Sunday, 26 June 2016

Not Just a Pretty Face

After my last post, I heard back from a pretty friend that she felt in some ways the post reinforced stereotypes and prejudices of pretty girls. A lot of people think that pretty girls live in this bubble of privilege and good fortune, untouched by the harsher realities less privileged mortals have to face.

But the truth is pretty girls have their own set of problems and burdens that they have to face.

Pretty girls are told at a young age that their looks are the most important aspect of their identity: It's the first and only thing everybody notices and comments on. People rarely notice or care about their intelligence or their talents or their sense of humour. Leave that to the people who you have to think harder about to compliment.

People often 'use' pretty girls: They can never be sure if people want to be with them for THEM, or for the added value they bring with their looks. It's hard to get rid off the nagging thought- 'Would you still want to be my friend if I didn't look like this?'

Guys often see pretty girls more as an accessory: They want to be the guy with the pretty girl on their arm, it helps with their image (consciously or subconsciously).The guy is looking for someone to fill this cut out of the perfect girlfriend/ trophy wife- an achievement, a possession. Often guys who think like that use expensive gifts to win this pretty girl, because they think that makes them worthy of her interest. They see it as a fair exchange- my money (or service) for your looks. I've seen guys get offended and angry when a girl doesn't respond in the way he thinks he deserves- "After all I've done for you!" You can't buy people!

Other girls can be standoffish with pretty girls: Just by virtue of being pretty, they are seen as a threat, as dangerous- especially when there are guys around. They have to prove that they mean no harm, that they are not proud or egotistic. The introverts who are pretty have the hardest time because their quietness is seen as pride.

It's hard for pretty girls to know when to trust people: Similar to someone who is wealthy, or rich or powerful, when you get used to people using you, it's hard to know when people are not. So when a guy comes a-courting, it's hard not to look at him with a little skepticism and suspicion, because they have been so many who came for the wrong reasons, and without an authentic interest based on seeing her as a real human being, not a goddess or a movie star, or a means to an end.

Pretty girls are likely to struggle with self worth and identity: The prettiness can often feel like a mask that obscures the real person. 'Do you see ME?' she wants to ask, but she often feels that people can't or won't. And then the lie that the Liar whispers, "Maybe the real you isn't worth knowing. Maybe once a guy gets used to the prettiness, and meets the real you, the love will fade." And if that lie is accepted, the temptation can be to keep the prettiness at any cost- make up, plastic surgery, beauty products, beauty salons. And to use the prettiness as a means to get what she wants.

So the next time you meet a pretty girl, try to see past the prettiness, to see a normal human being with insecurities and strengths, and all sorts of weird habits and quirks, and skills and talents, and a desire to be loved and treated as a human being first, and a pretty girl second. Don't treat her with deference, suspicion, adulation, or judgment. She is a PERSON, a daughter of God, an immortal soul, and that is what makes her valuable. And pretty girls, don't believe anyone who tells you differently.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t the Pretty Girl

Disclaimer: I promise I’m not fishing for compliments, or trying to get people to shout me down,“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE NOT PRETTY EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL IT’S THE SOUL THAT MATTERS.” I’m sharing my own perspective of my own story. 

From the age of 12 to 20, I was pretty awkward. I had crazy hair that couldn’t decide if it was straight or wavy or curly or angry (also known as 80s hair). I had never heard of hair product. No fashion sense whatsoever. The only times I looked cute were when I stole my older sister’s clothes. I also identified strongly with Jo from Little Women, in that I was gruff, hated most social situations, and couldn’t be bothered with social graces. My mum would remonstrate with me for refusing to wear makeup or earrings, or make much of an effort at looking presentable.

(This is not the worst of the pictures, but you didn't really think I was going to pull those out for the Whole World Wide Web to see, did you?)

I was not only awkward, I was aware that I was awkward. I remember at sixteen being excruciatingly aware of how awkward my gait was, as my arms hung lifelessly at my side as I walked. My body posture seemed to scream SELF CONSCIOUS (the more you think of your arms the less you know what to do with them.. try this when posing for a photo). So I started practising my confident, graceful walk, as I walked home from college. I’d swing my arms, try to place my feet one in front of the other (like on a beam balance), and hoped that the external would somehow help with the internal. I'd even try a kind of swagger sometimes. (I wonder what the passersby thought.)

To make matters worse, I had two very pretty sisters, who always effortlessly seemed to collect droves of admirers, guys who would take them out to dances, give them gifts, and flowers, and chocolates, and swear undying devotion. It was too easy to compare myself with them unfavourably. Other people did it too. "You're very... different."

I finally and gradually began to grow into my skin, learnt the secrets of side partings, and hair clips, and coconut oil, and hair product, and eye liner, and wearing clothes that worked together.

Beauty tips I still haven't got the hang of

I began to enjoy who I was, and not be so scared or disdainful of the world. It was around the same time that I went on a retreat where I felt that the Lord helped bring healing to some wounds. Each year of my 20s was better than the last. Now I'm 30, and I am SO much happier here than I was at 18.

Now on the other side of the awkward non-pretty phase, I think about it, and I realize that although there were many things I would have liked to have changed about my teenage years, I also am very grateful for how I became who I am through those years.

Pretty girls often get too much attention too soon: I have seen so often the bad effect of young, or insecure, or needy girls becoming the center of attention. Attention is heady! It’s intoxicating. It makes you feel like you’re the center of the world, and spoiler alert: you’re not. It’s too much power put into the hands of unsteady hands. Actually, what the heck, even mature adults such as myself can lose perspective with too much attention. But when you're older you're more likely to recover it and laugh at yourself a lot sooner. I think not being the center of attention helps one have a more down to earth perspective of oneself. And I wish that all young people could have the same.

