Another Facebook advert for another technology product, a dating site, a takeaway, a magazine. Everywhere we turn on the internet we have yet another opportunity to buy into a particular lifestyle, to project a certain something about ourselves. In a search for ‘aspirational adverts’ on Google, there’s adverts for Prada, Gucci, Dior, Giorgio Armani, D&G, yachts, jets, fast cars, premium watches, all advertised by ‘beautiful’, well-groomed people.
The other week @anya_katie wrote on threads: “I wonder if a lot of our culture hasn’t become about reaching a bar that we can’t possibly reach. I wonder if we’ve screwed ourselves over to be able to find real happiness.” We can be left wishing for ‘stuff’, but we also receive very confusing messages about our looks and our bodies. Body size is one of those highly visible things – if you are ‘overweight’ or ‘underweight’ there’s very little hiding it – especially in a digital age where photos and videos are so widely shared.
In 2011 Tony Burke created a Facebook group ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes’ (why just women?). He described this as ‘art’, and designed to be ‘non-judgmental’ but with 15,000 members posting largely unflattering images of women, and many negative comments, I’m not sure I buy that. Press publicity caused a backlash and Facebook took the page down, although copycat sites now exist. It’s certainly made me feel more wary about eating in public…
At the other extreme are pro-mia sites which tell people how to become ‘better’ anorexics or bulimics (read more about the phenomenon). There are also similar sites for suicide, and I’m encouraged by a friend who feels that it’s part of his ministry to be in that space, to be part of the forums, to engage with people before it’s too late. I find that quite a powerful redemption of a dark space, don’t you?
I’m a passionate believer that we need to be ‘incarnational’ in the digital spaces, whether those are specifically ‘Christian’ spaces or not, but that we need to understand how to be ‘resident’ in those spaces, rather than merely ‘visiting’ to do a ‘bit of reaching out’. We need to participate in those areas about which we are genuinely passionate, and in which we may be prepared to be a little vulnerable. A lack of authenticity sticks out a mile online. I am an active member of a Facebook group (strongly moderated) called Beyond Chocolate, where women seek to create a positive relationship with food and body image. It is not a Christian group at all, although ideas shared fit very well with much Christian thinking, especially that we’re all made in the image of God, and are ‘precious’ for who we are, no matter our size and appearance. This means that occasionally it’s appropriate to share material that may come from a Christian context. These small actions combined make our contribution towards redeeming some of the dark places in our culture.
What aspects of our culture would you love to see redeemed, and what small (or big) steps might you take to do so? Are there areas that are irredeemable?