What It Is Is Beautiful
This LEGO ad from 1981 has been making its way around Facebook. With LEGO’s recent campaign to market its “girl toys” (very pink and purple buildings sets featuring a beauty parlor, fashion design studio, bakery, convertible and pool party) prompting irate responses (and rightly so) from those who don’t see why play and creativity must be limited by such gender stereotypes, this ad has stirred up nostalgic desires for a different world. While such a stereotype-free world might never have actually existed, this ad with a real girl in blue jeans (and no pink in sight) simply being creative symbolizes a world that is becoming increasingly difficult to find these days. That it once existed in the realm of advertising – which like it or not determines our culture’s idea of how the world works – is both a painful reminder of what has been lost as well as a rallying cry that things need to change.
Parents of real kids know that our girls (and boys) don’t fit any gender stereotyped box. My daughter loves dressing up as a princess and playing with her fairy dolls just as much as she loves imaginative pirate adventures in the backyard and pretend space battles with her Star Wars figures. Assuming any of those activities to be more for girls or boys denies her of her true self. If building spaceships as opposed to a bikini pool party scene is for boys, then girls that like doing so are implicitly labeled as not being real girls. This message assumes there is something wrong with them – which if they are not bullied for they often learn to be ashamed of and hide. Who they are supposed to be is dictated to them by these stereotypes – defining for them what they should look like, what they should enjoy, and what they should do with their lives. Who they really are, the person God created them to be, gets denied as they try to live up to these images. This holds true for boys as well, but it is often intensified for girls.
This denial of the true self was brought home to me as I recently read the poignant blog post, How
Modesty Made Me Fat. The author honestly tells of how the message that it was her responsibility to ensure that she never cause a man to stumble led her to serious eating disorders and health issues. The message she received was that who she was as a person didn’t matter, all that mattered was how she appeared to the world. She writes –
Modesty taught me that what I looked like was what mattered most of all. Not what I thought. Not how I felt. Not what I was capable of doing. Worrying about modesty, and being vigilant not to be sexy, made me even more obsessed with my looks than the women in short shorts and spray tans I was taught to hate.
Her post wasn’t a call to immodesty (the pressure to be sexy is of course just as damaging), but an attempt to expose the modesty culture as simply being the flip side of that same coin. When women are reduced to appearance, just as when girls are limited to stereotypes, it takes away their true self. The personality, the intelligence, the creativity, and the vibrancy of who they are are silenced as they are replaced with a puppet version of themselves – controlled by the hand of another.
It is easy to get distracted by the debates surrounding these issues without realizing what is happening to actual people. In the debates – Are girls different than boys? Is she dressed too sexy or not sexy enough? – we can miss looking at actual girls and women and seeing who they truly are in all their creativity and emotional depth. To be able to say of any girl or woman, “what it is is beautiful,” we first have to let them be themselves.