A week ago Monday I had an interview to volunteer with the national organization Girls, Inc. Well, she called it an interview, but it was a lot more like an opportunity for her to tell me more about their work and an opportunity for me to pour out my heart about how important that work is.
It should, hopefully, come as no surprise to my regular readers that I care deeply about the image women and girls put on themselves. The hateful image. The worthless image. The shattered image. Because of all of the factors. Media, men, culture, women, family, friends, self. And I acknowledge there is some irony and probably a bit of hypocrisy in talking to these girls about what beauty looks like, how important they are, where their value is, because frankly, I struggle with it. I’m riddled with fear of never being good enough for anyone, including myself. That’s sort of a personal struggle for my heart, because God’s shown me time and again he has a reason for me and my creation in His Image speaks well of my own image. But I get distracted. I get lost. I get beaten down. But if I can even for one moment in my life step outside of myself and show these girls, and hopefully myself too, what their value is about, what beauty looks like, where strength comes from then I think I’m pursuing what small semblance of a passion I have.
I spent a good deal of high school surrounded by eating disorders and depression. I think the thing about it though that scares me the most, even in working with Girls Inc., is that stories have this tendency to be more of an endorsement than a deterrent. I remember sitting in a chapel in seventh grade maybe and hearing an upper classmen, a girl in my brother’s class, talking about her struggle with her eating disorder. How God pulled her out of it. But she wasn’t out of it. She was very much still in it. She was a popular girl. She was well liked and stereotypically beautifully. Academically and athletically successful. It wasn’t long after a girl in the class below her started down the same dangerous path, and in a worse state. A couple of years later I’m in the car with that girl and some girls in my class. She’s telling us about her struggle and pulling herself out of the dark. It’s not long after that a girl from that car is even deeper in the woods than either girl, and her friends around her start to fall victim too.
Where’s the balance? How can we tell our own stories without breaking into someone else’s and leading them into our own dangerous hole? I don’t have an answer. I’m obviously without an answer.
What was most staggering in my “interview” though wasn’t my own realizations about myself, staggering though they were; it was some of the statistics. Heart-breaking truths. Truths I wish could soon become history, or even gradually. That 46% of girls ages 9 and 10 are some times or very often on diets. That 80% of girls have been on diets, whether put there by their families or themselves, before the age of 10. 51% of girls ages 9 and 10 feel better about themselves if they’re on a diet. 91% of women on college campuses attempt to control their weight by dieting; 22% of those women are often or always on a diet. 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. 43% of 1st through 3rd graders want to be thinner.
That’s horrifying. It’s simply horrifying.
Just think about it.