This week's 'thought' comes to you from Shane Hipps intriguing book, "Flickering Pixels." It has to do with cultural trends, but especially the effect that modern media has on the human psyche and personality (both positive and negative in nature). Shane, the lead pastor of a church in Phoenix, Arizona, has some wise insights, making this book extremely helpful for understanding how and why people today feel the way they do, and react as they do. This thought has to do with modern day photography's adeptness at what he calls, "Soul Stealing." Enjoy.
"Certain African tribes believe the camera possesses mysterious powers that can steal your soul. The Amish reject the photographic image for fear that it will develop in people excessive vanity and pride. Neither group is entirely wrong....
The Amish fear of vanity has played out, though often in an unexpected way. The photograph contributes to the growing narcissism in our culture. Unlike Narcissus, however, whose self-obsession was excessive self-love, our self-obsession often takes the form of excessive self-loathing.
A friend of mine has a lean, active and beautiful eight-year-old daughter who asked her one day, 'Mom, do I look fat?' The question was jarring and absurd, and the answer was an emphatic, 'No!' But the question indicates that the natural self-consciousness of adolescence is now beginning much earlier. Equally disconcerting is that this body-image crisis of our culture now dogs us decades after adolescence has subsided. What are we to make of this addict-like preoccupation with our looks?
First, you should know this: It's not your fault. Really. It's not your fault. A few years ago Dove (facial products) launched an ad campaign called 'Real Beauty.' It boldly sought to expose and correct the body-image problem in our culture -- and, of course, sell basketfuls of Dove products. The campaign aimed to change our culture's narrow definition of beauty beyond the artificial perfection of models and movie stars. One ad featured a split screen shot of a models face. It was a 'before' and 'after' shot. That is, 'before' make-up, hair, and the all-important post-production retouching, and the 'after.'
The woman who doesn't really exist.
The real woman who needed fixing.
The extent of retouching on her 'after' shot was astonishing. The model didn't merely receive smoother cheeks and flawless skin tone. The size of her eyes was increased. Her neck was heightened. Her lips were plumped up. And her jaw line was completely reshaped. It was no longer the same woman, or even a real woman at all. She had become pixilated perfection.
How noble of Dove to expose the dirty tricks that advertisers use to make us feel unsatisfied with our bodies. Yet their campaign had its own little secret. The man responsible for the image retouching of the Dove ads is a legendary digital artist named Pascal Dangin -- the 'photo whisperer' -- able to coax unimagined beauty from nearly any image...
Our culture has descended to a place where even the natural beauty of a supermodel is simply not beautiful enough to withstand the unflinching scrutiny of the camera. The most beautiful individuals in the world must be thoroughly transformed before being shown to the public. Is it any wonder that eight-year-old girls are already questioning their own self-image?
The medium of images draws our attention away from the inner life and toward the appearance of things, and this has serious implications for the soul... Images focus our attention on the realm of cosmetics. Often, it is for the sake of showcasing beauty and talent. It teaches us to scrutinize not just others, but also ourselves. Thinning hair, splotchy skin, love handles, cellulite, stretch marks, and wrinkles become sources of preoccupation, depression and great effort (even great spending).
The funny thing is, Jesus never talked much about thick hair, ripped abs, youthful skin, or sexy legs. Paul never mentioned any of these things when he listed the fruit of the Spirit, and yet our energetic pursuit of everything surfacey seems to say otherwise.
Think back to the last time you looked at a photograph of yourself in a group of people. What was the first thing you looked at? It wasn't the other people. It was you. And then the scrutiny begins: 'Whoa, I look pretty pasty.' 'I'm never wearing that shirt again.' 'Oh, how's the double chin treating me?'
Not to worry. Your true friends will offer reassurances like, 'Oh, you don't look like that at all, that's just a bad angle.' So we simultaneously blame that image for making us look bad, and trust that the next image will make us look better and restore our self-worth. Maybe God was on to something when he commanded his people not to make graven images."
My twins (now thirteen) will often look at a girl on a magazine cover and occasionally point out to me (in almost envious fashion) that she has not one imperfection on her entire face. Not one single pore, not one less that perfect white teeth, not one eye lash or anything that has any sign of even the slightest defect or imperfection.
So I showed them this chapter from Shane's book, and have since reminded them that what they are seeing is not a real woman, but a photo-shopped woman -- an image that distorts the soul of the real person being portrayed in the photograph. Even the most beautiful and shapely are not beautiful and shapely enough for magazine covers -- how then could we ever expect to be?
It helps (I hope) to know that that kind of beauty really doesn't exist. It's an image. A graven one. One that is meant to make us all the more conscious of all our own imperfections, envy that false image of pixilated perfection, and, of course, see our need to buy the product the ad is selling.
May the reminder of Easter, and the fact that God left the scars to remain on Jesus' resurrected and immortalized body, helps us remember that with God it truly is a person's heart that matters -- or better yet, what he or she trusts in, and not what they will look like -- not even when "glorified," made, "immortal," "imperishable" or "perfect" by God.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff