Countercultural Body Image

April 10, 2016 No Comments »
Countercultural Body Image

By Jacqueline J. Holness

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 3.28.54 PMAs we are steeped in American culture, particularly pop culture, it is nearly impossible to ignore cultural cues around beauty and body image. Thankfully I have the Bible to turn to when I feel I’m not enough—whether it’s pretty enough, tall enough, thin enough, young enough, and on and on. 

Despite some of the detrimental messages about beauty and body image that are disseminated, I have been encouraged by some of the countercultural beauty and body image messages that have made headlines. I have identified seven countercultural beauty and body image messages in recent popular culture that compare to Scripture (whether intentional or not).

1. Aging: With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens last December, Carrie Fisher, who portrayed the iconic Princess Leia in the original films, appeared in the most recent installment. Many Twitter users criticized the actress for not aging well and for her weight. She responded with these poignant words: “Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They’re temporary happy byproducts of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.” Her words are comparable to Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

2. Clothing: Also in December, Ayesha Curry, wife of NBA superstar Stephen Curry, was also criticized after she dismissed current clothing trends on Twitter. “Everyone’s into barely wearing clothes these days, huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters.” Her countercultural words illustrate 1 Timothy 2:9: “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly” (New American Standard Bible).

3. Pageantry: When Miss Universe 2015 host Steve Harvey flubbed the winning announcement—naming Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez as Miss Universe rather than Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach, the true winner—the women reportedly responded with grace according to a Washington Post article. Miss Columbia said, “Everything happens for a reason, so I’m happy.” While Miss Philippines said, “It’s a very nontraditional crowning moment, isn’t it? It’s very 2015.” Maybe these women have read Proverbs 11:16: “A gracious woman gets honor” (English Standard Version).

4. Beauty: When actress Viola Davis was referred to as “less classically beautiful” in a 2014 New York Times article, Davis responded by stating, “Being a dark-skinned black woman, you heard it from the womb. And ‘classically not beautiful’ is a fancy term for saying ugly. And denouncing you. And erasing you.” Her stance brings to mind Song of Solomon 1:5: “I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon” (New Revised Standard Version).

5. Physique: Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, Serena Williams, has been relentlessly body shamed for her muscular physique throughout her record-breaking tennis career. In a New York Times article, it was said that “her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to.” However in that same article, Williams was quoted as saying, “I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it.” Obviously she has embraced messages such as the one in Psalm 139:14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

6. Hair: Grey hair, also known as “Granny Hair” on Twitter, was a beauty trend in 2015. Actress Ginnifer Goodwin and model Kate Moss are just two of the celebrities featured in the Glamour magazine article “The Grey Hair Trend: 19 Celebrities Who Have Rocked It.” The Bible does extol grey hair in Proverbs 16:31: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (ESV).

7. Body type: Although beauty and body image issues are traditionally less troublesome for men, culture pressure still exists. But attitudes toward men’s appearances are shifting too. Last year, the “Dad Bod” gained popularity. According to an article in The Odyssey by Mackenzie Pearson, the “Dad Bod” is “not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either.” Men with this body type are seen as more normal. To this trend 1 Samuel 16:7 applies: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It is challenging to counteract the negative beauty and body image standards extolled in our culture, but thankfully the Bible offers a godly blueprint for true and lasting beauty.

Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).

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