“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.

The Lie That You Can Always Be Better or More

The Lie that You Can Always Be Better

Last Monday night I set my alarm for 5:30am to get up for a 6am workout class. My plan was to go to that class, then come home, shower, get ready, go to to work and then go to an afternoon meeting.

This was my Tuesday plan.

What happened instead? Well, Monday night I couldn’t sleep because I was having one of those can’t-shut-your-brain off kinda nights, so when 5:30am rolled around, I hadn’t been asleep long enough to be functional at 6am.

I eventually rolled out of bed around 7am and felt frustrated with myself for not sleeping well and failing to wake up in time. So I resolved to attend the 10:30am workout class instead.

I was going to exercise on Tuesday no matter what.

I show up for the 10:30am class and notice everyone seems to be really sweaty and tired already. Am I late? Did I already miss the warm up? I look at the instructor and mouth, “This is the 10:30, right?”

No, she mouths back. This is the 9:45.

There is no 10:30 class. In my sleep deprived stupor I made up that time and arrived 45 minutes late to a one-hour class.

I left the gym, tired and defeated. I went home and, unable to let go of the idea that I needed to workout today, I went for a run in the sweltering Nashville June heat and almost died.

By the time this shenanigan was over, so was half of my day. Driving to my afternoon appointment, I beat myself up for not only missing the 6am class but for thwarting my entire schedule and wasting time.

I was very mean to myself last Tuesday.

If I had been kind to myself that morning when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn, I would have simply let go of working out that day and proceeded with other activities.

Instead, I ignored the little voice inside that was quietly tapping me saying, “It’s ok. Let this one go. Burn calories tomorrow or the next day, or whenever.” Because this nice little voice inside me is often overcome by the loud angry YOU CAN ALWAYS BE BETTER voice that also lives inside me.

This voice says things like, “You’re a failure at sleep, and working out and you better make this right.” And it says lots of other mean and untrue things all the time. It’s exhausting to listen to, but I do anyways.

As long as I keep listening, it will keep talking because the thing with the YOU CAN ALWAYS BE BETTER voice is, it is never satisfied. You can feed it and feed it and make it to the gym at 6am every single day and still, it would want more from you.

But you wouldn’t listen to someone in your life you knew was mean and a liar would you? So why listen to the mean liar inside of you?

When we choose not to listen to our harsh voices, we starve them. They can’t survive if we’re not doing what they tell us to do. And eventually if we starve them long enough, they go away.

So this is what I’m trying to do now when it comes to the gym, and my body and a lot of different things. I’m ignoring the mean me, and paying more attention to the quiet and kind me. I might miss more 6am classes, but at least I’ll like myself at the end of the day.

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.

You Are More than You Think You Are

You Are More than You Think You Are

I think we often define ourselves by the things we believe we are not just as much as we define ourselves by the things we are. I am a publicist. I am a preacher’s daughter. I am a writer. I am not a musician. I am not a chef. I am not an athlete.

It’s funny I’ve always told people I’m not an athlete because I played sports from age 5 to 18 and I played intramural volleyball each year in college. I even tried playing in a couple of leagues after college, and I’ve run regularly for about 12 years now. Yet I always give this disclaimer about me and my athletic abilities and tell people I’m not a very good athlete, never was. I decided that because I never got MVP, I was mediocre and a mediocre athlete isn’t an athlete.

The way we rule things out of our capabilities can be so destructive. Maybe one person one time told you you’re not a great singer, or that you really can’t pull off skinny jeans, or you look funny when you kick a soccer ball and for years to come you don’t sing, and you don’t play soccer, and you don’t wear skinny jeans. For me, I participate in athletics but refuse to get too competitive, thinking I’m not very good so I shouldn’t try too hard.

This was my plan for the most recent half marathon I ran. I never set time goals for races because I feel like I don’t deserve to. As if keeping one’s pace is only for true athletes. But this time I decided my hard work and training deserved to be paced and tested, and I was tired of always finishing races at the same pace. So one day I quietly declared my dream finish time. I set a goal.

