Christian Comparison Isn't Pretty
Every Saturday night, I do something that I really hate. I wish I could stop, but the temptation is far too great. Every Saturday night, without fail, I spend a shameful amount of time mulling over this oh-so-not-important question: What am I going to wear?
I live in an area where image matters, even at church. Women spend a great deal of time on their appearance, and it creates a high-pressure environment that affects those of us who otherwise might not care about Sunday morning style. As I drift to sleep each Saturday night, I mentally catalog my wardrobe and pick out just the right outfit for the following morning.
I hate that I do this.
Comparison is powerful. We know this. But it's powerful in a slow and quiet way. As one woman raises the bar a little higher—the always manicured nails, the Pinterest-worthy home, the angelic children on Instagram—another woman follows suit, and then another. The moment you step into that line, another woman is sure to follow you. This is how a culture is created. We struggle to resist the pressure, to consciously and willfully say, "No, I will not participate in creating an even higher, less attainable standard for women." So the pressure grows.
That's why I appreciate women like Jen Hatmaker and Kristen Howerton. Last year Hatmaker wrote a viral blog post exposing her less-than-perfect parenting. Behind her tongue in cheek confession of being "the worst end of school year mom ever" was a refreshing, even subversive, honesty. In writing that post, Hatmaker resisted the pressure to compete, to compare, to look perfect all the time. In doing so, she threw a wrench in the image machine, making room for women to be themselves.
A few days ago, Howerton wrote a post in the same vein by offering a real-life glimpse into her home. Amidst the photos of tilted lamps, junky floors, unmade beds, and stacks of paper, Howerton admitted, "A lifestyle blog of only perfect moments is not a lifestyle I'm familiar with."
More and more I am realizing that this—being honest about one's actual life and God-given self—is what it means to be countercultural. We exist in a culture that is obsessed with image to an idolatrous degree. Every perfect home, every precious Instagram, every designer outfit contributes to this culture. On their own, none of these activities is bad, but when combined with the thousands of other images that inundate us on the Internet and at church, it adds up to a crushing amount of weight.
How do we fight such a powerful influence? Should we boycott Pinterest, declare that makeup is the devil, and all wear burlap sacks? Definitely not. Another great blogger, Glennon Melton, put it best in her post "Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me." She challenges the notion that other women are doing life "at" her. The diets, the homemade baby food, the marathons, the cloth diapers—none of this is directed "at" her, or any other woman. Instead, "everybody is just doing the best they can."
I agree. There is a place for enjoying adorable photos and beautiful homes, and we shouldn't rush to judge someone's motives in sharing them. Maybe decorating her home is therapeutic. Maybe hospitality is her gift. Maybe fashion is her creative outlet. And maybe teaching her child baby sign language is something she enjoys.
I have no way of knowing, because I am not the Holy Spirit sent to search her motives and convict her. I can only know my own. That's why the cure begins with me, and it's just as slow and steady as the sickness. Rather than waste time wishing other people would change, I need to be the initiator. I need to break file, for the sake of the woman right next to me.
What does that kind of countercultural resistance look like? For me, in the area where I live, it means keeping my dress somewhat simple. I still wear the clothes I like, I style my hair, and I paint my nails. But not always. Sometimes I don't wear makeup in public. Sometimes I don't wash my hair for social events. Sometimes—as I write this, in fact—I put on a wrinkled shirt.
To me, these are tiny acts of resistance. And while they might seem small and pointless to everyone else, they are an alternative to the tiny acts of idolatry that create a culture of comparison. These small acts of resistance are my way of making space for the women around me, space for them to stop striving and simply be.
That's why this isn't just about comparison. This is about love of neighbor. I don't want my sisters to feel guilty about their disorganized homes or ashamed of their clothes. Especially at church. I want them to come in to an environment that is safe and free. I want them to feel loved and accepted and good. I want them to be liberated from the distraction of self, so that they can turn their faces to God.
So I will join the women who are resisting the cult of image—not because I want to join in a trend to flaunt my flaws, but because I want to be honest and authentic with my community. I will engage in small acts of resistance in my home, in my friendships, on the Internet, and in my church. I will do this because I love God and I love my neighbors. And I will do this because no woman should go to a church, a Christian conference, or a Christian home and feel less-than. These places should be a refuge from a world of pressure and comparison, and creating that kind of countercultural community begins with me.