“I didn’t know myself without social media.” – Essena O’Neill and Knowing Ourselves

Essena O'Neill final

I don’t often drop everything to comment on newsy topics, but when it involves body image and identity, sometimes I can’t help myself.

You may have seen that Essena O’Neill, a teen social media celebrity with half a million Instagram followers, has quit social media. I didn’t know who Essena O’Neill was until yesterday, but I’m not very cool on social media, and I’m also not a teen. So I looked her up.

I read about her. Watched this video, and then read her edited captions on Instagram, which I totally loved. Her message is not just one for teen girls. It’s for me, someone ten years older than she is, and it’s for anyone who uses social media on a regular basis. Now with her new site LetsBeGameChangers.com, she is hoping to spread–what I’ve narrowed down to–three messages:

1. Social media is a ruse. It’s not real life, so don’t aspire to be social media famous, like her.
2. Social media likes and follows do not determine whether or not you are a worthy person.
3. Your physical appearance does not determine whether or not you are a worthy person

At one point in the YouTube video, she shares a story from when she was twelve years old. She used to stalk beautiful models and celebrities on social media, wanting to look like them and be like them. She would look at herself in the mirror and wonder if she was skinny like they were or pretty like they were. One day, she looked up the centimeters of different models’ waists and thighs. Then she measured her own waist and thighs to see how hers measured up.

That’s the part that got me. I know what that deep, relentless, self scrutiny feels like. I am ten years older than Essena, and I still know what that feels like.

She goes on to say, “I didn’t know myself without social media. I didn’t know myself without my appearance.”

I didn’t know myself, she said.

Essena’s message is powerful and I think it will make a difference, but that phrase right there is what she’s getting at, even if she doesn’t know that’s what she’s getting at. She didn’t know herself, but she wants to know herself, apart from the posed and strategic posts on social media. She hopes to accomplish this by getting off social media for good and spreading positive and truthful messages to others who are caught up in it.

I think when we say we want to know ourselves better, what we mean is we want to be known. For how we can be us and not know us? How can I be me and not know me? There must be something out there that knows us better than we know ourselves, and that, that is what we want.

Essena, in her own way, is expressing this universally human craving. To be known and then for our known selves to be loved.

This one thing we all want, what Essena wants, what I want, what every girl or guy on Instagram who is refreshing their feed compulsively to count their likes wants, is what we already have.

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
-Psalm 139:13-16

A lot of people quote that first part, and but I like the parts after. “When I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.”

We were known before we knew ourselves. We were known before our own mothers knew us. We were known. You were known. You are known. Nothing has changed that. This truth, it holds true.

We cannot be more known than to be known by our creator, and He knows us. Like, really as much as you can possibly know someone and more than we could possibly ever understand, he knows us. Our substance being yet unformed. Our days fashioned as yet there were none of them.

Our backwards quest for acceptance through the posting of dishonest, improved and staged images of ourselves can only be turned around by believing that we are unconditionally accepted by our creator. This, I am convinced, is the only weapon we have to fight this war on self hatred, worthiness, and the feeling of not being enough. A war that’s always existed and is greatly magnified by the social platforms that allow us to see what everybody else is doing, who they are doing it with, and what they look like while they are doing it.

My hope for Essena, for girls and for all of us is that in our search for self, we come to end of ourselves and to the beginning of something much greater, a love that was always there, a love that knows us through and through and loves us still.

Two Things Daughters Need to Hear from their Fathers

father daughter final

A few weeks ago I was assigned to write a Father’s Day article about what daughters need to hear from their fathers as teens. Immediately I remembered this one time I did a Q&A session at a youth leaders’ conference. I and another preacher’s daughter answered a few questions about what it was like to grow up with a pastor as a father.

At the end of the session, the conference leader asked us what piece of advice we would give to fathers in the audience about daughters.

My fellow interviewee gave a very articulate, smart and somewhat long response. People applauded. It was a good answer. She talked about women being strong and independent and how beauty was often too central in our upbringings. I looked at her and nodded along. Then it was my turn.

I felt embarrassed. My answer was much shorter than hers. Less eloquent. It sounded superficial. But it was all I could think to say, so I said it: “Tell her you love her every day. Tell her she’s beautiful every day.”

If I were given the chance to answer this question today, I would say the exact same thing.

