It was the summer of 2010 and I sitting on a plane bound for the Middle East thinking “This is crazy!” I was nervous and I watched while the women on the plane started to put on burquas and veils as they neared their home country. I started to get anxious. Why did I quit my job to come to a foreign country and meet women I didn’t know, build a friendships and teach them English? My curiosity had gotten the best of me. I was tired of watching the news about extremist Muslims that wanted to blow me and my family up. I didn’t know much about Muslims, but I wanted to. I wanted to get to know women that lived quietly beneath the black veil. I wanted to know about the mysterious culture. Common sense told me that not every Muslim was secretly thinking of ways to kill me. All I see on the news are male terrorists, male politicians and male soldiers…The other thought that plagued me was “Where are the women?” I was on an adventure that would cause my perspective of the world to explode. I’m a tall, blonde haired, blue eyed Model from New York City. I’m not a Muslim, but I am a woman. I don’t claim to be a Theologian or an expert on the Middle East, but I want to share some woman’s stories and perspective and bring awareness gained through my studying and traveling to those who also may wonder “Who is the quiet woman behind the veil?” In the U.S. I didn’t know many Muslim women and in the Subways of New York occasionally I would see a women in a veil out with her husband and children. I was intimidated now sitting on the plane lost in my thoughts and anxieties, but it was too late to turn back. I pulled my pink scarf up to cover my golden hair and took a deep breath as I clutched my passport with white knuckles and we neared the ancient land where the history is so intensely rich and deep…
“Whatever causes a civilization to blush defines that civilization’s values.”
I wrote a Facebook Status recently blasting the global phenomenon “50 Shades of Grey”. The response was enormous. Though I was at work I looked at my phone and saw the status had about 75 likes in the first 20 min or so and then grew to over 300 likes by the next day. Clearly I hit a nerve. Many Facebook friends both agreed or disagreed with my opinion and I wanted to take some time to unpack this issue and why I have taken the very strong stance against the popular series . My position is not a judgmental one of women that like and/or have read the books or will watch the movie coming out. Quite the opposite actually. I know WHY women like those books and it makes me mad that the love story portrayed is a lie and doesn’t give the solution for satisfying the desires it stirs up. It’s a destructive counterfeit of true love that is being marketed to women worldwide and THAT’S what makes me angry.
This is not just another book series, or just an exciting erotic story of romance. The far reaching implications of how it will further affect women, our emotional health, personal relationships and reflect the bigger picture of the condition of our culture is my major concern. I’m happy to explain further. Some have stated I have no leg to stand on and that I can’t form an opinion without reading the books. There’s an error in that logic. I also feel very strongly about the drug Meth and just because I haven’t tried it, doesn’t mean I haven’t researched the results of addiction, observed Meth addicts here on the streets of New York City and watched multiple documentaries on it. Meth is a drug that tricks your mind into thinking that you are experiencing intense pleasure as it produces record amounts of dopamine in your brain. What it is actually doing is giving you a temporary high that keeps you in bondage as you continue to search for that initial high that you will never have at that intensity again. Additionally, the lie of this counterfeit pleasure in the form of an illegal drug is that it gradually kills your ability to experience pleasure making it harder to enjoy simple parts of your life or relationships you could before. All of that is enough for me to make a personal decision that I do not need to try Meth to know that it won’t help me mentally, physically and emotionally to reach my personal goals in life or my future relationship, especially my desire for a healthy marriage.
I have read plenty of opinion pieces both for and against the series. I have also read the historical base of BDSM tracing back to the greek gods centuries ago. I have also read the results of research done with women that have read the books and those who haven’t. Also, some background: I had a modeling job last year for a lingerie client who got mad at me for what pieces I wouldn’t wear for a showroom job for her small NY boutique and overall a job that made me so uncomfortable. I’m not proud of it, but I sat through a training session with a woman who was a professional BDSM practitioner. I was disturbed by a lot of the process she explained, the reasoning, the tricking of the senses and turning pain into pleasure or enjoyment. I wasn’t judging her. I just felt sad about the whole practice. It didn’t sound like love making to me.. She explained the process thoroughly and demonstrated techniques. In addition to that eye opening experience I have also have sat across from a beautiful young woman over time who had become so confused from an ongoing relationship with an older man that involved BDSM and how much it affected her self-esteem. Not always, but in a lot of situations drugs or alcohol are also used to help a female to consent. The lines of what is consensual becomes blurred and this is what worries some professionals in abuse prevention work. I looked into my friend’s eyes and you can’t tell me that her “willing” participation didn’t make the result any less tragically. It perverts and inhibits the ability of the woman to experience love that doesn’t involve pain moving forward. The damage is real. Something died in her eyes. The regret and confusion she is left to sort through and heal from. My heart broke. For every woman that is or has been in that place of confusion I have to speak up.
