In Part I I highlighted the fact that Salt Lake City has more plastic surgeons per capita than any other US city. I noted that this could be an indicator that either:
- Utah/Mormon culture makes girls and women more susceptible to media messages, or
- Mormon girls and women are receiving messages about what it means to be beautiful from influences besides media, or
- A combination of media influence and Mormon religious culture compound to make a bigger impact on girls and women about how to be beautiful and desirable.
- Or, as has been noted, it could mean nothing more than SLC has lots of plastic surgeons.
First, media influences play on the natural desires of women to want to be beautiful and attract male attention. Contrary to the idea put forth that advertisers are trying to get women to want to look a certain way, marketing techniques simply take advantage of women’s own existing vanity.
It is normal for a person to want to attract a mate. We can say that this is to want to be desired. I do not believe the only thing men want or notice is a beautiful woman. However, in her response to Kathryn Soper’s article Why Standards Night is Substandard, Elizabeth P. of Scholaristas explained, “[Her] experience did not resonate with mine at all…,because after all, how many of us are turning all the heads in the room” She further writes of her own despair, “that all men really want or notice is a sexy woman. Or that they are more interested in the physical than the intellectual qualities of their partner.”
The idea that a beautiful woman is all men want is ingrained in our culture. Since we aren’t all physically stunning, we try to give girls and women other options and ways to be beautiful and desirable using a gospel perspective.
The problem is, girls and women (and everyone else) don’t need to keep the commandments in order to “[develop] beauty of person, form and features,” or have light shine in their faces so that they will, “be far more attractive, even irresistible.” We need these things, the law of chastity, integrity, and to choose the right because they are good for us; because keeping the commandments ultimately helps daughters (and sons) of God grow closer to Him and become like Him.
When metaphors of beauty and desirability are mixed with righteous living, we are still telling girls that their goal, along with living a virtuous life full of integrity, is to be desired and beautiful. Not strong, not determined, not righteous for righteousness’ sake; not serving others, but self-serving: using a spiritual cosmetic kit as a means to an end to draw attention to themselves. Instead of the intended consequence of focusing on Christ, we are focused on the end physical result. This level of teaching appeals only to the lowest of our human instincts. It takes the finer parts of us, our inner strengths, talents, goals, and even our faith—and turns them into tools of manipulation, as a way to draw people to us.
In our efforts to help girls and women feel good about themselves, and even keep the commandments, the question being asked is, “How do we help them feel beautiful?”
In her 2005 talk The Sanctity of the Body, President Susan N. Tanner tells the story of how self conscious she was about her terrible acne as a teen. Her parents suggested she quit thinking about herself and her acne, and go out into the world thinking about others. She says, “Happiness comes from accepting the bodies we have been given as divine gifts and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world.” Being content with ourselves comes from accepting that we aren’t as beautiful as women in media, and accepting that that’s ok. A woman’s self worth comes from developing God-given talents and using them to benefit herself and others. Only when we quit defining all female attributes using beauty as the pivotal descriptor will we have stronger women in the Church. We cannot afford to blame solely media influences. The question we should be asking is, “How do we help girls develop into strong individuals?”
Women don’t necessarily feel good or bad about themselves because of physical traits. Women who are content with themselves, are content because they have something else to offer. They have goals, aspirations, hopes, desires, dreams, talents and other attributes that make them contributing members of society. They don’t define themselves by their appearance. Beauty is defined in how others perceive us. Value or worth is defined in our relationship to God. One we can never fully win, the other we can never fully lose. One is temporal and fleeting, the other inherent and eternal.