As I sat in the folding chair, gazing through the large viewing window, I watched my tiny ballerina point her toes and move gracefully through her first position into tondue. Or was it fondue? Or plie? I have no earthly clue, seeing as my entire history of dance began in the 1980’s, where I and my friends gathered in nightclubs-turned-teen-spots, and be-bopped to Get into the Groove. I’d like to say I’m slightly more cultured than that, but I’d be lying.
Anyhoo, there stood my little Elliana, shoulder-to-shoulder with five other preschoolers, learning proper form and technique under the careful instruction of Miss Nelly, their dance teacher. Between toe taps and leg raises, Elliana turned around, scrunched her face into an exaggerated smile and waved wildly at me, just to make sure I was still watching. She makes me giggle with that scrunchy nose.
In my complete and utter love for that child, I admired her flawless dark skin—so unlike mine (which is fair and sun-damaged); her shiny straight black hair—the complete opposite of mine (which is blond-turning gray and wavy); and her chubby thighs—exactly like mine.
Sharing neither our genetic make-up nor our country of origin, chances are absolutely zero she will look anything like me, ever in her life. Unless, of course, she hangs on to those thighs.
And neither will she ever look like anyone else…
Every one of those five little dancers had a size and shape unique to themselves. The little girl next to Elliana was a full head taller with pink skin and sun-bleached blond hair. The girl on the other side of her was petite, with curly brown hair and legs so thin they looked like they could crack if she landed too hard from her tiny leap. Different shapes and sizes. Different hair types and physical features.
And the most striking thing to me that day, was that none of them could have cared less.
Here were five little girls in their purest, most undefiled form. No dieting. No implants. No highlights or tanning beds. None of them had been affected by the cover of Glamour or an episode of What Not to Wear. None of them had ever experienced the sting of rejection because of the size of her nose, her feet or her rear end.
None of them looked anything like the girl standing by her side. Yet each one was entirely gorgeous and at the same time entirely oblivious to their distinctions.
It hurts my heart to think in the not-too-distant future, Elliana may come to despise her olive-toned skin or may want to perm and/or highlight that shiny black hair. I wonder if she will encounter racial prejudice because of her ethnicity or unfair wages because of her gender. I wonder if a mean-spirited child will someday call her “short” or “fat” or “ugly.”
Why do we do it to each other? To ourselves? Why do we take our uniquely made bodies and insist they conform to society’s single image of perfection? Why do we straighten our curly hair and curl our straight hair? Why do we tan our light skin? Bleach our dark hair? Blush our pale cheeks? Why do we wear high heels to lengthen our legs and structured jackets to minimize our waistlines? Who decided that Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie were the standard of perfection?
That’s right. Brad Pitt. But who decided that we all had to listen to Brad Pritt?
I remember in a college psychology class seeing an old documentary from 1968, where Jane Elliot, a teacher from an all-white Iowa town, divided her third-grade class into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups. During part of the week, the blue-eyed children got special treatment: they got to sit in the front of the class, they got treats and rewards, they got extra recess time, while the brown-eyed students did not. Then later in the week, the teacher switched the class, and the brown eyes got all the special treatment while the blue eyes did not. Talk about a lesson in discrimination.
As a young Christian in a secular college watching this program, I was forever changed. I will never forget the image of a little boy sitting alone in the corner of his classroom crying, simply because someone called him “brown eyes.” I vowed that day that I would never, ever judge another person by a physical feature.
Just the other day, my older daughter came home from middle school sullen and sad. Why? Because three people that day called her “short.” Never mind her long wavy blond hair, her stunning blue eyes, her dazzling smile, her kind-hearted mannerisms, her intellect and wit, her spunk and energy, her ability to calm an animal and play the violin, or her tender heart toward the Lord. Never mind all of that. Someone decided she wasn’t tall enough. Someone decided her height was an issue. Someone decided to judge her against Society’s Standard of Perfection.
It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. I just pray for God to equip me as a parent and follower of Christ to respond with grace and love.
Oh Lord, in a world where we glamorize the most ridiculous things—plump lips and polished toenails, of all things—where the superficial is erected far above the eternal every single day, please teach us to value what You value. To cultivate the fruit of the Spirit more than we cultivate the appearance of our aging complexions.
In a nation where we cannot drive more than a few hundred yards without billboards screaming “YOU DON’T HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO BE HAPPY” teach us to remember that we have YOU, and YOU are all we will ever need to be happy.
Lord, I pray you teach me how to respond properly to this sinful, fallen and sadly mistaken world, so I can show my girls how to find their value in You and only You.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. (John 4:16-17)