Picture the scene: several American tourists sit around a Shabbos table in Jerusalem. The hostess is both fashionably dressed and covered from head to toe. She's admired in the community for her generosity and for her artistic talents. You'd never know that she used to be a model, admired for her long legs and as an "awesome party girl." The tourists ask questions and don't hold back. The girl with long blonde hair asks, "Do you have less self-esteem now that men don't stare at you?"
Good question. To many people in our postmodern times, self-esteem is all about sex appeal. The former model, now a wife and mother, said she's not interested in having strange men stare at her. She wants to be valued instead for her accomplishments, because those were earned.
Ladies, consider whether you would prefer to be complimented on: your long legs or your achievements. Of course a healthy body is itself an accomplishment. But if our self-esteem is foremost tied to the look of our bodies, will we focus more on improving our character traits or our abs?
I just came across a website - while reading Elle magazine - whose concept was so selfless, so giving, I was almost brought to tears. It's rare to see such a display of true altruism in the world today. This unique site enables anonymous donors from around the globe, to give freely, with no benefit to themselves to unfortunate women who were born with birth defects, in order to help them afford reconstructive surgery after years of unimaginable suffering.
The recipients each create a profile on the site so they have a chance to tell their story. One story was more heart wrenching than the next. A young woman named Amber explains how she wants to be a fashion designer one day, but doesn't know how she'll be able to design lingerie if she herself is so flat chested.
That's right folks - this site is not actually for deformed women - it's for women who want, but can't afford breast implants. The donors, however, who come to the site actually are anonymous, gross men, who get their kicks knowing that they're helping to contribute to a new rack for some insufficiently endowed girl out there, wherever she may be.
According to the site, this brilliant idea was dreamed up at the sort of place you'd expect an idea of this caliber to be dreamed up --a bachelor party in Vegas where a bunch of drunk friends saw that one of their strippers was silicontastic, while the other quipped that she too wanted perfect store-bought-breasts, but, alas, couldn't afford them. The guys decided to help fund this poor stripper's surgery and then decided that there were probably other pervs out there that would enjoy doing the same thing and thus the site, which I am purposely not naming, was born!
Almost all of the women post nearly naked, porn-esque pictures of themselves in their profiles and for extra donations will pose in specific ways for the benefactors. My favorite line from the site is:
"We request that you be respectful of the ladies on this website. While you may request particular outfits for custom photos, the ultimate decision is up to the lady. We encourage you to both work together in a civil manner so that everyone is happy."
Respect? Although at first glance one could argue this is a win-win situation - the girl wants the surgery, the guy's happy to pay for it, I believe it is in reality, a very sad side effect of the over-abundant porn culture that we live in.
The men who are bombarded with pictures and images of scantily-clad, augmented women in the media and all over the Internet can no longer can appreciate regular women with natural bodies. The women then are not able to live up to their boyfriends' and husbands' fantasies and therefore feel insufficient. And then this site comes along, enabling women to "fix" their bodies into acceptable forms further legitimizing the unreal expectations the men have and consequently increasing the pressure on other women to keep up with this standard. The only thing actually being given here is more fuel to the fire.
The dive toward the bottom of the culture barrel struck me the other day when I clicked on the highlighted teaser at the bottom of an email from a dear friend in the UK. Courtesy of her Hotmail account, I was being invited to "Pimp My Live" by, of all people, Bill Gates. Well, not exactly Bill. I'm sure he and Melinda were in the middle of some goodwill tour. Or maybe Bill was looking at his closetful of geeky clothes, and thinking, "Pimp this, baby!!" But some genius at MSN-UK got together all the best marketing talent in that organization, and decided that, since the culture had changed the low and nasty business of sexual procuring into the hip and happening, they should muscle in on the action. To wit:
" 'Pimp My Live' is all about giving Windows Live the personal touch and putting your own stamp on things. We'll show you... customizable features...Plus you can download the latest products and add-ons-- with the chance of winning some fantastic prizes." Followed by:
"Time to Get Pimping!!"
Oh. I thought, with all the cute little "emoticons" that resemble Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch, that MSN wanted me to join the ranks of those charming and sympathetic fellows who make their living from the illicit sex trade. My mistake.
The kicker is that the same company that entreats us to distill the hideousness of that word "pimp" into something fresh! something fun! fantastic prizes!! was at a complete loss when I asked the word processor's thesaurus to give me synonyms for "alchemy".
As Alanis would have said-- Isn't it ironic. The mutation of the language only seems to go one way. What does that mean for children unfamiliar with the word "pimp", or for that matter, the uninformed? The seediness of "the life", the violent and nasty business of selling prostitutes, the sheer horror that the word should conjure up-- is neutralized. MTV's "Pimp My Ride" turned "pimping" into jazzing up one's car. The glorification of easy money goes back to the beginning of time. But here the sting of the word-- the very idea of it as beyond civilized society-- is being demolished.
I deeply resent this. Words are power. They not only result from, they shape our thinking. Orwell illustrated this brilliantly when, in the novel "1984", he made the destruction of the varied and robust English language the centerpiece of an encroaching totalitarian regime. In that bleak future state, not only were you robbed of the freedom to express your thoughts-- the thoughts themselves were rendered incapable of being born. There were no words to deliver them.
"Pimp My Live" takes the words right out of my mouth.
A few months back, one commenter here wondered why the people who value modesty are often religious. Usually, but not always! My appreciation of modesty is for aesthetic reasons as well as religious ones. People with their exposed skin spilling out of their too-tight clothing look fairly gross to me. It's distracting, the eye doesn't know where to land, the body gets broken up into little parts. I prefer a sleeker covered look, to "keep my line," as it were. Meg at All About Appearances, a blog about fashion and looking good, thinks so too:
"I’m only in my mid-20’s so I don’t consider myself 'old' by any means, but I have noticed that my tastes are changing as I mature a bit and I’m starting to understand the advice of 'the older and wiser.' I used to think that older people were prudes or just too conservative when it came to style, especially when it came to revealing clothes. Granted, I do still think that some people are just prudes, but looking around I’ve realized that showing too much skin is not sexy. It’s not even stylishly rebellious. It’s simply unflattering."
"I have nothing personal against skin - or even nudity. I have no problem with nudists (though not necessarily with nudity everywhere, I’ll admit). What I do have a problem is when women, especially younger girls, seem to think that the more skin they show, the sexier they are. I live in a college town where women seem to compete with each other on how much skin they can show. I’m not a mind reader, but it says to me that they are desperate for male attention. I’m sure not all are, but that’s the message, nonetheless. That’s also the message the guys I talk to get."
Agreed, a smooth line and covered body is far more flattering than pudgy rolls sticking out here and there! Meg suggests that if you want to look sexy (not skanky):
"Wear clothes that are flattering - not just to reveal skin for it’s own sake. Buy clothes that fit your shape well, and they’ll show it off without you needing to bare all."
See, it's not just religious folks who appreciate modest dressing!