Brother J: So, how was your special Mother’s Day Relief Society?
Sister J: It was good.
Brother J: What did you talk about?
Sister J: Loving ourselves.
Brother J: Is that allowed now?
Sister J: Yes. But only for the sisters.
Recently our Relief Society did this Ten-Day Challenge to “Redefine Beauty.” (I wrote about it on my personal blog, a little too snarkily for my own good, I think.) Basically, it was a program to get us to focus on inner beauty and spirituality instead of being all depressed about how fat and ugly we are. It culminated in this Very Special Relief Society mentioned in the dialogue above. It was a good lesson, actually–I mean, it was a good lesson for Mother’s Day because it wasn’t about motherhood at all, so no woman could say she felt left out, and it was all about feeling good about yourself, so no woman could say it made her feel bad. Theoretically, anyway.
I thought about doing this Ten-Day Challenge thing–I thought about it very seriously for at least a couple minutes–because heaven knows I could use some inner beauty and spirituality in my life. However, when I got right down to it, I found I could not take it seriously. Perhaps I feared success. I’ve always thought of myself as that person who could make you feel better about yourself just by standing next to me. Visit my home and feel better about your own housekeeping skills. Look at my children and feel better about your own parenting. This is a real service I provide–perhaps the only service I provide. How do I make the decision to risk all of that? It’s harder than you think.
Actually, what is hard for me is to muster up enthusiasm for focusing on inner beauty. I don’t think I feel bad about myself because of the way I think about my outward appearance. It seems like everywhere I turn, someone is telling me to accept my body as it is and how models are all airbrushed anyway and people are too shallow and here’s a website that shows what a real woman looks like after she’s had children, blah blah blah blah blah. I admit that I occasionally feel a little self-loathing because I’m getting older and realize that I didn’t fully…appreciate…my body when it was younger and…firmer…but, you know, I realize that, to a large extent, how I look is not under my control and never has been and therefore is not my fault. And beauty is supposed to fade. That’s nature, and nature is a bad word–but what are you going to do?
When I get really depressed to the point of despondency–when I feel that my self-esteem is really in the proverbial toilet–I am not thinking about my looks. I’m thinking about the stuff that really matters–what’s in my brain and my heart–and I’m evaluating that stuff and thinking, “Wow, Rebecca, you are really not up to snuff. You are not virtuous and lovely and of good report or praiseworthy. Even if your thighs were thinner and your face were prettier, you would still suck. That’s how much you suck. For real.” And I want to tell you, kids, that sort of self-talk is not helpful. More to the point, though, it doesn’t do any good to disregard the outward appearance and focus on the heart when the heart itself boasts such slim pickings, as it were. Rather than a ten-day program to redefine beauty, I need a ten-day program to redefine inner beauty.
Some sample meditations:
Day 1. To jump-start your interest in studying the scriptures, read the naughty parts of Song of Solomon. Use the King James translation for that added challenge.
Day 2. Before you log onto Facebook, take a few minutes to pray. Pray that you will be able to post a status update that will touch someone’s life for good. It may work, it may not work, but at least you will know that you did all you could.
Day 3. For every mean thing that you think but don’t say out loud, give yourself ten points. Heck, give yourself a hundred points. This is really hard.
Day 4. Think about all the things you did wrong today. Now write down all the ones that were illegal. You might be surprised at how short the list is!
Day 5. Have you tried Valium? ‘Cause it’s pretty awesome.
Now, obviously, I am being facetious here. (I say “obviously, I am being facetious” because I know there are many to whom it will not be at all obvious, but I throw the qualifier onto the boilerplate to avoid insulting the rest of you.) Such a program is not designed to increase spirituality but rather to decrease guilt over the current level of righteousness. There’s nothing particularly challenging about it (except the part about getting a prescription for Valium). It’s not even a fair parody of the Ten-Day Redefining Beauty Campaign–which is, to some extent, about improving yourself, and only superficially about solving your self-esteem problems.
Perhaps I’m missing the point because I’m already pretty good at distracting myself from the image in the mirror. My methods are simple. Technique #1: Don’t look so much. Technique #2: When you do look, only look from your best angle and sort of squint a little. Technique #3: Use your imagination. Rinse and repeat, no scriptures necessary. Would that it were so easy to deal with my real self-esteem issues, which all stem from character flaws, which can’t be ignored by looking within. Looking within is the problem, if I wasn’t clear about that earlier.
Something I’ve noticed in recent years is that we ladies get a lot of reassuring messages at church. I can’t remember the last time I went to a General Relief Society Broadcast and wasn’t told how wonderful we ladies are–how much we do for others, how much we contribute to the church, and usually even how lovely we all are. Unfortunately, this kind of talk leaves me cold because I don’t believe it. Discounting the possibility that I’m too cynical for my own good, I can’t help but point out that whoever is doing all this buttering-up has never met yours truly and thus is probably talking about someone else. I do some stuff, yeah–even some important stuff (if you consider keeping Child Welfare and the health department off the premises important)–but I’m not as good as they keep telling me I am. I reckon I’m about average in the valiant and virtuous department, and I don’t mean “Mormon women are incredible” average, but just regular average. If you looked in my purse, you would find three ball point pens, $4.24 in loose change and an unwrapped tampon (“Just in case someone gets a head wound! She’s an emergency preparedness specialist!”)–feeling inspired yet?
At some point I had to figure that these self-esteem talks were analogous to the porn talks that men always get. (Or used to get, before this last April.) They wouldn’t be talking to us about it if it weren’t a problem, right? So how do you think they’re doing? I expect that a lot of people would say that these explicit “you sisters are wonderful” messages are designed to counteract the implicit messages that we are not as important as men are because of the structural inequality in the church, and that may well be true. But I also expect that some women really appreciate these messages and don’t necessarily view them through the gender inequality lens.
I’m not really interested in re-hashing the “if we were really equal, they wouldn’t have to tell us how equal we are” discussion, inevitable though it may be. I guess that personally I have always been of the opinion that God doesn’t care that much about my self-esteem; that He cares more about how I do than about how I feel. So all this talk about how great I am and how great I should understand that I am is a little too Church-of-Oprah for my taste. Or have I simply found a way to complain about the nice things the Church says to me?
It’s true, isn’t it? I suck.