“Why would a girl ever dress like that and let someone take their picture?”
Madalen asked this as we passed by the pornographic posters outside of America’s biggest retail lingerie provider. Oh, I hate those posters. I take my kids to buy shoes and they all are forced to walk by a 10-foot high poster of a stripper inviting you to buy her underwear.
My older sons are usually prepared to help me distract the younger ones as the store approaches: “Hey, Isaac, look over there at that ... umm ... bench.” I look on, wondering that I’m seemingly the only mother disturbed.
Children and men are all hanging around outside while the women in their lives peruse the g-string tables and faux-leather bustiers, forced to gaze upon vulgar images those women can never replicate. And then we wonder at the rate of pornography addiction, men’s misuse of women, and young girls’ self-hate.
Now, I’ve often lamented the effect these pictures could have on my five sons, but until Madalen asked the question I hadn’t really given much time to the thought of how they would affect her.
“Well, Madalen, I guess they dress up like that because they think it will make them beautiful. What that means is that they don’t really believe in their own beauty already. They think that to be beautiful means to have men look at them, to act like they’re married without knowing or loving each other.”
“I don’t even think they’re pretty,” she replied, probably hoping to say the right thing.
“Well,” I said, “I’m guessing that most of them are actually very pretty. But beauty is about more than being pretty. Do you think a man would look at that woman and tell her how smart, and talented she is? Would he care if she were brave or virtuous? Or would he just look at her and think of her as a thing that he wanted to take?”
It was a weird conversation. I had to be choosy with my words. Lust isn’t a part of her vocabulary yet, thank goodness. But it’s a conversation that is becoming more frequent. Anytime we go to a beach or pool, her eight-year old eyes see peers wearing bathing suits that are meant for nothing but sexualization. They most certainly are not meant for swimming, as they usually don’t have straps to keep them up!
The great defender of beauty and truth, Pope Emeritus Benedict, wrote, “Too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful … depriving him of hope and joy. It is a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess, and to dominate others, it is a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency…”
How do I teach her the meaning of beauty, and that she is beautiful in a world that lusts upon the indecent? Where will she find the definition of the word? She is absolutely surrounded by a misrepresentation.
We have a blackboard in our kitchen, and I recently wrote on it, “You are worthy of love.” Maybe this answers the question in a way. A little girl who rests safely in the knowledge that she is loved will take her beauty for granted and feel worthy of that love. A little girl whose father holds her and dances with her, and whispers in her ear, “My beautiful girl,” when she comes inside, dirty and windblown from playing in the trees, will feel worthy.
And that love, given by an earthly father, will transform into the knowledge of the love of her eternal Father. She will have joy, and an instinctive knowledge of the mystery within her that makes her beautiful. When she doubts her physical beauty, as most females do, she will trust in her worth. God’s truth is revealed in beauty, and it will be revealed in her heart when she knows the truth of herself – that she is created in his image and likeness, to be an icon of beauty to the world.
“Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are part; from this Mystery we can draw fullness, happiness, the passion to engage with it every day” – BXVI.
“This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart” – Pope Paul VI.