I believe when a dad tells his little girl she is beautiful before she is old enough to read magazines or understand dress sizes or compare her selfies on Instagram to others’, she learns to identify beauty as an intrinsic part of her soul, rather than a physical attribute she must strive to attain.

The concept of beauty in and of itself is not a bad thing; beauty is of God. It is the connotations we have put onto this word—looking a certain way, being a certain size, color, etc.—that make it seem like a negative thing.

If a father can tell his daughter daily from an early age that she is beautiful for no reason except that she simply exists, she is raised with a healthy idea of what beauty truly is and where her worth is actually found.

It is the same when she is told she is loved from day one, and every day after that. Somewhere in her subconscious she realizes that she isn’t doing anything to earn her dad’s love because he tells her, even on her worst days, that he loves her. “I must simply be worthy of love,” the little voice inside of her says.

My dad did this for me and my two sisters growing up and he does it still. He told us he loved us. He told us we were beautiful. In my teenage years, I rolled my eyes at these words of affirmation, but I’ve noticed that they have in many ways carried me into adulthood.

Even though during difficulties, setbacks and failures, I try to push this little voice of assurance away, I know it’s still there. And some days, it is the only thing that keeps me going.

What power the words of a father can have over his daughter.

It’s hard for me to hear stories that are not like mine. Stories that come from girls whose fathers didn’t think to say “I love you” and “You’re beautiful.” It’s such a simple thing. It’s such a crucial thing.

If we are sustained by the loving Word of God our Father, why would we not also assume that our children are sustained by the loving words of their earthly fathers?

Thank you to my dad and all the dads out there who are making the daily, conscious effort to speak truth over their girls.

 

You can read a better articulated and explained version of this post in an article I wrote for the June issue of Parenting Teens magazine: http://www.lifeway.com/n/Product-Family/Parenting-Teens

Why Men Don’t Tell You You’re Beautiful

Why Men Don't Tell You You're Beautiful

I read this post by Matt Walsh a while back. It was a letter to his daughter, who is still very young, about her beauty and how he hopes that the magazine rack and social media will never convince her she isn’t beautiful. He’s knows it’s wishful thinking but it was a very well-written and honest piece from a father to his daughter. I’ve thought about it a lot. Partly because I get it. I have a dad who feels the same way about me and my sisters and made it clear to us growing up. He knew it was important for a father to tell his daughter he loved her and that she is beautiful. Many days I remember this and am so so grateful for it.

But I’ve also thought about this letter a lot because it fell flat for me. I wanted to love it and agree with everything he said but something about it sounded hollow. Reading it not as a letter written personally to me (I think this will be a whole different story for Walsh’s daughter one day, and it will be treasured by her. I have not doubt of that.), but as a woman in general, I didn’t walk away feeling better about myself or my appearance, reminded to ignore the messages on the fashion websites and Instagram accounts I follow. Instead, I felt confused by the message.

Walsh talks about the standards of beauty in our culture and how they warp the young girl’s mind into thinking she isn’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, all that. This is true. I agree that the media has not been the best for our self-esteem, but it’s more than the images themselves that confuse girls, and women, about what we’re supposed to look like. It’s deeper than that. When I saw cover girls and Most Beautiful lists growing up, I made the connection that whatever girl was being splashed across various media avenues was the girl that was desirable to a man. It’s a subconscious connection I think we all make. She is being upheld as beautiful = she is what men want.

This is why it’s hard for me to listen to a man talk about the wrong message the media is sending women about our bodies, because for as long as I can remember I have associated women in the media as the women men want. It’s confusing to hear them say otherwise. It also confirms something I’ve been suspicious of for a while now that most of you probably figured out a long time ago, men are not able to make women feel beautiful. Temporarily, yes. Long term, no. That is far too heavy a load to bear and too high an expectation to put on men anyways. And because of this, I don’t think it has to be their role to convince us to ignore the media either. As long as the convincing is coming from a male voice, we will be confused.

I think it’s why I almost ignored the beautiful letter Matt Walsh wrote, and I think it’s why I ignore most guys when they speak out about beauty standards. It’s too confusing for me and by default I don’t absorb his message. When I do perk up, is when a woman I respect writes or speaks on the topic. I perk up when the focus is on my innate worth that is in Christ and focused less on working to ignore the messages that have always been there and always will be there. It’s a conversation every woman should have with every woman, and it’s a conversation that needs to go deeper than the media and its messages.

