I loved my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Harris was funny and kind and so smart. She was tall and beautiful and always wore trendy clothes – always looked, to me, more like a model than the teacher of multiplication tables and the scientific method.
So when word got back to me that Mrs. Harris had said that I “always look(ed) so nice,” I was over the moon. You see, my clothes weren’t from the trendy stores. No, rather than frequenting The Limited and GAP stores in the mall, my family more often stayed inside K-Mart or, if we were lucky, J.C. Penney. Our shoes did not bear the blue Keds tags on the backs, but instead came from the abysmally uncool Payless. Add to that my unfortunate beige plastic-rimmed glasses and my pre-straightening iron era hair, and to my mind I was not a picture of trendiness.
Far from it. I was always self-conscious about the way I had to dress and yes, I resented my parents for making me so tragically uncool. (Fast forward two decades and I’m the mom shopping for her daughter’s clothes on bargain store clearance racks. And if you tell my own glasses-wearing daughter that I hated my glasses when I was little, I’ll deny it. I digress.) I did what I could with what I had, but I always felt behind the curve. I never felt like one of the pretty girls with the nice clothes and the popularity status that seemed to inevitably follow.
A compliment from Mrs. Harris, though, meant not only that it was working, but that it was noticed. And with the comment that she probably didn’t give a second thought, I was hooked on the shallow praise for my appearance that has haunted me every day since then. With those words from my fourth grade teacher, a long history began of trying to at least look good on the outside, regardless of whatever is going on inside. I have always seen my appearance – my clothes and my hair and my shoes and my perfectly matched accessories – as a way to physically fit into a world that I so often feel excludes me.
If I look good, no one has to know that I’m a mess.
If I look good, no one will suspect that it’s an act.
If I look good, no one will know how completely alien I feel….how uncomfortable I am in my own skin….that I am desperately craving their approval of how I look and, therefore, of who I am.
Over the years, I’ve gotten more compliments like that one from Mrs. Harris. Rather than taking the comments in stride, though, life has become about chasing after them, making the daily ritual of getting dressed an arduous battle. I look into my closet and my mind begins reeling. I think of other girls and young women: what would they wear? I think of certain people I might see that day: will they like this ensemble? Or this one? I think of what I wore yesterday or the day before: what image am I creating this week? I think of people I don’t even know: what kind of person might they assume I am if they saw me wearing this? I think of people I know and may run into: will I look the kind of effortlessly beautiful that I long to be?
This is a confession. This is an unveiling. This is the opening up of my heart and my closet door to show the world where I have been hiding: behind the treacherous idol of the approval of others. And friends, it stops here.
As a part of the Lenten journey (which I introduced here) I have made God and myself a promise: when Easter morning dawns, it will bring with it a new experience of who Jesus is to me. And for that to happen, I have to change the way I see myself. I have to reconstruct the deep trenches in my thinking and reroute the thoughts I have always had about myself. Because as long as I am caught in the distracting web of lies about myself, I cannot see the truth of who Jesus is and why that matters.
Usually, it is the custom in the church to “give up” something – a fasting, of sorts – in preparation for Easter. Because the idol I am tearing down is an abstract one, it was challenging to determine what should be sacrificed on the alter of truth. Finally, though, after prayerful consideration, I know what I have to do.
This, friends, is my closet as it stands this morning, after five or six trips up and down the stairs and more than a few wide-eyed, lip-biting stares in the mirror. For the next 40 days or so, I will wear nothing that is not shown here. White shirts and jeans, with a significantly pared down assortment of scarves and jackets necessary to the season. (Really. You should see the whole collection. It’s more than a little shameful.)
I realize this sounds strange to anyone who doesn’t struggle with something similar. But isn’t that the thing with idols? Don’t they all seem strange to those not caught in their snares?
I’ll be sharing more and more of my journey as I go through this, and I am grateful to be a part of the Love Idol Movement. Hundreds of women are joining hands to collectively smash the idol of love that we have created. It promises to be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, belief-challenging, and ultimately life-changing. I could not be more excited.
Join the Love Idol Movement here.
Preorder the book inspiring the movement – Love Idol: Letting Go Of Your Need For Approval and Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes – here.
Get to know the book’s author, Jennifer Lee, here.
Categories: Everyday Faith