Today I sat in a clean, cheery room while an orthodontist expertly fitted shiny little brackets to my daughter’s teeth. This is a place where beautiful smiles are made. Where we get as close as we can to perfection, at least in the arena of our kids’ teeth. Just yesterday, my little girl, a tender thirteen years old, furrowed her smooth brow with concern over how these braces would change her appearance. I knew she wondered if she would look weird or look awkward or look like someone who deserves ridicule. I knew it because I have felt it, too. The constant pressure to look a certain way. The never-ending squeeze on your heart that says you must be acceptable. That you must be worthy of approval.
As I sat nearby, I checked the internet to see what people are discussing today. It’s no surprise that Meghan Markle and her royal wedding are all the rage on social media, as we Americans seem fairly obsessed with royalty and giant weddings and love stories. Put the three together and it’s a recipe for an internet deluge. And in the mix of all of the superlatives surrounding the newest duchess’s big day, I saw it there, too: pressure from the heavy weight of public opinion. These days it isn’t even public opinion that is the real heart crusher. It’s the many, many public opinions. It’s a world where opinions are constantly spewing out of us like red hot blood from a deep wound. And, Meghan Markle hears the world speak. So does my wide-eyed first born daughter. And so do I.
Certain men have sewn devastating colors into the fabric of womanhood. They have ripped through the threads of what God created us to be, and they have decided that we have less purpose and less value and less soul, maybe. They have decided that there is no real beauty, only empty bodies that exist to be crushed by the will of a man.
Yet, in the middle of all of the outcry in the past couple of years, in the midst of all of the words that needed to be said and all of the realities that are coming out that are still showing us how very deep and abiding this men and women problem really is, we have missed one of the most devastating realities of our time. One of the main reasons that women are viewed as objects, as heartless, soulless, and mindless bodies to use and abuse is this: women speak of other women as if it is true.
Just ask the new Duchess of Sussex. Ask her about the thousands and thousands of women who, while witnessing her marriage ceremony, could only speak of her makeup, her clothing, and her hair. Ask her how many people took to the internet to vomit their opinions about her face and her body. Ask her how many cruel words were spoken about the way her eyebrows were shaped. Ask her what it’s like to be a stunningly beautiful woman in our world, and I’d wager that you’d hear it in her voice. You would feel a heart-sick sinking inside of her as she thinks of all of the hateful women who care nothing for her soul or her mind, who only want to talk about her “bad” makeup. Who want to see her humiliated because, like certain men, they only see her as something to see and not someone to know or to love or to cherish. They don’t look at her and see a person. They look at her and see a body.
These same women, who are utterly blind to their true opinion of what we are worth, will decry those certain men, and all men (for good measure), simply choosing not to admit that we are just as quick to reduce a woman to her dress size or bra size as any man. This sickness goes well beyond the males of our species.
From my perch in the orthodontist’s office, I watched as all of the tiny silver brackets were attached decidedly to the teeth that I have seen grow in through years of losses and gains. Kids’ mouths go through plenty of phases. For just a moment I pictured the Easter when her grin was punctuated by a huge gap where her two front teeth had once been. Now, here she was, years later, her long and lean frame stretched across a dental chair as the too-bright light illuminated her new silver-accented smile. I watched as the final rubber band was snapped into place and the chair slowly sat her up, her face flushed as she adjusted to the feeling of the metal in her mouth.
She grinned at me gingerly, unsure. Vulnerable.
In that moment all I could think about is how this girl is so much more than a smile. She is so much more than a number on the scale or a piece of flesh to be ogled. I know this is so because I know her. I can easily live in a state of awe at her heart and soul and her purpose as a child of God. I can be continually amazed by what is in her mind and how her imagination fires up a million stories at a time. I can be captivated by her creativity and her tenderness.
Inside all women’s bodies are who they really are. We are right to call men to account for their sins in this area. But, how can we ignore the fact that women, too, are among the worst offenders? We, who are so keenly aware of all that exists inside the shell of a woman. We are so easily tempted to talk and think as if the sum of a woman is what she looks like. Let us remember that all women are as real and deep and beautiful as a tender thirteen year old in her brand new braces, smiling at us with a hint of hope, vulnerable. What will we do with this woman’s soul? I pray we won’t cast it aside in favor of discussing all of the details of her body. What a waste. What a crime. What a devastating reduction of what God has so fearfully and wonderfully made.
We walked out of the orthodontist’s office, my very first baby and me, and we laughed into the sunshine of the second day of summer. Her eyes still held a question as she ducked into the car. I told her the truth: she is absolutely beautiful. All of her.