Why You Should Apologize to Yourself

Why You Should Apologize to Yourself

We all know saying sorry to others is important. But have you ever thought about saying sorry to yourself? I hadn’t until I read this blog post on Storyline by Mike Foster a few weeks ago about negative self-talk. Read it then come back here, please.

I don’t know about you, but his words were spot on for me and the way I talk to myself. Think about all of the voices that go off in your head as you go through your day. If you lean perfectionist like I do, you may have a few more voices and they are probably a little more critical.

For me, the voices start early in the day. The first thing I see when I walk into my office in the mornings is a big, dim, full-length reflection of myself in the tinted mirror/wall opposite the front doors. I tell myself not to look, but I always do and then I always have an opinion about what I decided to wear that day and how I look in it. I share this opinion with myself and make it to the stairs v. elevator debate a few feet away. “You have to take the stairs,” I tell myself, “and you know why.”

After this internal conversation about my looks is over, the internal conversation about my day begins. I check my calendar and see a meeting scheduled that I’d forgotten about and beat myself up for forgetting about it, even though it’s two hours away so it’s not like I’m going to miss it. Then I start to make my to-do list and get distracted by an email, so I get onto myself for being so easily distracted. And the negativity continues and progresses until it’s really a miracle I make it home not physically bruised from it all.

I think we become very accustomed to this in our lives. It’s the norm to be mean to ourselves and then nice to others. This is how we exist, but we don’t have to.

The other day I decided to put into practice #3 on Mike Foster’s list of recommendations for kicking negative self-talk to the curb: Apologize to yourself. I had been making fun of myself for acting awkward in a social situation and was running over in my head how I should have said and done things differently. I do this a lot–chastise myself for not acting “cooler” in public. But this time, I stopped me mid-sentence and apologized. To me. I said I was sorry I was being so hard on me, and that really I hadn’t acted that awkwardly and probably no one had noticed. I said I was sorry I lacked grace for me and then I gave myself a compliment.

It felt weird, and writing it out like this feels even weirder, but as I was kind to myself in my thoughts, I felt that toxic negativity start to leave and make room for a little confidence and grace to enter in. It’s physics (or something), really. You release the bad stuff and have more space for the good. Think about that, the potential beauty inside of you released with a simple apology.

That One Part of Your Body You Still Don’t Like

TapeMeasure

 

I think as women we can come far in believing in our own beauty. We embrace that curly hair we tried so hard to straighten growing up. We actually miss the red hue in those curls that we so badly wanted to be blond. We realize having a big nose isn’t so bad and no one really notices bigger ears either. Crooked teeth? No problem. You’ve seen lots of beautiful people with crooked teeth. Think about your 16-year-old self looking in the mirror versus the way you look in the mirror now. Hopefully you’re not as hard on you. Hopefully you smile a little. That is, until your eyes fall on that one part. You know what it is for you. I know what it is for me. The one thing you still consider your exception. “I like everything about myself, except ____.”

It’s that thing that can bring you down for the rest of the hour, or the day. And for me, it has always been the one absolutely irreversible, unchangeable part of me: my height. The official measurement, without shoes, is 5’10 ¼”. I know because I had a friend measure me recently with a measuring tape against my wall. I have always been tall. I didn’t have a big growth spurt in elementary school or junior high. I’ve just been consistently taller than most of the rest, including boys, until I got to college. At my best, I am indifferent toward my height. At my worst, I hate it. But I don’t recall a time, ever, that I liked it. High school consisted of a lot of slouching, a lot of shopping for “fancy” flats to wear to dances and a lot of sticking close by one of my best friends who happened to be my exact height all the way through school. God knew I needed her as my friend in adolescence.

Me on the left and my friend Morgan on the right, who I stuck close by all through high school. Thank you, Morgan
Me on the left and my friend Morgan on the right (our friend Karalea in the middle), who I stuck close by all through high school. Thank you, Morgan

I’ve talked about my beauty struggles here before. I’ve talked about them with friends a lot and with teenage girls and with women older than I. No matter your age, there is something about your body that you are at best indifferent toward and at worst you hate. You settle for liking most of yourself and resolve that one thing will always bug you. At some point, somewhere you were either told or you decided inside your own head, that that part of you was wrong. I know I’ve said that to myself. I am the average, American male height. And in most other countries, especially the Latin American ones, I am well above it. I have believed my height is some sort of glitch. I have even believed men have dated me and been attracted to me in spite of this part of me and not because of it. It’s not something I consciously decided; it’s a belief that slithered its way into me somewhere along the way.

