Last week, a member of my youth group texted me this picture of a pregnant Kim Kardashian. It’s a recent cover from Star Magazine. She added these sarcastic words:
What? How dare she gain weight while carrying another person in her stomach!
My heart broke. We have a big problem of objectifying women in our culture. I’d just written about the Steubenville rape case and the need to finally answer the ancient question “Am I my brother and sister’s keeper?” with a definitive yes. Rape is an extreme and obvious example of the objectification and violence against women.
But what about the cover of a magazine whose central thesis is: OMG, a pregnant person gains weight?
Many people in our modern culture are quick to denounce ancient literature, such as the Bible, for being backwards and dehumanizing to women. You want to see literature that’s backwards and dehumanizing to women? Then go to the magazine rack at the checkout stand of any American supermarket.
My heart breaks because we can’t get away from the objectification of women in our culture. Magazines. Television. Movies. Websites. It’s everywhere.
Kim Kardashian gained 65 pounds during her pregnancy! Jennifer Lawrence has a wild side! Adrienne Maloof had plastic surgery! Check out Leanne Rimes’s shocking relapse!
When will it end!?
I understand that women are the main consumers of this media. Which leads me to ask why? Why would women purchase magazines that objectify and de-humanize other women? Why are members of my church’s youth group, both the female and male members, forced to see this crap throughout our culture?
Why? Yes, there are economics involved. There’s a demand for this garbage. And magazine publishers exploit the insidious pressures upon women in our culture to achieve and maintain an unrealistic body image.
But why do so many women buy this stuff?
The anthropologist René Girard claims that there is a common tendency among humans “to compare oneself with others.” We compare ourselves with one another through what Girard calls mimetic desire – we want what the other has – and ultimately we want the life that the other has. Who wouldn’t want to be a cultural superstar? But our cultural superstars want to remain superstars, which means they don’t want to share the spotlight with us. In other words, they are our models of “success,” but they are also our obstacles to that success.
This model-obstacle relationship leads to feelings of jealousy and resentment. These magazines feed into our resentments by attempting to show our models of success at their worst. When our models fall from grace, we unite in a shared sense of glee as we objectify their bodies and their lives on the cover of a $3.99 magazine – an impulse buy at the grocery store or airport.
So, why do women turn against their models of success when they fall and purchase these magazines? For the same reason men turn on our models when they fall. Lance Armstrong, anyone?
This habit is violent and dehumanizing. Comparing ourselves to others in ways that lead to jealousy and resentment is an addictive pattern of behavior. And we need to stop that pattern and develop new patterns.
Those new patterns of behavior are the only chance we have of finding a solution to the problem of objectifying women that plagues our nation. First, we, individual men and women, need to take responsibility to overcome our cultural obsession with objectifying women. Second, we need to model the kind of behavior that re-defines success: we need to stop comparing ourselves with others, and instead establish relationships that foster the physical and spiritual flourishing of one another.
To teach that in my youth group, I have them read the Bible. Specifically, Genesis 1:27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
That’s where I find hope. If we all – male and female, teenager and adult – began to recognize the divine image in our fellow human beings there would be drastic changes in our culture. No longer would objectify one another. Rather, we would treat one another as the divine image bearers that we are.