A year ago, I started watching the brilliant and controversial Mad Men, and was amazed at the poise that Joan Harris, portrayed by Christina Hendricks, possesses. She doesn’t apologise for the way she looks or try to compensate by downplaying other personal traits: Joan rocks what she has, no matter what others may think.
Needless to say, I was curious about how someone could be so confident. For many years, shame was my constant companion when I looked in the mirror, for my body never seemed to fit the ideal for a ‘Christian girl’. I was always too much or little of something—never enough as is. So, like the majority of teenagers, I added both dieting and body-shaming to my list of hobbies.
Growing up in a conservative Christian family during the “modesty culture” wave of the late 2000s, my parents naturally wanted me to be the paragon of decency, but despite their good intentions, sometimes went a little to the extreme; when the ‘Modest Is Hottest’ t-shirts became popular, I wasn’t allowed to buy one due to the illicit connotation of the word ‘hottest’. Youth group messages constantly repeated the significance of modesty and how, essentially, women were the only ones held responsible for the lust of their brothers in Christ. Online evaluations like the Rebulution’s Modesty Survey, released in 2007, did nothing to expel this guilt, adding to the stigma of shame and fear of constant objectification. It was a lose/lose situation.
My argument has nothing to do with modesty and its ramifications, but rather, why is body-confidence so anaemic in Christian culture?
In Genesis 1:31, God looks over all He created and declares it to be very good— so doesn’t body-shaming completely defy this foundational piece of our identity? By declaring ourselves to be not good enough, we are telling God that He made something lacking in quality and so not up to par with our being created in His image (Genesis 1:27).
If we believe the lie of shame and dishonour, we can’t fully understand and accept the limitless love Christ offers us – and there’s no way we can grasp the concept of our identity being found in him. “We accept the love we think we deserve,” according to author Stephen Chbosky.
If shame is on one end of the spectrum of confidence, pride is the polar opposite. But while pride loudly boasts, tempts, and flaunts, confidence is the beauty described in 1 Peter 3:3-4 as one which comes from “your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight”. Confidence recognises where our identity comes from. Confidence knows we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Confidence accepts that we are enough.
So what have I done since learning body-confidence from Mad Men? I’ve continued watching the show, that’s one thing! I’ve also come to grips with the fact that being made in the image of God is more than a cute platitude to screen print on a shirt, but a living, breathing fact, made alive through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross because I’m worth it to him. It’s not always easy to remember, but worth the reminders that come in sometimes completely random places, like a 1960s advertising agency.