How the Beauty Culture Blasphemes Our Bodies

this is the kind of beach image i'm okay with

this is the kind of beach image i’m okay with

In her memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey claims that everyone knows Photoshopped images aren’t real, but she also acknowledges that the culture of beauty has changed significantly since she was a girl. Back then, “you were either blessed with a beautiful body or not. And if you were not, you could just chill out and learn a trade.”

Today, however, “if you’re not ‘hot’ you are expected to work on it until you are… If you don’t have a good body, you’d better starve the body you have down to a neutral shape, then bolt on some breast implants, replace your teeth, dye your skin orange, inject your lips, sew on some hair, and call yourself Playmate of the year.”

I understand this implicit cultural expectation so well; for years, I struggled to remake what I was in the image of all I thought I should be. As I’ve written in my new book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, for years,

I absorbed magazines, TV, and movies uncritically and prescriptively […] everything about my appearance seemed wrong. But in America, the possibilities of individual determination are endless—you can become as rich and as thin as you determine to be!—and so I sought to change my body through all the ways that advertisements teach us is possible: the chromium picolinate supplements, the protein shakes, the NordicTrack, the chirpy aerobics videos, the Velcro-fastened ankle weights.

All that effort toward getting a certain look adds up to big business—more than $20 billion annually in the U.S. on cosmetics alone. It comes at a high price in terms of mental health, as numerous psychological studies have suggested what discerning parents have known for a long time: the more media images of stylized, retouched models a woman views, the more likely she is to become depressed and disordered in her eating.

That was me.

{Read this piece in its entirety at Christianity Today, where it originally appeared on Feb. 19}

My Book Is Being Read on Dinosaur Island

Copyright held by my dad, and strictly enforced by the dinosaur.

Copyright held by my dad, and strictly enforced by the dinosaur.

I know I’ve bragged on my dad’s drawing before, but isn’t this just great? “Dinosaur Island” is the pretend-world about which he and my boys spin many outrageous stories, often involving (you guessed it) dinosaurs. Still, the adventurers have gone on whaling expeditions off the coast of the island and even, I believe, engaged with extra terrestrials. And one of my dad’s bedtime secrets (don’t tell my boys) is to have the overly loquacious Smith and Jones enter into boring dialogues (or monologues), which unfailingly exerts a soporific effect on the boys. That’s the real brilliance here.

Now that we’re overseas, he sent them this, that the magic may continue…this time, with visuals! Graeme is already busy drawing another installment.

{Ahem, and notice what book Jones is reading? My dad is shameless.}

Ten (More) Reasons Why You (Or Someone You Know) Might Like To Read This Book.

Screen shot 2013-02-06 at 9.28.25 PM

Here’s my dad, reading my book.

He liked it lots. Of course he did. He’s my dad. He’s very supportive and loving.

But he’s also a voracious reader, and brutally honest. He doesn’t ‘do’ false praise. So if he likes it, it means something.

Last week I posted ten reasons why you or someone you know might like to read my book. Here are ten more.

You or someone you know might like to read this book if:

10.  You really, really enjoy eating.

9.    You really, really wish that you could relax and enjoy eating.

8.    You worry about the cultural messages that your children are receiving surrounding food and bodies.

7.     You’d like to teach your children that their bodies, and their food, are gifts from God.

6.     You’d like to be reminded that YOUR body, and your food are gifts from God.

5.     You wonder if the Christian obligation to “feed the hungry” applies in a fast-food culture.

4.     You feel frustrated by the “all or nothing,” legalistic approach of many approaches to diet/health/life (!)

3.     You like the Bible, but are tired of seeing it used to defend one single way of eating/living.

2.     You don’t like the Bible, but are willing to read a person who does (most of the time.)

1.     You’re looking for a discussion-facilitating book perfect for book clubs, adult Sunday School, or Bible studies.

If you’ve read the book, please consider posting an review. If you’re thinking of buying it, please consider buying it through Hearts & Minds Books. And if you think someone you know might like to know about this book, please consider sharing this post. Those little clicks really do help get the word out, and I am grateful for each one.

(And, yes, I do resemble my dad. We even have coordinating geek glasses.)

Eat With Your Hands. And With Joy.

