Self-Esteem & Modeling Journeys

Although images and styles change, there has always been pressure to be slim and beautiful — even as far back as the Victorian and Roman periods. And yes, historical writings reveal bulimic and anorexic behaviors as well. But to give an example that more closely affects our current culture, Twiggy popularized the ultra thin look from 1966 to 1976. In the 1970’s, having a flat stomach was a big deal. Showing a muffin top would have been horrifying. However, the current generation is doing something right in response to these pressures. Society is finally saying it is not acceptable to call people inappropriate names and that we should embrace our individuality. I realize we still have a long way to go but at least it’s vocal recognition of a problem.

Learning about and appreciating who God created me to be was a long journaling process. Journaling brought out thoughts and feelings that would never have surfaced through normal conversations. It actually put structure and definition to my thoughts and feelings. When reading through my journals, I noticed that after several pages of self inflicted guilt and accusations; I finally came to the realization on November 29, 1993, that I was driving myself crazy with negative self talk. I had just read the story of the imperfect prodigal son and the father’s unconditional love and forgiveness (Luke 25). It was a moment of recognizing my worth through God’s eyes, not my own. In my journal, I finally cried out to God saying: “help me rest in your care and feel your unconditional love. Everything else I have run to for comfort and meaning has only kept me from you.”

Having a healthy self-image starts with a healthy self-worth. I had been acquiring my standards from the wrong place. My standard should not come from the messages and illusions I get from the media, it should come from what the creator and designer declares about me (Ephesians 1:3-14).

The twins had their own encounter with the world that capitalizes on outward beauty. Since they have tall slender figures and like to sing and act, we decided to respond to offers from professional acting and modeling schools. The girls were accepted into the John Robert Powers School of Modeling, took the classes, and then we paid for hundreds of comp cards. We even drove to Chicago for a final casting call. During that visit, the promoter was using a young brother and sister singing and dancing team as an example of “this could be you.” We couldn’t help but notice how the kids responded like scared puppies when the promoter gave them orders. It made us feel sad for them.

As an example of what the business will do for young girls, here is a normal high school picture of the twins and then a modeling picture from their comp cards:

When I asked Jessica how she felt about her modeling experience, she said: “The world that is driven by greed, vanity and selfishness is a slippery slope. It was hard to resist the temptation to be ‘one of them.’ I learned what some people can be like when they don’t value what’s inside themselves and others. In the end, I am thankful that I was able to step outside that world and see how easy it is to get sucked into the promises of fame and fortune.”

The girls did some local promotions but we soon found out that in order to make much money, they would need to do it full time and move or travel to one of the big cities. Beauty and self-promotion would have become their entire way of life.

I am thankful that the girls had a strong identity in Christ and recognized what was more important in life. Jessica summed it up well by saying: “I thought of modeling as fun and didn’t want it to be a career or big commitment. Modeling helped me learn how to take care of my appearance, use proper etiquette, and build good communication skills.” As a mother, I have to say the acting classes were most helpful in building their self confidence.

Later in life, I came to realize that if I were to criticize who I am and how I look, I’d better first consider He who made me “in His image…male and female He created them.” Then, if I even dare to judge God’s handiwork, I need to remember how He sees me… “God looked over all He had made, and He saw that it was very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). And, to top it off, the Potter created me to be unique among millions of people. It is humbling to think that I was created by the same one who made the majestic eagles, towering redwoods, and the beauty of sunsets and rainbows.

Learning to appreciate myself from the inside-out was a huge step in helping me move forward in my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and even physical health. In next week’s post, I will talk about my next step towards simplification.


A Note to my Adult Children

For me, the 1990’s were a decade of self examination, spiritual growth and transformation (Romans 12:2). I had a lot of catching up to do and was responsible for three young lives. I was serious about making life what I had always hoped it could be but it took a lot of humility and dependence on God to discipline myself for the growth (Hebrews 12:11).

As I read my journals these past couple weeks, I noticed three main topics emerge during these years of transition from my 20’s to my 30’s: learning about and appreciating who God created me to be, living a life without chaos, and being content with each day and the circumstances God gave me.

As I think about my own children entering this stage in their lives, I hear the discouraging rhetoric that takes away their hope and tells them that this generation’s circumstances will make it difficult for them to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Therefore, it left me wondering if they are being dealt a hand that is more difficult than my generation. After reading about my own struggles from 20 years ago, I do not think it is more difficult. It is just different.

My struggles with negative self image, simplification, and contentment are still as relevant today as they were back then but the one thing that makes them more complicated is technology. Technology has made dealing with these issues so different that we get confused trying to figure out new ways to define and deal with them. For instance, marketing and the internet has inundated us with more and more creative messages about who we “should” be and what we “should” look like (self image); we have come to believe we “need” more technology so much so that we cannot even sit still or be quiet enough to hear God’s leading (simplification); and, therefore, we feel we need more money to buy more technology, clothing, beauty products and things that we have been convinced will make us successful and happy (contentment).

There are now so many online forums to talk about society’s struggles that it gives the impression that this generation has more to deal with than any previous generation. For instance, with all the talk about binge drinking and the crack down on drunk driving, it appears that it is worse now than it has ever been. However, Americans were consuming 10.5 liters per capita in 1980 and it is currently down to 8.3 liters per capita. That is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving was established in 1980 and, since then, alcohol related traffic fatalities have decreased by 44%. I am not saying that alcohol abuse and drunk driving are not still big issues; I am saying that it has always been a problem.

Every young person throughout history has had to make personal choices; and now, technology has given us more options to choose from. That can be a bad thing when you consider the increased access to gambling and pornography or it can be a good thing when you consider the fact that we have choices to more positive alternatives. I can remember our only alternatives to house parties in the late 1970’s were roller skating and bowling. Back then, we didn’t have electronic games, “good” movies at the touch of a button, or cell phones and Facebook to talk to our friends.

As far as the hopeless rhetoric about the economy is concerned, the unemployment rate was as high during the recession in the early 80’s as it is now. In addition, when my husband and I purchased our home in 1983, our interest rate was 12.25% and our income was only 15% of what it is now. Sure, we struggled but working hard and growing together as a couple is what makes a great marriage.

Just like terrorism, there has always been something to fear. However, my hope is that my children and their friends would be encouraged to see that there is hope by observing those who have gone before them to live fulfilling lives without giving in to fear and hopeless rhetoric.

In my next few posts, I am going to talk more about these age-old topics of self worth, simplicity and contentment in light of my own past experiences. God can give peace and fulfillment when we look beyond the every day rhetoric, images and distractions of 2012 (Psalm 146:5).

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