Women are hungry. The reaction to the book makes that clear. We are lonely and experience desires in our deepest parts. I think that instead of eating a steak dinner (or Vegan/Vegetarian equivalent!), 50 Shades of Grey is more like buying an economy sized bag of Twinkies and eating them all in one sitting. Not only will it not feed the true hunger we have, but it’s a counterfeit of real food and after the fact will leave us feeling sick to our stomach, rather than satisfied. The core desires we have are God-given, real and aren’t meant to induce shame. We all want to be actively pursued by a strong man, be led in relationship, desired sexually and not be abandoned or rejected by the man we give ourselves to. Sex is the most beautiful and intimate act in existence and was designed by God himself. It’s not just for procreation, though that is a main purpose to bring new life. Ravi Zacharias shares in his book, Recapture the Wonder, “Why could reproduction not have been an act, without pleasure? Life could still be generated. I truly believe that God has shown His marvelous creation by giving us pleasure in such unique ways. Touch with sensation. Nourishment with taste. Embrace with emotion. Sexuality with consummation. And memory so that we can retain and anticipate the experience. Mindless evolution could not have concocted such extraordinary connections and sequences.” To further show that reasoning there is an entire book of the Bible written on sex buried in the middle of the Old Testament called the Song of Songs and it is very powerful expression of love, affection and the mystery of ecstasy and intimacy. It is the closest thing to the symbolic picture of intimacy and pleasure we will experience until the day when our relationship with God is healed and made perfect once again. The desire to be known fully inside and out, imperfections and all, and loved completely anyway. In other news… 🙂 there is also another Old Testament book, Hosea. I highly recommend a story version written by Francine Rivers called Redeeming Love. This biblical story is written about a very godly man whom God told to go an marry a prostitute there in town, love her and unconditionally care for her in the most pure and selfless of ways. She didn’t understand his love and had trouble recognizing and receiving it because the treatment she had come to know in the brothels that had not only confused her desires, but made her angry and bitter. Hosea (known as Michael Hosea in the novel) is a man that let God use him to show how God pursues each of us and uses storytelling to share of his compassion for his people. He will always come for us no matter how many times we run from divine love and need to be rescued. Beautiful.
Part of my grave concern is younger women, especially those with newfound freedom and natural curiosity. I worry about what influence they will allow to define love for them. Popular culture is now a parent to the next generation. I’m only 30 years old, but younger women now are growing up in a very different time than I did. Amy Bonomi, PHD, MPH, at Michigan State University conducted research with a team from the Human Development and Family Studies, surveying a group of women from a major midwestern University ranging in ages 18-24 and the study reveals some health risks for young women related to the influence of these novels. The results showed women who read the books were more likely to have experienced some form of abuse by a partner, eating disorders or using diet aids, have participated in binge drinking or had 5 or more sexual partners. This evidence should at the very least be considered if you are in support of the series as an older woman, whether personally or recommended to other women. Would you give these books to your teenage daughter to read? Conclusions from the study summarized: “Problematic depictions of violence against women in popular culture—such as in film, novels, music, or pornography—create a broader social narrative that normalizes these risks and behaviors in women’s lives. Our study showed strong correlations between health risks in women’s lives—including violence victimization—and consumption of Fifty Shades, a fiction series that portrays violence against women. While our cross-sectional study cannot determine temporality, the order of the relationship may be inconsequential; for example, if women experienced adverse health behaviors first (e.g., disordered eating), reading Fifty Shades might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma. Likewise, if women read Fifty Shades before experiencing the health behaviors assessed in our study, it is possible that the book influenced the onset of these behaviors by creating an underlying context for the behaviors.” The full study can be found in it’s entirety from The Journal of Women’s Health here.