Non-pretty girls are usually funnier: Not that being non-funny makes anyone of any less value… but sometimes not being at the center of things means, the non-beautiful (or short, or overweight) often get their share of the attention by developing a sharp wit. Not that I ever consciously did it because I was trying to get attention, but I found that I enjoyed social situations so much more when I was making witty comments under my breath to an appreciative audience.

I observed a lot more: When I wasn't at the center of everything, I had space and energy to observe and analyze the workings of the world, of human behaviour, of social situations. Again, a little perspective.

I am much more aware of what it feels like to be the outsider: And hopefully more empathetic. Only a few people have grown up in a graced circle of acceptance and special-ness. But when you’re in the center, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is. If you walk into a party and always have someone who wants to talk to you, you forget that lonely, awkward, unsettled feeling of not having that. But it’s when you’re on the inside that you have the special privilege of being able to pull the outsider in. But how few of us do that. It’s so much easier to gravitate to the people we know well, and are comfortable with.

I wrote about this before- but I still remember a young man (a friend of my older sister) asking me to dance at a wedding when I was awkward, young, and uncool, sitting with my parents. He told me it was because my older sister had once asked him to dance when he had no one to dance with. I had never felt more special- he was older, handsome (to me), and picked ME! I KNOW what it’s like! You can't know till you've been there. But then you need to remember.

I delight in feeling beautiful and graceful: Probably far more so than if it had always come easily. It’s like a gift that is ever new. It’s what makes all makeover movies so relatable (think Princess Diaries).

But I realize awkward bodies can hide beautiful, interesting souls: And maybe judge people a little less based on their terrible dress sense, their sticking out hair, their acne, their self consciousness. Outward beauty and grace is nice. It's pleasing to the eye. But it surely isn't all that is to be known of a person. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Few Thoughts on the Gorilla Story

Wow. The Internets just exploded as Harambe, a 17 year old male western lowland gorilla was shot dead in a Cincinnati zoo to protect a 4 year old boy who accidentally got into the gorilla's enclosure. So many comments, articles, blogs. And SO much of anger.

I've seen reactions ranging from this:

To this:

And a lot of this:

I've been thinking about it, and of course I decided to think in the public eye. Because that's what bloggers do.

It seems as if in many people's opinions, the life of an animal is as valuable (or more valuable) as the life of a human child. It is seen as selfish to consider human life as more valuable than animal life. You see your 2 year old child and a puppy in a burning building, you can only save one. Which one should you pick? This belief system says there is no right answer.

Usually I can find some common ground with varying belief systems. But in this... I don't know what to say, how to respond. Because in a non-Christian world, humans ARE just animals. Not more or less important than any other species. It makes sense.

But in the Christian worldview, there IS something different and more valuable about human beings. We believe that they are made in the image of God- they are capable of choosing love even when hurt by others, they are able to show mercy, to forgive, to love by CHOICE not by instinct. We believe they are made for heaven, not just as creatures, but made to be CHILDREN of God, the Creator. And so no matter whether they are ugly, or stupid, or handicapped, or weak, or unkind, or a 'burden' on others, we consider that God has given us a special task in loving and caring for human life. That's the real meaning of pro-life.

But does that mean Christians have no responsibility towards animals? Can a good Christian kick a cat? No no no. Here's what the Church says-

Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

You would think in an ideal world, we could care equally for humans and animals. It wouldn't be a conflict at all. But it seems like that isn't usually the case. For many, the more we elevate animals, and in many ways ' humanize' them, the less we are affected by human suffering and misery. As I read in one article, it seems very unlikely that the news of the 4 year old being killed by the gorilla would have been particularly noteworthy or even compassion-worthy.

Pope Francis recently said, "Sometimes you feel this [pity] towards animals, and remain indifferent to the suffering of others. How many times we see people so attached to cats, dogs, and then leave without helping the neighbor in need? This will not do!" 

So.. what am I saying?

I believe that we need to let God stretch our hearts, to see the world as He sees it. That means changing from hard-heartedness to soft-heartedness, from indifference to compassion, from judgment to mercy towards the least of his brethren. It means having compassion on that poor mum who almost lost her child, even if it was from a moment's negligence. It means feeling deeply grateful that the little 4 year old's head wasn't accidentally smashed by the strong hand of the 400 pound gorilla.

It means not despising the human race, but seeing the goodness, and the potential for good- as God does. It means even though human beings have hurt us, and in many ways, it's easier to love animals who are a lot less likely to, choosing the hard path of forgiveness, and vulnerability. Allow your love for animals to spur you on to a love for not just humanity, but for human beings. For that is what you were made for.

And for those who think caring about humans exempts you from caring about animals, here is your challenge- it also means feeling sadness at the regrettable death of one of God's beautiful, mighty creatures. It means doing what we can to prevent the needless killing or mistreatment of animals. Allowing our humanity to translate into humaneness. For that too is what we were made for.

A hard choice had to be made, as it often has to be in a world where accidents really do happen. You can both feel relief that the little boy survived, and sadness that the gorilla didn't. But maybe hold the blame, and serve an extra helping of compassion. Our world needs it.

P.S. For those who disagree, and I know there are many- let us agree to disagree, and each attempt to change the world in the way we are convinced we must.

A few articles:

This Gorilla Thing is Going to Make Me Go Bananas

How Tears for Gorilla Water Seeds for the Culture of Death

Of gorillas, control, and swiping left