As you know by now, I am anything but with the times. Consistently, I find myself really into whatever was really cool six months ago.
So, again, I am late to the party.
I finally watched the documentary Miss Representation after hearing about it since my senior year of college (it came out in 2011…come on, Cath!). I figured out the playstation, put the dvd in, and settled in to watch something that I was pretty sure wouldn’t shock me with any of its information, but that I hoped would shed some light on this topic that’s been really hitting me lately.
If you haven’t seen it, Miss Represenation is about how women are represented in media, whether it be movies, television, advertisements, magazines, the whole gambit. Image after image flashed in front of my eyes, and there was even a moment where I looked away – it seems that I’ve done a decent job of sheltering myself from the objectifying images used to sell products and make money. (Music videos are particularly horrifying.)
The documentary opens with Oprah Winfrey (of course, I thought, because she exhausts me, but I wanted to keep an open mind). Oprah talks about the objectification and sexualization of women, and how this documentary was an attempt at illuminating us to this fact and perhaps make the first steps to rectify it.
Some of the most moving parts of the film were the interviews with high school students. I don’t know how much was scripted and how much was thought of on-the-spot, but that doesn’t really matter to me. There was honesty in the words, regardless, and one young woman stood out. As her tears started to fall, she spoke about her little sister, how her sister hates herself, how she cuts herself, how kids at school make fun of her because she doesn’t fit our society’s standards for beauty.
Over and over throughout the film, we hear that beauty should not be the measuring stick we use to determine our worth.
I heard it, and I thought Yes.
What should we use, then? What is an adequate measure of worth?
According to the documentary, it’s achievements.
Don’t comment on my body, look at all I’ve accomplished.
Don’t talk about my hair, see the list I’ve been able to check off.
Don’t tell me to lose weight; don’t you know I’ve won a dozen awards?
At first, I didn’t realize what I was hearing. It sounded pretty good to me, actually, because I’d much rather be remembered for my intelligence or wit or ability to engage with people than a pretty (or not pretty…) physical attribute.
But then I saw the inherent problem with this answer to the imbalance of external vs. internal selves:
Just as not everyone is beautiful, not everyone is accomplished.
Not everyone wins awards.
Not everyone stands above the rest, because then who would the rest be?
This is an incomplete response to the problem. This leaves just as many women (and men) confused and frustrated as the lie of beauty-as-worth. I will just as quickly become dissatisfied and angry with myself when I don’t take first place or don’t win the campaign or don’t get the job as I do when I know I am not the most beautiful woman in the room.
So what is the answer?
How do we measure worth in a way that is not exclusive?
It is the answer I’ve been hearing my whole life but have never fully been able to comprehend.
It is the answer I rolled my eyes at in high school and college, but that now (and especially since watching this film) I am most convinced is true.
Our worth comes from the Lord.
You either nod your head in agreement, roll your eyes at my Christianese, or want to believe me but aren’t able to understand what that looks like.
What does it mean, I get my worth from God?
How can my worth not be tied up in what I do? In what I look like?
I do not understand.
And I still don’t, fully.
I know that I have a peace in me that I have never had before. I know that realizing I am loved by the Creator of the Universe is the most freeing knowledge I have ever (and will ever) come to. I know that the fact that I can’t earn His love, but that He gives it regardless of anything I am or do, is horrifying in its very bigness.
And I know that this is the only thing that will not fail me.
I will not always be young.
I will not be the best at what I do.
I will not always do the right thing.
But what is always true?
I am valued – and you are valued – more than we can imagine. This will never change.
And yes, I completely agree that the way media portrays women is detrimental to our whole society, men and women alike. Yes, we should work to view each and every one of us as a whole person, three-dimensional, flawed, and beautiful. Yes, it is important to both expression and art that all viewpoints be heard. I think Miss Representation is the beginning of half the answer to the problem.
But when we start to question our worth, when clothes don’t fit or that poem we’re trying to write doesn’t come out exactly as we’d hoped, when our days seemed filled with questions instead of answers, let’s remember the measuring stick we are to use.
Imagine what we could do with all the time we waste worrying about our looks, our honors, our accolades.
Infinite love gives infinite worth.