Bowing to a False Image

pg 1 of The Velveteen Rabbit.

It took me only a short time between moving from Massachusetts to Phoenix to become hostile to my body. The admittedly matronly look that I had worn well in Massachusetts came as a badge of honor.  With full-time work, five kids and definitely no gym membership, I was satisfied. I was still sort of cute, had great skin and what I lacked in other areas I made up for in charm.

Phoenix was a different planet. The blonde sophistication that had migrated from Southern California was a whole new world. Slowly the satisfactory image that I had of myself began to fade and a new image was cast.

It was an image where the hair was not high lighted, the teeth were too crooked and the boobs? Well. The boobs were just completely wrong. For one thing, they were real.

In short I was not pretty enough, sophisticated enough and I didn’t have “the look”. And because I was so focused on this I lost the charm.

The internal struggle began as I bowed more and more to this false image fashioned by man and endorsed by me, the willing follower.

When you begin to bow to a false image, no matter what the area, you lose perspective of reality, of what is important. If you bow to a false image of what your work should be, you become dissatisfied or your identity becomes that work. If you bow to a false image of social justice, you forget that the reason social justice is important is because it’s an outflowing of the character of God. If you bow to a false image of what a relationship should look like, you take a dangerous step off the road of reality and see that person you love as less than adequate. If you bow to a false image of appearance, you become a narcissist.

But how do we escape these false images? It began for me with an understanding of what a real image is – If I don’t know what real is, how can I spot false?

I was much like the Velveteen Rabbit, who one day in conversation with the Skin Horse asked the question “What is Real?”

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

So like the Velveteen Rabbit I ask “What is a real? A real image?” No matter how great my highlights look now they fade and there will come a day when they will look ludicrous. No matter how firm my boobs, (actually not very…..) there is gravity. No matter how many skin peels or Botox, at some point the wrinkles remain.

Real is knowing what lasts and what doesn’t last. Real is peace with my state and stage of life. Real is healthy communication with my spouse and kids. Real is giving myself permission to age. Real is caring for my soul. Real is that my  body is a shell, but my soul is eternal.

When I am bowing to a false image, I can’t look up to a true God. Only as I look up will I see who I am and whose image I should bear. I don’t want to be bent toward man, instead I want to look up to my Maker.

Today may we look up instead of down and ask the that question borne through the wisdom of a children’s book “What is Real?”.  And in looking up may we see the stamp of His image and become people who bear that image.

Communicating Across Boundaries ReadersToday CAB will reach 100,000 views since it’s start – thank you all so much! In celebration I look forward to a guest post series So.Many.Stories. Each of you come with so many amazing stories that come out in bits and pieces through your comments. This is a chance to get some of those into posts! Stay tuned for more information and thanks again.

28 thoughts on “Bowing to a False Image

  1. Love this post! It reminds me of a beautiful quote by Rumi

    How long will you think about this painful life?
    How long will you think about this harmful world?
    The only thing it can take from you is your body.
    Don’t say all this rubbish and stop thinking.

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  2. With media constantly screaming at us, telling us how we ought to be, what we should wear, what we should eat, etc., little wonder that we become obsessed with ourselves. Failure to measure up to those air-brushed, fake advertisements, we, especially women, begin to doubt our true value. It takes some of us a bit longer (there goes that comparison again!!) to get the message that God is at work in us, transforming us into the persons He intended us to be. But He is at work. By the daily renewing of our minds we will be transformed, rejoicing in the unique and individual we are created to be. Thinking of ourselves with “sober judgement” (Romans 12:3), we don’t need to fear what others think of us. What’s in the heart and mind will present to the world the truth of who we really are, with or without make-up. We don’t need to pretend.

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    1. Yes!! The bombardment of the media makes us crazy and those are so many of the images that account for my false images. I love that you link “real” to the truth of scripture. That’s the only thing strong enough to shout back at the false images.

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  3. The Velveteen Rabbit is one of my favorites, and the words of the Skin Horse are very wise. It happened for me in my late 40’s when I began to lose the fake ideals I’d held onto and quit trying to keep up with social expectations. The more I discovered who I was and followed my inner spirit, the less I adhered to my old ways of thinking… looking. I’m comfortable where I am now, and oddly, life is less complicated not working so hard to keep an image based on society and others expectations. I often feel alone in my journey, but it is a time of confidence and self-love for me. The Skin Horse said it best, “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” There are many wonderful people out there who do understand… they are comfortable in their bodies and their inner spirit shines!

