Today I found myself looking at a website I never thought I’d be on—the Sports Illustrated swimsuit page.
Trust me, I didn’t last long. I knew the images would be suggestive, but I didn’t expect to feel that appalled that quickly. Call me sheltered. Call me conservative. Call me close-minded. Call me whatever you want. I don’t care.
I went to the website because, quite honestly, I was intrigued by the story of the size 16 model who they say “changed history” as the first plus size model to be featured on the cover of the swimsuit edition. My first thought when I saw the article was You go girl! I felt relieved when I saw her thighs and then glanced down at the stretch marks on my own.
But shortly after that celebration came a stirring of different emotions, emotions that made me reconsider my self-praising thoughts. Although the standard had shifted slightly in my favor, this was a still a human, a group of humans actually, who were shouting through this image of an almost nude woman saying “This is what is beautiful! Pay attention. After years of feeling not good enough, maybe YOU can feel a little closer to meeting the accepted standard of beauty!” Oh how nice of you, society.
They are giving us a new image that is acceptable to worship, to strive toward becoming. It may have a few extra pounds on it now, but it’s an image nonetheless. Humans have always craved something tangible to worship, something other than the One who created us, simply because He doesn’t seem attractive, or sexy, enough. Just today, I was reading the story of Moses to my 3 year old, and he was very intrigued by the golden cow that the people had created to worship. It’s not a lot different now; we just try to create the perfect human image instead.
I had a flash back to those awkward, in-between childhood and adulthood years when I was determined to create my own image. I struggled to find a balance of physical fitness and a healthy attitude that was not obsessed with trying to conform to what was considered “normal” and “beautiful” and “successful”. In trying not to become obsessed, I did just that. It was a very difficult downward spiral of comparing myself to others instead of just being me, and that spiral was very hard to break.
Images such as the ones portrayed by Sports Illustrated and other media sources stirred up a deep-rooted envy and desire to create an appearance that would be admired. I’m not sure why I craved admiration so much; I suppose I didn’t know that it wouldn’t be all that fulfilling. The journey to achieve it certainly proved unfulfilling.
Over time, through experiencing the real love of God, a husband and children, I have almost abandoned that desire. I have transformed into one who is searching for joy, peace, and all things lasting. I can’t say that I don’t sometimes wish I had tone thighs or 6 pack abs, but those wishes are not priority because I know those things would only give me temporary happiness, pride, and more temptation to seek admiration. I want physical health, but I want it for the right reasons.
I guess in a way, I am a little bit glad that our culture is making this shift to be more accepting of cellulite and stretch marks; perhaps fewer women will suffer from self-esteem problems and depression. But it’s a shame that it takes the opinion of an entity such as Sports Illustrated to “make history” and change our opinions on what is beautiful. It’s a shame that it takes a change in their opinion to make us change how we feel about ourselves. It’s a shame that their sudden change in the definition of beauty affects my level of insecurity and self-satisfaction.
More than anything it’s a shame that this change makes us even more into ourselves, an obsession that always leads to more bad than good.
Worshipping ourselves has never been, and never will be, a fruitful thing. The more praise we get from other humans, the more inflated and prideful we become, and pride is a thirst that is never fully quenched—an addiction, if you will.
I’m not saying it’s bad to admire someone’s beauty, but we all know how self-destructive it can be when it leads down a road of jealousy, bitterness, lust, and ultimately a hollow, egocentric life.
Although it sounds good that Sports Illustrated now denounces the “cookie cutter beauty” idea, I think it’s safe to say their definition of beauty probably hasn’t expanded quite enough to include all of us. And honestly, I’m not so sure I want to be included.