Worshiping Physical Beauty

Dear Dr. Dobson, My name is Renee. I read your article called "True Beauty," and although I have had a very stable childhood and upbringing, I can relate to what you said. I have never been abused or anything, but I found comfort in your words. All people deal with something in their life. I have a very low self-image. I used to find that I could boost my appearance in finding the latest trend and covering my face with makeup. Although I believe that it is wrong to rely on things of this world, I also think that in using this way of hiding my true beauty, I hide my fear. I would never go one day, even if I was sick, without spending hours in front of the mirror perfecting my image. Then everything came crashing down when I had my makeup taken away. [I assume for medical reasons.] I know to most people this sounds pretty stupid, but I really had a hard time accepting this. I would sit at the mirror with red eyes, without makeup, for hours saying that I was an ugly, pathetic, stupid, and unworthy person. I truly believed that I hated myself. My parents and God helped me through that time. I believe the true battle was not about having my makeup taken away, but in realizing that I was, and am, a truly beautiful person in God's eyes. I think that some people need to hear about what I am sharing, because many parents and teens would not believe how many young women struggle with this. I'd love to hear what you all think of this. God bless.

Note that it was Renee's "parents and God" who helped her battle through her self-hatred. I plead with mothers and fathers to be there for your kids when the pressure is on. You hold the keys to their survival, and we must not be too busy to notice what is coming down. My parents were there for me during a similar crisis in my thirteenth year, and they ushered need your love and attention. Teach them skills that will give them a sense of identity; treat them with dignity and respect, even when they fail to earn it at times; choose your words very carefully during periods of greatest sensitivity; and help them make friends by opening your home and your heart to lost kids looking for a safe place. There are no magic answers, but there are good answers. Remember that this girl who is driving you crazy will someday be your best friend, if you handle her with care.

Renee and millions of her contemporaries are victims of a false set of values that measures personal worth by that which is temporal, dishonest, and tyrannical. The media and the entertainment industry are largely to blame for this destructive system. They laud images of bodily perfection, including "supermodels," "playmates," "babes," and "hunks." The net effect on children and teens is profound, not only in this country but around the world.

Now I will turn the coin over. Those who are blessed by great beauty often have struggles of their own. Consider the experience of one of the most attractive women in the world, the late Farrah Fawcett. She was drop-dead gorgeous even in high school and became a walking, talking Barbie doll. When she was a freshman in college and went to her first sorority pledge party, the fraternity brothers were invited to choose which particular girls they wanted to meet. Most of the female students were selected by no more than two or three guys. Not so for Farrah. The men wanting to talk to her were lined all the way around the block, including the quarterback of the football team.10 Wearing a red bathing suit, she later posed for a calendar that sold more than 8 million copies and solidified her image as an international "sex kitten."11

Farrah had the qualities that most other girls apparently dreamed about (the guys were dreaming too), and yet we know now that she considered her beauty to be a curse. It made her feel uncomfortable because both men and women stared at her whenever she went out in public. She felt that people didn't take her seriously as a woman or as an actress.

She said during the height of her career, "You're always under pressure to look and feel and be good. How would you like to be photographed every day of your life?"12

As you may know, Farrah contracted cancer in 2006 and endured a slow, agonizing decline. She lost her legendary hair, her strength, and much of her beauty. Death came on June 25, 2009, at sixty-two years of age.13 Millions of us who watched her career from beginning to end felt sadness for her as the ravages of time and a terrible illness took their toll. Alas, so very quickly it seemed, the angel next door was gone.

Is there a message here about our culture, which seems to worship youth and beauty? If so, should it be shared with your daughters? Without a doubt.

Consider another sad example from the life and death of a beauty queen. Her name was Anna Nicole Smith, and she was Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1993 and a model for Guess jeans. She fantasized about becoming the next Marilyn Monroe and was compared to sultry actress Jean Harlow. Anna Nicole married an eighty-nine-year-old Texas oil tycoon when she was twenty-six.14 She died on February 8, 2007, after being found unconscious in her hotel room. The cause of death was a drug overdose from nine different types of medications.15 In that regard, Anna achieved her goal of being like Marilyn. They both died alone after overdosing.

Writer Marc Gellman wrote an insightful and disturbing article about Anna Nicole, published a week after her death. As you will see, he describes graphically the tragedy of beautiful women who are routinely treated like "pieces of meat."

What men consider beautiful about women changes over time. In 16th-century Antwerp, Peter Paul Rubens taught Dutch men to lust after pudgy brunettes. In 20th-century America, Hugh Hefner taught American men to lust after busty blondes, women just like Anna Nicole Smith. Any reflections on her death must first begin with deep sadness for yet another premature and needless death in our wounded world. Thirty-nine-year-old women should not die. We must also grieve for her infant daughter who, regardless of her possible fortune, is now consigned by fate to grow up without a mother—just as Anna Nicole had been forced by the same cruel fate to grow up without a father. Next we must force ourselves to remember that this front-page story is echoed by a thousand untold stories about unknown women who have died or been killed or driven to fatal addictions just because they were pretty. These women died because they were meat on the banquet table of predatory men. Their deaths must not be seen as merely tragic accidents, but as cautionary tales for us all, and particularly for men who are taught to see women as playthings and not as human beings made, as religious folk like me would say, in the image of God.

Treating women, particularly pretty women, as meat is not a new social pathology or a new sin. It is as old as women and men. I am sure that among the early hominoids there were women with rapturously beautiful body hair who were harassed and pursued. In the Bible the treating of women as meat is called harlotry. In Leviticus 19:29 we read this cautionary law: "Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness." Read that and tell me you don't believe in prophecy!

10.Skip Hollandsworth, "Vanity Farrah," Texas Monthly (January 1997): 71.

11.Donna Freydkin, "TV Angel's Story Comes to a Sad Ending," USA Today (June 26, 2009): D10.

12."Remembering Farrah: Her Life in Pictures," People (July 13, 2009).

13.Freydkin, "TV Angel's Story," D10.

14.Sue Anne Pressley, "From Courting to Court: A Love Story," Los Angeles Times (September 7,

1995): E1.

15.Abby Goodnough and Margalit Fox, "Anna Nicole Smith Is Found Dead in Florida," New York Times (February 9, 2007): A12.

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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