Returning to the analogy of hunger and thirst there is a Bible story in The New Testament I’d like to share or remind you of. It is one that needs to be understood through the lens of Middle Eastern culture. There is a story involving Jesus that took place in approximately A.D. 30 at a well outside of Samaria, which would be present day West Bank in Palestine. No matter how many times you’ve heard this story or if even if this is your first time hearing it, please understand how radical this encounter was by reflecting on the context. This was not a man approaching a woman at a shopping mall in Las Vegas. This was a much stranger interaction with some far reaching implications if Jesus is who he claimed to be.The New Testament accounts the hostility of Jews to the Samaritan people and what makes this story so powerful and unique (Note: I’m not making any political points or conclusions here). The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was strained to say the least and the animosity shown (Luke 9:52-54;10:25-37;17:11-19;John 8:48) was so intense that Jews traditionally bypassed Samaria when traveling between Galilee and Judea. On top of that, the genders don’t communicate freely with one another or mix, as we do here in the Western world on a daily basis. A Jewish man (a rabbi and religious teacher) talking to a woman alone. There is a separation of genders in everyday life for the majority of the Middle East to this day. There is also a high respect for pure behavior, the marriage relationship and expectations to save sexual relations for marriage. This was also the case back in Jesus’ time. Also, Jesus spoke to a woman who had come to the well at a really hot hour of the day “the 6th hour” or 9am, long after women usually go to the well in the cool morning hours as a group. Commentaries tell us that this detail signifies that she was a social outcast in the community and we will soon find out why.
Here is the conversation straight from the Bible (John 4 ESV):
7 “A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.[b] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” …….. 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Revolutionary. Jesus came first to a woman who, in that day, could easily have been stoned if religious leaders suspected any or all of her story were true. Her encounter ended in a far different and more beautiful way when she encountered Jesus. She was invited to something better, something far more satisfying than she could even grasp. Jesus didn’t condemn her. He didn’t point out the behavior was wrong, condemn her, punish her and walk away. Nope. He humbly asked her for help and for water because he didn’t have a bucket. He didn’t act like he was superior to her. He pointed out the sin to bring her discontent to light. Then he offered her more than that. He offered her something that would quench her thirst and called it living water. She could chase after affirmation from men, seeking to please them no matter what it took or she could seek a love that would always satisfy… I can just imagine this precious woman after the encounter running maniacally back to town as fast with hope coursing through her veins so she could share with anyone who would listen about a man who knew her whole past.
I have barely scratched the surface on this topic, but to conclude some thoughts I want you to know I am capable as a woman of reading and enjoying this book because inside of me I have the desires that would draw me into it, but the only reason I can’t is because I know better. This series is a lie. This author didn’t tell us the whole story of Christian and Ana. It’s a lie that goes against the love I see played out in the pages of the Bible and the traces of a greater love story that begins in Genesis 1 and ends with Revelation 21. I know a better love we can embrace. One I don’t deserve, but have experienced in a personal way because I am that woman at the well. We all are. In Paul’s words (1 Timothy 1:15-16):
“15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” This is why the life of Jesus who lived thousands of years ago matters to me and why it makes it impossible to accept 50 Shades of Grey as entertainment.
When we internalize this dignity given to us, it will make it easier to reject false loves in whatever form they will take. Just like training someone to recognize counterfeit money. They don’t study counterfeits, they study the real thing. It’s the same with love and romance. Oh yea and one more thing: You don’t need a safe word with Jesus.
As a young woman that has moved around quite a bit it has been a rare occasion to find a little place to call home over the last decade since my college years. It fascinates me to look at the book of Genesis and realize that the first home that existed for the first woman Eve was a garden. I see the traces of that left in the things I observe myself and other woman seek and consider beautiful. A spectrum of colors, natural daylight, bright colors, fresh flowers and plants throughout. Though most of us don’t live outside we feel this deep and beautiful connection to the outdoors. Moments of solitude that we wish to find here.
