On Viral Posts, Restless Hearts, and Idols

Recently, a viral post from a few years ago made a resurrected appearance on my social media feeds for the second time. The original article was featured in the Huffington Post and called “How to Talk to Little Girls.” In it, author Lisa Bloom describes the negative effects our culture’s obsession with physical appearance has on young women. I wasn’t surprised by Bloom’s statement that, “…eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.” In reality, Lisa Bloom’s diagnosis matches some of my own observations not just from pre-adolescent girls, but those in my own age bracket.

There is a reason, though, that I’m not rushing out to buy her book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World nor am I planning to mass produce copies of the article for Crossing Kids volunteers or parents who interact with girls. I might agree with some of the surface level symptoms Bloom describes, but I believe there is a far more potent disease at the root. I also believe that the prescription she suggests is a bit like giving morphine to someone addicted to pain killers. It may appear to solve the problem for a while, but eventually you discover that your attempt to “help” actually did more harm in the long run.

So what does Bloom say the problem is?

“As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”

On the surface, we might struggle to find anything wrong with what Bloom says. Books and learning are good things, right? What could be harmful about that? Listen carefully to the second part, though. According to the author, what is missing is a life of meaning that ultimately comes from being intelligent and valued for thoughts and accomplishments. The article goes on to describe a practical way to change cultural norms by asking, “What are you reading?” rather than complimenting clothes or hairstyle.

Please let me be clear, I think we should encourage girls to learn, study hard, and develop their intellect. As a reader and former teacher, would never dissuade someone from talking about books with children. By all means, please ask the little girls in your life (and little boys too for that matter) about what they are reading.

My concern has to do with the deeper heart issue I alluded to earlier. Beauty in and of itself is a good thing. Beauty as the ultimate source of purpose and meaning, however, is dangerous. It’s dangerous not just because it turns us into superficial vessels with empty minds, judgmental hearts, and botoxed body parts, but for the same reason that intellect as the ultimate source of purpose and meaning is dangerous. It’s dangerous because when our identity comes from the gift, rather than the Giver, disappointment is sure to follow. Perhaps more clearly than anyone else, Tim Keller articulates this idea in his book Counterfeit Gods:

“Anything can be an idol and everything has become an idol…We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life. What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

My concern is that Bloom’s solution merely supplants one idol with another. As someone who is prone to attaching my meaning and worth to intellect and accomplishments, I can tell you that even what might appear to be a more noble pursuit can feel just as hollow. As the song Divine Invitation reminds us,

“We are all here to find
 the place where our restless souls will be free. We were all made to see 
our hearts could not rest until found in Thee.”

My heart aches for little girls struggling to find meaning and purpose in outward appearance, but my heart also aches for little girls who believe that their intellect, morality, or anything other than Christ can save them and give them the sense of meaning and purpose they desire. Let’s give our girls (and boys) something more than a new idol to replace the old one.

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it is not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
-C.S. Lewis-

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