The movie Bombshell tells the story of the sexual harassment of women at Fox News. In that industry appearance is a big part of the profession, so it’s only natural that beauty opens doors for women in that world.
But it has me thinking about the ways all women have been trained up by that culture.
It doesn’t take long for even young girls to pick up the message that the beauty standards such as “the blonder your hair, the redder your lips, the higher your heels, the more likely you are to be considered beautiful.” (I can’t even begin to talk here about the racial ramifications of this mentality.) And the second part of the message is this: the closer you are to this ideal, the more doors will open for you.
As women try out this false promise, at first it seems to be true. I experienced this dynamic myself when I met a man with a great deal of power on two different occasions, two months apart. But he only remembered me the second time, and it was the time I was wearing heels and makeup. Only during that second meeting did he make eye contact and want to engage. He was a man who had some influence over my opportunities, and I quickly got the message about what captured his attention. In a world where the doors to opportunity are often controlled by men it’s not hard for women to notice that the more their look meets the narrow Bombshell standard, the easier those doors open. Even outside of the news media world. Even in the church. In a world where the doors to opportunity are often controlled by men it’s not hard for women to notice that the more their look meets the narrow Bombshell standard, the easier those doors open. Click To Tweet
In high school I was shaped by this Bombshell standard without even realizing it. Like every teenager I was insecure, looking for something solid on which to base my identity. And I began to notice that when I chose the red lipstick or the taller heel, people responded to me differently. It made me feel more powerful, and of course I wanted more of the affirmation I received. I’m reflecting today on this photo above taken of me as I received an award at high school graduation. At the time I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I wore a dress I designed and made myself. At the time I thought I was showing my cleverness and creativity by wearing a dress I’d designed.
I see now that while I thought I was dressing in a way that highlighted my creative inner self, there was also more going on. Behind every decision in that dress design was a power decision according to that limited Bombshell way of understanding power—the shoulder pads (it was the 80s, after all!), the choice of red, the plunging back that’s not visible in the picture. I was making armor. This dress was my Trojan horse. But my story didn’t go as well as that story. I thought that if I got in the door that way, I would have the opportunity to be really seen, so that my creativity and ideas would have a hearing. But I began to learn, like the women in Bombshell, that if that’s what opens the doors, that’s how people will always see you. It’s a bait and switch.
I’m thinking about this today as I’m getting ready for a professional gathering. I don’t want to dress in a way that’s entering into war with my Christian brothers (or sisters). And in my profession it’s simply inappropriate to draw attention to yourself. So ever since I became a Christian professional my wardrobe has changed significantly—no prints, only dark colors, nothing even slightly suggestive or clingy or low-cut or sparkly. Sometimes heels or jewelry but not often. Outfits can no longer be thrown together out of joy. The end result is almost a kind of uniform, even a habit, a loss of personality. My job becomes to disappear so that all they see is Jesus, all they focus on is the prayers I pray, the sermons I preach.
I draw on the encouragement in 1 Peter 3: 3-4 that “beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
But there was a place between high school and paid pastoral work. When I wore more color, a little lipstick. Back then heels were fun, not to be a bombshell but to make me feel tall, to enjoy the clipping sound of my steps.
What if the more I invest in that inner self, the unfading beauty of the spirit, I discover something in there that is expressive, that loves color and design, that is restoring me not just as a child of God but as a daughter? That spirit in me is giving me permission to rediscover my love for clothing which is not to dominate others or to open doors for myself or to conform to lies, but as a way to express my joy. That spirit in me is inviting me to remember my true, feminine self, to set aside the false choices of “homely” and “powerful.” What if the more I invest in that inner self, the unfading beauty of the spirit, I discover something in there that is expressive, that loves color and design, that is restoring me not just as a child of God but as a daughter? Click To Tweet
The beauty of women—of all shades, heights, shapes—is something the Lord himself created as part of the glory of creation—as is the beauty of men. For women who have found their worth in him to dress with joy is for them to express outwardly the beauty of their inner selves. Even if we all look very different from one another, the multi-colored, flourishing daughters of God will not be beautiful like a bombshell but beautiful like a garden, beautiful like a bird in flight. If gardens and birds can, by their color and beauty, bring glory to him, how much more when this beauty is an expression of the work of God in our hearts? This may invite both men and women to see beauty in new ways. This will be a different kind of power—one that doesn’t require domination of anyone. And this may temporarily confuse people who are stuck in false choices, but what a wonderful way to blow up old, limited, limiting patterns.
Now that’s the kind of bombshell I can support.