The pursuit of beauty is a part of what it means to be human. It unites us on a quest to be human and embrace the humanity around us. This pursuit leads us to find beauty in coming out of darkness and see the beauty in humanity around us.
“In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.” – Christopher Morley
Learning to see and know what is beautiful and why is part of the process of life. This is the key to not abusing beauty or misunderstanding it. There is a glory around us in others and a way to experience mystery in life. To start, let’s examine how wonder is destroyed, so we can proactively make changes in our perspective and current reality.
I have observed an interesting game around me since my early 20’s around me in this overwhelming, loud, dirty and magical city called New York. A search that never stops, the money that flows to fund this search and this game. The search for another moment to experience beauty. The woman searchs for it in purchase after purchase after purchase. The Sephora’s are packed full, the followers of each beauty and style blog or Instagram account multiply exponentially and the men of New York City betray the wife of their youth allowing themselves to follow and search to acquire beauty by spending thousands on bottle service or attempting one night stands with young, beautiful models. They keep searching for those moments, moments that will bring pleasure and meaning. They think they just haven’t found it yet. If they have that girl on their arm, just have that night of pleasure, then they will acquire the beauty they search for. The women strive to become that beauty and the men strive to acquire and experience that beauty. They use each other to try to get to reach the goals, but it doesn’t satisfy. The disillusionment inevitably follows.
“These things- the beauty, the memory of our own past-are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.” -C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”
Look for it in yourself. You’ll see the ways marketing and culture has played off of your Spirit longings. It keeps leading you on a search telling you that you can get there. What if we took a moment to realize that heaven is not going to be fully experienced here on earth, but that there are moments where we glimpse here on earth? What I’ve found is that we don’t find it in the places we think. What if we slowed down from the busy, frantic searching and spent moments realizing what destroys the moments of ecstasy and true beauty? Mark Sayers writes in The Trouble with Paris: “We objectify the whole of life when we worship idols that are simply objects. If our culture holds materialism as one of it’s highest values, the converse reality is that the spiritual, the sacred, and all sense of mystery is sucked out of life. We will then turn the people we love into objects, mere things, whose only purpose is to deliver us happiness and pleasure; we rob them of their humanity.”
Painfully powerful truth. Look for moments in your week where you can remind yourself about the value of people and relationships, as different than tasks or material possessions. Separate them in your mind and see your actions follow suit to reflect that way of thinking. Maybe moments of peace and reflection can give us rest from the frantic search and we can get ourselves back on the right path. The path of acknowledging the beauty of humanity and not seeing those around us as objects. This path to restoring the mystery of beauty and the glimpses of heaven that will follow await each one of us…
Like many others, I love these new campaigns coming out that are drawing attention to the industry of retouching images of models as they create images for ads. The famous Dove Real Beauty sketches campaign and the #realnotretouched campaign by Darling Magazine where this mantra was stated in a recent issue:”Let’s move and shake the standards of media to see women as masterpieces in the first place, instead of a flawed canvas that’s in need of modification.” The distortion of these images to fit an industry standard is a perfect parallel between the connection of insecurity and depression to the appearance of others social media accounts when we “compare our life’s behind the scenes to another’s highlight reel”.
Sometimes with me. I find myself late at night scrolling instagram before heading to bed and end up on a supermodel’s instagram… wah, wahhhhh. Bad idea. Funny how it puts me in a state of mind of not feeling good enough and I get lost in a downward spiral that dramatically leaves me feeling like the ugliest woman on the planet. I find myself lost in a dramatic moment I can’t get out of. It’s an illusion and a game that we never win. The game of comparison.
Finally , when it comes to body image here’s another starting point for perspective. Regarding beauty this has been a conversation of the ages, in different cultures, countries and continents over thousands of years. We only live one lifetime and we happen to live in a time and society that values a 5’11”, perfectly bronzed, size 0 figure as the pinnacle of beauty. Remember precious woman, that hasn’t always been the case. Let’s think bigger. Outside of the box. Let’s be different and fall in love with ourselves and our life all over again… It’s the only one we have. It’s real and reality can be much more beautiful when we make it our home.