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    1. I think the part I love best about this are the words “Oddly life is less complicated not working so hard to keep an image based on society and others expectations”. and then the poignancy of aloneness in the journey that you reference. Have never thought of it like that but so true. Someone told me once that I would cease caring what others thought when I turned 40. I guess I’m a slow developer :) because it didn’t begin to happen for me until my 50’s. And as it has, I realizing caring for others is a far cry from caring what others think. I thank you so much for this comment.

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  4. So true. When we’re worried about being something that we’re not, we loose out. We’re not real. We’re what we want everyone around us to see. But that’s not us. I think this is even a bigger temptation to us younger ladies, too – because the ideal around us gets the best position; she gets the best grades; she gets married and lives happily ever after. And the rest of us typical, maybe not-too-beautiful folks?
    I think freedom and reality only comes when we accept who God has made us, and realize that being real is an inside thing … it’s a love thing … and no amount of designer clothing or the such can do that.
    Some of the people that are the happiest, ‘realest’ folks I know are the ones that wear the hand-me-downs; they shop at thrift stores; they work the not-so-great jobs. But they are totally in love with the Lord. The love others extravagantly. And they’re ridiculously happy.

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    1. Just like the Rabbit “Real is an inside thing” You bring up some of the troubling expectations that we put on young women – such high expectations that there is no way to achieve them. Thanks for bringing in a generational perspective. I need that and need to think about what I am modeling.

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  5. To those familiar with ‘The Hunger Games’ these issues are what I’ve started to call ‘Capitol problems’. I find it interesting that liberal Massachusetts, that we call home, is a benchmark for ‘real’. But by comparison to some locales, that so resemble Panem’s Capitol, a benchmark it is.

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    1. I am so glad you brought this up. Something came up last night and that’s exactly what I likened this too. That abuse of all pleasure so that one has to come up with weirder and weirder things to bring pleasure. Would love to dissect Hunger Games more with you – maybe over home made bread?!!

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  6. To all you young things (you are all young to this 83 year old) including you, dear Marilyn: the skin horse said it, “It doesn’t happen all at once…” But one day I realized that I was thinking far less about myself and what I was wearing and what I looked like to others. Instead I just wasn’t thinking about myself that much any more, but about whoever I was talking with, and what they were going through. Such freedom, just keep on loving people, and letting them love you just the way you are.
    Oh, I still use my very basic Mary Kay stuff, and I try not to look too sloppy or casual when I go out. But it’s not that important any more.

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    1. I love that you brought up Mary Kay! That is the secret to your beautiful skin. Wait till I send you what Aunt Ruth wrote to me :) Thanks so much for the encouragement to age well!

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  7. I was so astonished to one day realize that the insecurities my 5th grade daughter agonized over (“What will they say?”, “But everyone’s wearing that brand.”, “I’m the only one that wears hand-me-downs!”, “I look silly. I have nothing to wear.”, “They’re going to make fun of me!”) are the very same ones I wade through every time I enter a room full of women. I brace myself. I hold my head high. I fake a self-confidence. I put on a smile and I make my entrance.
    Why are we wired this way? Where does the perpetual comparison come from? We are intelligent women, why do we fall for the lies? Is there ever a time when we feel truly comfortable in our own skin? Does the mind battle over what’s Real ever end? Or is this something we are doomed to struggle with until it’s finally over….Even then, I have strict instructions on how I want to be laid out in my coffin….. !
    Thanks for starting the conversation Marilyn. Admitting our weaknesses, our sags, our scars, our bags, our greys has to be the beginning of combating what we’ve secretly believed for generations.

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    1. I wonder if it’s a “Now we see through a glass dimly” sort of thing. There are moments or real clarity, and then there are moments of complete confusion about the area of looks, weight, beauty etc. And it gets confused because the reality is that caring for our bodies in a healthy way is great and I gotta say Robynn….I love my hair colored!!!! So I think much of this is admitting those things head on when they come and moving forward. Love you girl! Your insight is a gift.

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  8. Well said – it’s sad how even in my 50s I can still struggle w/the idea of what I should look like, that’s why I haven’t bothered looking at “women’s” magazines for years and besides they really don’t have that much to offer. I’d rather spend time looking up ;)

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    1. I too gave up looking at Women’s magazines, and now that I’ve seen the side behind air brushing I have to train my eyes to realize I’m looking at fantasy, not reality. That if the woman from the magazine happened into my grocery store people wouldn’t stare! Thanks Helena for being on this journey together!

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