And on race day, for 13.1 miles, I forced myself to take steps toward this goal. I didn’t say, “I can only do what I can do” or “It’s ok if you have to walk.” I didn’t say that because I knew I was capable of running the whole time and running a little faster than usual. So instead, I told myself things I thought real athletes probably tell themselves: “You can do this. Lean into the hill. This is where it counts!” As cheesy as it all sounds, it worked. For 13.1 miles I made the conscious decision to believe in myself. I ran hard and I prayed more than I usually do. And after what felt like forever, I crossed the finish line 10 minutes under my dream time.

I am still asking who ran that race. I’ve never run that fast in my life, and I flew high on endorphins for about 12 days afterward.

At the risk of over spiritualizing something, I believe God was proving a point about my identity in that race. He proved that we can really limit our lives when we declare aloud we are not ____. Because when we do this, we are deciding who we are rather than allowing Christ to be who we are. If Christ is our identity, we really have no right to say we are one thing and not another.

I’ve noticed the courage gained from that half marathon has carried over into other areas of my life. It has begun to chip away at negatives I’ve allowed to define me like, “He would never be interested in me. I’m not outspoken in meetings. I hate public speaking.” These are not truths. Really, they are fears. And I am seeing them, while slowly, lose power and become smaller, and this is the hope that we all have, already in us.

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.

Lessons for a 13-Year-Old

We are taught a lot of things at age 13 in churches and at our youth groups. I remember nights around the campfire at church camp that were profound and talked about Jesus in a way I hadn’t thought about him before. I remember hearing that who I was was in Christ and not in whether or not boys liked me or what I looked like. Those were the lessons I remember being driven home the most. Because, as I know now, a girl’s worth is one of the hardest fought battles in her lifetime. Our youth leaders knew this, so we talked about it lots.

This weekend I traveled to Seattle to watch my big sister speak at a conference called Revolve. It’s a speaking and concert tour for girls ages 13-18, 6th to 12th grade. I’ve gone to Revolve to see Jenna four of the five years she’s spoken on the tour. Each year, about ten minutes into her talk I always feel this strange mix of fandom-“wow, that girl is cool and knows what she’s talking about”-and proud sister-“wow, that’s my blood up there, speaking truth.” And each year I learn as much from her talk, and others’, as the teen girls who bought tickets to the event.

Anthem Lights at Revolve
Anthem Lights performing at Revolve

But this year I learned extra. It was like the words spilling over the edge of that stage in that auditorium were heavier and whacking me in this almost annoying way. Because I knew it wasn’t new. People had been reading those scriptures to me and over me for years but I was feeling them deeply again and for the first time.

It makes me wonder, what does it take? Seriously what? For these lessons to stick once and for all? And to be so sticky they can never be scraped off? How do I keep it on me? How do I make sure it stays on the girls in the youth group I volunteer with? I see it bouncing off of them all the time, as much I try to put it back on nice and neat.

For truth being what it is—singular, God-breathed and, well, true—it is incredible how resistant our spirits are towards it and how thirsty they are for it. I’m dying of thirst, but don’t give me water, but give me water, but don’t.

the girls backstage
Backstage with Jenna (middle back), my mom (arms around my waist) and little sister (front right) and some of the other speakers/friends on the tour–Christine Caine, Kari Jobe and Christa Black. OMG

I think confessing and recognizing our thirst is a continuous, conscious effort. I guess the 8th grader sitting behind me at Revolve is just as in need as I am. In fact, I feel needier now than I did at that age. Even though I feel like I should “get” it by now. But believing Christ and comprehending grace is not a one-time event on your knees; it’s a lifetime of “getting” it. If we got it all right now in one moment, we would probably swell up with too much knowledge of the beauty of truth—think blueberry girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, rolled away quickly to avoid explosion.

We just can’t handle it all at once. But we would die without it in small doses.