're going to discover how to guard against that in the chapters to come. But there's another reason why we need to treat the pursuit of beauty carefully: Arriving at "beautiful" is next to impossible. In fact, it seems the harder we try to reach our idea of perfect beauty, the less likely we are to see ourselves as beautiful. Interestingly enough, even girls who seem to match society's ideal are not immune to feeling undesirable.
The Harder We Try, the Less We Succeed
Just about every girl on the planet struggles with self-worth and body-image issues, even the prettiest, most popular specimens of our species. One friend in particular stands out as a perfect example of this bizarre phenomenon. The first time I saw Cassidy was during a work meeting, and I was — how do I put it? I think completely intimidated about sums it up. At five foot eight, her slender (but not-too-skinny) frame and tan complexion caught my attention. She had long brown hair, sparkling eyes, and the cutest freckles you ever saw. Cassidy was beautiful.
I finally got over my fear that Cassidy would somehow eat me alive and sat next to her one day. Turns out she was the picture of sweetness — a down-to-earth girl with a love for God and a passion for His Word. In time we got to be good friends, so when I started doing research for a Bible study I was writing about body image for women, I asked if I could interview her. Here are a few of her answers:
Q: True or False: I believe I am beautiful inside and out.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you with the way you look?
Q: True or False: If it had been up to me, I would have made me just the way I am.
Q: What would you need to change in order to feel completely content with your body?
A: I want longer legs, a smaller nose, straighter teeth, bigger eyes, skin not so ruddy, a body not so flabby, fewer freckles and moles, no spider veins, a chin that doesn't just drop right off into my neck (I have no jawline), olive skin, arms not so hairy, a butt that doesn't jiggle so much, and bigger boobs. I would also like to maintain a slightly thinner frame, and I cannot decide which would be better: a breast enlargement or a nose job.
When I read Cassidy's answers, my jaw just about hit the floor. Really? She couldn't possibly be talking about the same person I saw. How could someone so beautiful feel so not beautiful?
Cassidy had everything going for her too. Not only was she beautiful, she also had a great job, really nice (supercute) fiancé, and killer personality. Yet this beautiful daughter of the King admitted to struggling with self-loathing. At first glance, it seemed that of all people, Cassidy should be feeling pretty confident about herself. I mean, she checked nearly every box on society's "beauty scorecard." So the fact that even she was ready to sign up for a nip, tuck, and plump showed me that none of us is immune. In fact, her honesty hit on an important truth. It doesn't make sense, but here it is:
The more we focus on becoming physically beautiful, the uglier we feel.
Remember, wanting to look beautiful — to be desirable — isn't bad, but we have to be careful. And realistic. The more we focus on becoming beautiful, the further away perfection will feel. If we think we'll be most wanted if we attain a one-size-fits-all image of perfection, we're going to be chasing that proverbial carrot our entire lives. Always chasing. Trust me, I know. It's a law of life that I'm quite familiar with, and I have the Kate-Hudson-look-alike clothes to prove it (as well as the emotional scars that came from trying to be something I'm not for much of my life).
Yep, I have a whole lot of experience trying to measure up to a fleeting beauty ideal. I've tanned and starved and bought and primped in search of feeling beautiful, and none of it did anything to make me feel more so. In fact, based on my experience, it just made matters worse. But here's the good news: Because of all that useless chasing, I now have a whole slew of tips to help you feel pretty awful about yourself. Yep, you read that right. I have ten simple steps to help you feel your worst. These are tried-and-true methods, authenticated by me and the experiences of all womankind. I'm excited to introduce them to you, though I have a feeling you might already be acquainted.
Excerpted from Backwards Beauty by JESSIE MINASSIAN. Copyright © 2016 Jessie Minassian. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Start Here Kale, Kate, and the Great Longing 1
Step #1 Believe What You See On Screen 17
Step #2 Gee "The Look" at All Costs 33
Step #3 Compare Yourself to Every Other Girl 51
Step #4 Believe Nasty Words (Yours and Others') 67
Step #5 Refuse to Take a Compliment 85
Step #6 View Your Body as a Power Tool 97
Step #7 Eat Junk and Diet, Diet, Diet 113
Step #8 Adore or Ignore Exercise 131
Step #9 Treat Your Scale like a Magic Mirror 140
Step #10 Idolize Beauty 161
A Note from the Author 177