Beauty found in boundaries is a fascinating concept. When a make-up artist goes to work she uses boundaries and colors within the lines to make a face look beautiful. She uses lip liner to keep the beautiful rich color on the lips, so it doesn’t bleed into the skin around the mouth. She also keeps the eye shadow to angles within the boundaries of the eyelid below the eyebrow.
Another perfect example is found in nature. We love beaches and see them as a powerful sign of beauty, especially when you add a sunrise to the visual. When the boundaries of the beach are breached it turns into disaster and chaos. The beach loses the initial beauty because the water that was once beautiful and pleasant to look at becomes destructive to those around it.
There seems to be an idea in our culture now where things and people are confused and I bring this up because I’ve found it to be one of the biggest hindrances to real and true beauty in the purest form. This idea that we all selfishly do what we want and everything is going to turn out ok seems to be really common now. We’ve lost the perspective of living life backwards. If we live like this not worrying about a destination where will life leave us 40 years from now? Though we have an obsession with staying young and denying the fact of aging, what if we thought more about where our decisions will leave us one day? Knowing what we want our destination to be will bring so much more beauty into the present moment. The opposite mindset of wisdom, is something we now know as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). It is an obsession on having the most fun in the present moment. I remember the moment a couple years ago, where I realized I was living in a nightmare because I was living a life that culture was labeling and selling as meaningful but I couldn’t quite figure out what went wrong and why I was so depressed… We have been told by advertising and culture that the answer to self fulfillment is to find self fulfillment in being beautiful, traveling and generally being cool.
When we live to consume things and people, rather than consume life by making real love and relationships than one day we wake up and wonder what happened when the wonder is gone. In his book The Trouble with Paris Mark Sayers states it this way: ” As our Western culture has moved away from the religious and spiritual beliefs that have given us solace, meaning and direction, we have not necessarily stopped acting religiously… Hyperconsumerism is what we really place our faith in to deliver a meaningful and fulfilled life in the here and now…. If we are to define religion as the worldview and beliefs that determine our identity, actions, and hope, then hyperconsumerism is the biggest church in town.” He defines hyperconsumerism as a framework of thinking where the whole of life becomes like going to a shopping mall. Our need for identity is no longer found in our divine creation, but in the things we consume.
Begin to look for this way of thinking in your life and find some freedom in the journey of beauty by developing a more self aware mindset of what will destroy the wonder we so desperately want to recapture. The moments money can’t buy.
More to come…
Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world. Seems to me so many of us never have realized how much it has to say about beauty, because we’ve been so focused on trying to keep the laws and feeling guilty for what we have or haven’t done. The older I get and the more I study faith in the Bible the more delighted I am with hope and an explanation for beauty and our endless search for it. According to Anthony Ciorra in his personal study of beauty: “All of theology is a search for beauty and its written word attempts to capture the experience of beauty.” The book itself tells an epic story that starts in Genesis with the Garden of the East, or better known the Garden of Eden. The end of the book brings the end of the world as we know it now, but a moment when heaven is brought to earth and like the magical land of Narnia, the everlasting winter gradually turns to spring and everything comes back to life in a sweeping grandeur.
This is a moment for those who long to see the grandeur and beauty of life in the simple, most unexpected ways and places. Ciorra describes the hope of beauty: “Beauty anchors the human person in the transcendent in an evolving world and shifting cultures.” It’s time to see beauty through a deeper, wider lens than the figure and form of the current supermodels. Myself and many other women around me are exhausted and tired in the search for beauty. It seems to elude us. When do we arrive? When does the moment happen when we achieve real beauty? The more we search the more it flutters away like a butterfly we are trying to catch. There is so much more to rediscovering the heart of the woman and the only answers I’ve been able to find are buried in the wonder and mysterious nature of God himself.
I don’t have all the answers to the questions on the topic, but the beauty of continuing to search for them is the greatest hope I have ever known.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to find the place where all the beauty came from.” -C.S. Lewis “Til We have Faces”
As women we are designed to find and create a little heaven on earth. If we know how we were made and what for it will help us understand our journey a bit better. Welcome Sojourner. You may be weary of searching and want to get off the road for a little bit. Here is a place to rest and seek out the meaning and origin of beauty. There’s nothing I love more than a conversation over a steaming cup of hot tea…