Last week I heard a story on NPR about an interesting development in India. Since their county has about 1/6 of the world’s population and their economy is beginning to rise, they are becoming targets for major marketing campaigns. But one of those campaigns is surprising.
It’s directed toward Indian men. For Cosmetics.
The marketing firms have discovered that creams that lightens someone’s skin have really sold well to Indian women. So they’ve also begun to peddle it to the men. They’ve realized that this is a huge market and so they’re trying to persuade Indian men that they need a new look. They’re telling them that “white is hot,” but the implied sub-text is that “dark is not.”
And while their marketing isn’t that overt about it, that doesn’t mean that what’s being said in the villages is so subtle. One of the men interviewed said plainly, “Dark skin is seen as a curse for their ancestors pillaging and raping.” The pregnant women are under such pressure for their children to be light-skinned they commonly resort to wives-tales and eat saffron or powdered gold.
Now most of us hear this and think immediately how ridiculous this is. That people would exploit others in the name of beauty.
And then we all go to our gyms and tanning booths.
A few years ago I had a conversation with a girl that really shocked me. She told me that she had struggled with an eating disorder for a few years and didn’t really like herself. In a moment of God-given wisdom, I asked her what she saw when she looked in the mirror. This girl was thin as a rail, she had several guys who were pursuing her at the time, she was by anyone’s definition, beautiful.
And she said she was fat.
One weekend, when I was in college, a friend came up to me while I was at a Harding basketball game and introduced me to someone that he had just met. Her name was Jamie, she was born with a birth defect that had disfigured her face significantly, and she was considering suicide.
We took her to Waffle House (the place for ministry at Harding) and talked for a couple of hours. We asked her what she thought about herself, and how she thought God saw her.
You’d be amazed to hear the stuff that she’d heard in her life (from friends and family). Almost everyone had bought into the idea that how someone looks is directly correlated to what they’re worth, and she had bought it hook, line, and sinker.
Jamie at the deepest part of her identity saw ugly.
I’ve been to a lot of different places in the world, and know that different places consider different things beautiful, but it never really occurred to me that someone might be pulling the strings for corporate gain. But it’s true.
Fashion is a trillion dollar industry, that operates on making people believe that who they are is not enough.
There’s a beautiful passage in 2 Corinthians, where Paul is talking about the church as the new humanity. A place that doesn’t operate by the same rules as everyone else. And in this new humanity, Paul says, “we no longer regard anyone from an earthly point of view.”
Fat people, skinny people, jocks and geeks, light skin and dark skin, acne and cleft palates, glasses, flat feet, and Nascar fans.
All have a place in the Kingdom of God.
I wish I would have known better what to say to the many girls I have prayed with who have eating disorders, or the many guys who have self-image problems. I wish I had more wisdom in how to get this deep spiritual truths out of the Bible and into our hearts. But I am thankful that on that night in Waffle House God gave us the insight to say the one thing to Jamie that mattered.
We told her what I think Paul would have told her, we told her she was beautiful.
Because after all, she was.