My friend Rachel (who blogs through biographies of First Ladies; so interesting!) asked me what sorts of things we’re eating in Malawi. The boring answer is that we eat a lot of the same sorts of things we eat at home, sans cheese. (There’s no cheese to speak of here.) The better answer is that we sometimes get to enjoy nsima and ndiwo.

Nsima is the staple food of Malawi. People here will tell you that any meal that does not include nsima is merely a snack. Nsima is what satisfies hunger; what lets you know that you’ve had a meal. But like many starchy staples (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.), nsima needs company. And they call that company ndiwo, or relish, which is basically the sauce or stew you eat alongside your nsima.

If you’re not a big fan of chewy textures, you might not like nsima. Cooked well, it has the texture of Play-Dough and something like polenta, or perhaps grits.

Here’s how to make nsima. Don’t feel bad if yours doesn’t come out smooth. Mine doesn’t. But it’s still edible, even tasty.

  • Use 1/2 cup white, finely ground cornmeal for each person you serve.
  • Pour 1 and 1/4 cup water for each 1/2 cup cornmeal into a pot.
  • Whisk in roughly half the total amount of cornmeal until smooth
  • Over high heat, begin to bring to boil; reduce heat to medium for a few minutes, stir.
  • Stir, stir, stir as you gradually sprinkle on the rest of the cornmeal until it is very thick, and difficult to stir.
  • Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

You use it as a sort of spoon to scoop up ndiwo. Here’s one of our family’s favorite simple ndiwo:

  • cut one large yellow onion into small dice
  • heat a saucepan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles, then add 1 tablespoon oil, then onion
  • brown onion in the oil, stirring frequently
  • add 1 cup of carrots cut into small dice and 1 cup of green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, stir and brown slightly; add 1 cup of diced tomatoes (canned or fresh; remove seeds if fresh)
  • add salt and 1/2 tsp. paprika and your choice of pepper (white, black, or chili) to taste
  • simmer, covered, until flavors are well blended
Alas, not my cooking. I'll try to take a picture next time and update it to be more authentic instead of taking photos from Wikipedia. ;)

Alas, not my cooking. I’ll try to take a picture next time and update it to be more authentic instead of taking photos from Wikipedia. ;)

Better Births Beyond Mommy Wars

Why, oh why, do discussions in the US–especially discussions that take place on the Internet–pit one side against the other as ferociously as possible? Egalitarian v. complementarian! Republican v. Democrat! Vegan v. Bacon-ist!

(Is that a thing? Because it seems like a thing. I’ve always liked bacon, but then one day I went on Facebook and saw that people were putting bacon in their margaritas and in their cinnamon rolls and stuff. What’s up with that?)

Anyway, discussions about all sorts of things can quickly turn to extremes. One of those extremes is in the area of birth. I will grant that sometimes to change things we need to take extreme measures (BACON IN EVERYTHING) but just as often, or more often, change comes slowly (humanely raised, non-nitrite bacon as a Sunday morning tradition. Or something.)

Those who’ve followed my writing know that one of my interests is better birth: safer motherhood for women in developing countries, more humane, high-touch childbirth for women in high-tech countries. Here’s my latest Huffington Post article on the subject:

Discussions of what is best in maternity care are often polarized as a choice between elective c-sections in high-tech hospitals and unattended home births in bathtubs, dismissed as a “battle zone in the Mommy Wars” or, worse, as a “status symbol” of hipness. But these lines are artificial, having been drawn not by mothers but by midwife-maligning men who believed that women’s wombs were diseased and dangerous, and there are better models, models that don’t pit one “side” against the other. And we don’t even have to look to Sweden or the Netherlands to find them.

We can, for example, look to midwife Ruth Lubic, who used her MacArthur Genius award to found the Family Health and Birth Center in Washington, DC. Lubic attributes the Center’s success — it has outcomes twice as good as DC generally — to their “high touch, low tech” support. Still, she says: “we can’t function [without obstetricians] and really need to be a continuum. Families can’t have the best care without this partnership.”

It’s not a question of who’s “right,” or which “side” you’re on. It’s about finding policies and practices that make it easier to do what’s best for women, which is to say, what’s best for everyone.

{This is the end; click through to read from the beginning.}