I only recently got to a place where I could confess to myself and a couple of close friends that I thought something about me was not just unfortunate but actually wrong. And it took that confession for humility to start staring at me. I think my body is wrong? If I think this, how will I ever fully like myself? And if I think this, how will I ever believe in a God who knows what He is doing, instead of a God who almost got it right?

Since I confessed this, I’ve been able to trace back when I started to believe my height was wrong and why. Comments made by people who weren’t friends contributed to it. But comparing myself to every other girl everywhere all the time contributed to it the most.

This helps, knowing the source. Maybe you could stand to do a little backtracking and digging into the hard places. Where and when did you start to dislike that one thing? I think it will start you on the journey toward a deeper self-acceptance, and a deeper self-like. And the world could really use more women that like themselves.

I can’t imagine a world in which Andrea Lucado loves being 5’10” (and some change). But I do, for the first time, hope for a world like that. It’s actually something I’m going to pray about. That I not only accept this part of me, but that I would wake up one day and like it.

Beauty: The Race We’re All Losing

andrealucado.wordpress.com woman-looking-in-mirrorIf beauty is fleeting, why do we chase it?

I was fortunate to be told by loving parents again and again that I was beautiful. Their compliments came naturally, but I took them for granted. Sometimes, I didn’t believe them and many times they even got on my nerves. Great, my dad thinks I’m beautiful, but no one at school does. And the guy in my algebra class was the real opinion that mattered. I wish I could say not believing in my own beauty ended in high school, but scrolling through old Facebook pictures recently made me realize it hasn’t.

Have you ever done that? Accidentally clicked the arrow the wrong way and suddenly you’re staring at a photo of yourself from eight years ago? I continued to click through the pictures of my years in college. All the way through. There were so many. I had done so many things I had forgotten about. Activities, entire sports teams I have vague memories of being a part of. I hope I’m not the only one whose eyes go directly to herself when looking at a group shot. I did this each time and even though these pictures were so old, I had myself under a magnifying glass thinking thoughts like, “I must have been a size 12 in that picture…size six in that one…why did I wear that same t-shirt so much…what’s happening to my hair….seriously, how did I have friends?… I realize why boyfriends have been few and far between.”

I was 27 getting angry at my 20-year-old self for not being more beautiful, for not measuring up to the compliments from my parents and others over the years.

I hate to admit that as a Christian, independent-type woman, I have allowed external beauty to rule, but I have. If I feel ok about the way I look, I feel ok about me. If I’m receiving less compliments or not getting asked out, I assume it is because I don’t look attractive, and I begin to wonder what I need to do to gain back my attractiveness. I don’t know who I am without beauty, or at least the chase of it.

What would we do without this comparison game that consumes our thoughts? It’s my favorite game. I compare my arms to hers, and my ratty hair to her perfect bun, and I think about all of the things I need to do and be doing now and do later that would allow me to achieve all of the things others have that I want.

Of course it’s crazy when I really think about it. If I achieved this, I would have four different types of hair on my head, one long and skinny arm and one muscular one. A big butt cheek and a small one. Short legs and a long torso and different colored and shaped eyes. To look the we “want,” would be to look like an ugly Picasso painting.

And after years of this tiring and endless game, I think I’m starting, starting, to see my mind shift a bit. Like the other day when I was running on the treadmill at the gym and staring at every woman who came into view. I’m sure I looked creepy, but I didn’t care; I was having a minor breakthrough. I studied so many different bodies during my time on the machine. I could tell some of the women were healthy and allowing their body’s shape to be what it was. And some I could tell had worked hard to form a different shape. It’s like we are potters trying to turn clay into a glass table. We have been given certain materials, but we want to create them into things they can never be. No wonder we are exhausted. No wonder we don’t feel beautiful. We have the wrong goal. Our clay will never turn into the beautiful clear glass we are wanting because it is meant to be clay.

Can we change this? I hope we can. I think we can. But first we have to stop the chase altogether. If beauty is fleeting, it will be gone the moment we attain it, so let’s stop trying. Give up the chase altogether. That’s when we will begin to desire the clay, to work with the clay, and eventually one day, we will love the clay.