Crawling to the Mailbox

Oh, no…here I go again. If you’re a longtime reader of this particular blog, you might remember a post published last year when I went on a rant about television programs, reality shows and what we have come to call “entertainment” these days. I may have used “Jersey Shore” as an example.

Today I am looking at a four-color publication that recently came in the mail, delivered right to my doorstep. Page after page of teenage girls, scantily clad in adorably matching underwear and bras. Here’s a flirty-looking girl with a scarf and hat on. You might think she’s going to go play outside in the snow. But no, it seems she started dressing and got distracted, failed to finish up; she’s standing outside, amongst the trees, in nothing but her skivvies. In most homes, this girl would have been scolded for coming out of her bedroom dressed like that, let alone trying to leave the house for a toboggan ride.

No, it’s not Playboy, or any of the other “girlie magazines” that I knew existed when I was little, but rarely saw. Were it the 1970’s, though, I can guarantee you that some of these photos could easily have been published in Hefner’s magazine.

This publication was not mailed to my husband, either. (Lucky for him.) Instead, it is a run-of-the-mill advertisement for one of the stores in the Columbia mall, and it was addressed to my teenage daughter.

Like most Americans, I’d guess, I’m almost completely numb to the methods used to sell a lot of clothing these days. But even as someone steeped in what our culture wants us to see as “acceptable” amounts of bare skin, I was genuinely taken back by the brazen photos within this ad.

I learned a few years ago that the porn industry has a campaign they have initiated, and their shorthand for this campaign is known as “Crawl. Walk. Run.” The idea is to slowly get the public so accustomed to seeing skin that – over time – it no longer bothers anybody. The phase “Crawl” could be defined as the increasingly-provocative photos used in advertisements and magazine covers. As I took in the advertisement that waltzed right into my house, I remember having the thought, “Well, it looks like we’re up to ‘walking’ now.”

The fact that I was bothered even surprised me; believe me, I feel like I’m the least qualified person I know to draw attention to something like this. Ten years ago I was influenced by similar advertising strategies. The change in how I see these kinds of things comes not from age, but new eyes (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So, given eyes to see things – at least some things – through a more biblical lens, I have two big problems.

The first is that I have a teenage daughter still at home. A girl creeping up on being old enough to date, and I’m trying to teach her how to be a woman of character, someone who treasures her sexuality as something to be guarded, treasured, held for marriage.

The second is that I also have a five-year-old son who has recently taken the next step in becoming “a big boy.” He will, with my permission, run out to the mailbox and retrieve whatever has been delivered. Now, of course, I find myself rethinking this particular piece of his early-childhood development.

I am assuming that you can see my problem here. I really don’t want my daughter’s view of her body to be influenced by the increasingly-sexualized way in which our culture tries to sell something as basic and necessary as underwear. Neither do I want my son exposed at age five to what is arguably “soft-core porn” conveniently delivered to my doorstep.

So at this point, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? You don’t like it, throw it away, but don’t bring me into your increasingly-prudish way of looking at life.” Take a step back, though, and consider what “the long view” might be in both circumstances.

Girls who are constantly encouraged to look at themselves as sexual beings will begin to make bigger choices (with bigger consequences) about their bodies based on that identity. Ask any girl who doesn’t look like one of those waifish underwear models what she thinks of her body, and it’s a good bet she’s going to tell you that she thinks she’s overweight. Or her thighs are too big. Or her chest is too small. Girls are given impossible (and airbrushed) standards to live up to, and then we wonder why they struggle with self-esteem.

Later, those same girls end up in relationships with men who have also been exposed to those same kinds of advertisements, and they have been impacted by them as well, in different ways. One way might be that having been given such a rich view of what a perfect female body looks like, the “real” women in their midst consistently “fall short of the mark.”

You may be tempted to think I’m over-reacting, but having worked in divorce ministry just a few shorts years, my husband and I have seen many instances where an unrealistically-high value is placed on sexuality, and spouses begin making relationship-ending choices based largely on their sexuality. For instance, husbands might become disillusioned with the way their wives look and begin looking elsewhere for “something better” – based not a woman’s character so much as her figure. Wives might get in shape and then slowly turn to the attention of other men to validate them. Everywhere we look, marriages are being hurt by a need for sexual validation and a high value placed on one’s sexuality as the ultimate source of happiness.

And what about that little boy who is regularly exposed to intentionally-provocative underwear catalogues as if “it’s no big deal?” You have only to read my husband’s reaction when he saw this one arrive in the mail: “Do we really not understand why so many guys grow up addicted to porn?” Generally speaking, men don’t go from being sexually innocent to turning immediately to what we would all label as porn. Over time, they’ve been drawn in, in subtle ways, by all kinds of things that pique their interest in the female body. Things like, well…underwear catalogues.

Crawl…walk…run. Remember?

So what’s my point? No, I’m not suggesting we build our own little “holy bunkers” and hide from the world until Christ’s second coming. Jesus Himself says that while we are “in the world,” we are not “of this world” (John 15:19-20; John 17:14-19). Like fish who are surrounded by water but don’t realize that they are wet, I think we too are sometimes so enveloped by the culture’s standards that we don’t easily recognize that those standards are becoming increasingly hostile to the values that we, as Christians, may want to hold.

And I am 100% certain that anyone might be able to come into my house and point out several things I’ve unwittingly exposed my kids to, without recognizing how antithetical it is to the standards of my faith I’m trying to live out, so I don’t for a minute want to sound as if I’ve got this all figured out. What I am suggesting, perhaps, is that when we do find ourselves taken aback by something we’re watching on TV, something we hear on the radio, or something that shows up in the mail, maybe that’s a good opportunity to point it out to our kids for what it is – and to humbly discourage them, and ourselves – from passively accepting what the world is trying to serve us.

I think it’s also an opportunity to thank God that He has given you eyes to see the dangers that really do exist in our culture today, and to live among these dangers as both wise and innocent (Matthew 10:16).

Will I forbid my daughter from ever shopping at this particular store? No, probably not. The advertising strategies for many other stores are following right along, competing with each other for our business. If I don’t let her shop at any store using over-sexualized advertising, we’ll end up having to take a sewing class and make our own undergarments and jean jumpers.

What I did do is point out to my daughter that the ad is selling not only some pretty cute undies, but also a highly-sexualized attitude about how teenage girls should think about their bodies and what their undergarments say about their femininity. I want her to understand that’s not how God defines beauty – that what is precious in His sight is a humble, gentle spirit (1 Peter 3:3-6).

Thankfully, I’ll never need to remind her to put on her hat and scarf and make sure she has not forgotten her pants and shirt. That’s just plain stupid.

James 1:13-15
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

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