Author Jessie Minassian offers parents practical advice for helping their daughters gain a healthy perspective about beauty and body image in a culture that drives teen girls and young women to compare themselves to others while chasing impossible standards of beauty. (Part 1 of 2)
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Little Girl: I like my red hair, my green eyes and my freckles, but I think I'm fat. Mom says I'm not too skinny, not too fat, but I think I'm really chubby.
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John Fuller: Well, imagine that that's your daughter or those words are coming from your wife or your sister? How do you respond to the negative view she has of herself? And how do you help her see herself the way God sees her? Well, we're gonna talk about that today on "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we routinely hear from families who are dealing with challenges related to beauty and body image, self-worth. These are big topics in our culture today and the culture does absolutely nothing to help parents in this regard. And we live in that sex-saturated, beauty-obsessed culture where our children are often getting the wrong message about what beauty looks like and why they don't measure up, like that little girl. That broke my heart to hear that.
This is important. This is an important topic. We're not gonna cover guys today. Guys, we have our issues, too, maybe a pot belly, maybe no more hair, maybe your biceps never measured up to what you wanted them to be.
John: Now you're cuttin' kinda close there! (Laughter)
Jim: But you know, we've got out issues, too, so please, we get it. Don't write and say, "What about men?" We got that, but today we want to concentrate on women.
John: Yeah and part of that is because there is so much spent on advertising to young woman about it.
Jim: How much do you think is spent?
John: Well, I would guess billions and billions, right?
Jim: I think it's around $30 billion that women spend on makeup--
John: Just on makeup?
Jim: --cosmetics and beauty, I mean, it's crazy.
John: Well, there're a lot of influences. Advertising is just part of it, but there's so many who are struggling with eating disorders, depression, the real serious side effects of having a very bad self-image. And our guest today wants to help us as families navigate these kinds of things and really advocate for our teen daughters especially.
Jim, you know I've got three girls, so I really appreciate who we have in the studio and how she has a heart to help, not just young women, but older women alike who are struggling with self-image, body image.
Jim: Yeah, Jessie Minassian, she's been with us before talking about a variety of topics. She's an author, speaker, blogger and she has a passion for mentoring young women as they deal with life, love and their relationship to God. Jessie, great to have you back to Focus.
Jessie Minassian: I am so grateful to be back.
Jim: Well, your title's kind of winsome, Backwards Beauty: How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps. (laughter) I mean, that's a tender way to get into this discussion. Why'd you choose a title like that?
Jessie: You know, these are deep-seated issues and yet, girls, we can laugh about ourselves at the crazy things we do (Laughter) in the name of beauty, right? There is an element of humor as we talk about some of the just nuts stuff we do.
Jim: You must do that in small circles though. (Laughing) You don't invite men into that laughter, do you?
Jessie: (Laughing) Not usually, no (Laughter), we're too busy shooting down their compliments. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, that's an interesting place to start. I was talkin' to my wife about your book just this morning and you know, she related to it. I thought, man, I got the most beautiful woman in the world. How did I do that? (Laughter) You gotta say—
Jessie: How'd you do that, Jim?
Jim: --okay, the Lord accomplished that for you. That is definitely a miracle.But listening to her heart, it always confused me because she was absolutely beautiful, but she never felt beautiful. And I did not know as a young husband how to manage that. I kept saying, "You're beautiful." "No, I'm not." "Yes, you are. (laughter) Look in the mirror. You're gorgeous." And she couldn't own that. She didn't feel that. Why do women feel that way?
Jessie: That is such a great question. There's so many things I would love to unpack on that topic, but you were not alone. I think probably 99 percent of husbands deal with this, where they're looking at their wives and they're saying, "You are beautiful." Guys say girls are the most beautiful things on the planet that God has created.
Jessie: And yet, as girls, we look at ourselves in the mirror and we can't help but pick out all the flaws. And I think it goes back right to the Garden. So many of these deep-seated issues go right back to the Garden of Eden. When God created woman, He created her as the crowning stroke of creation. He created her to be beautiful. It kinda helps with that whole like, be fruitful and multiply command that He gave to Adam, right?
Jessie: Like she was desirable to Adam.And then He created in Eve this desire to be desirable, to be beautiful.But when sin entered the world it messed up so many things, including this desire that she had to be beautiful and so, she no longer was able to be confident in that beauty and to celebrate that beauty. Instead she began basing her identity and her worth in that beauty. She wanted affirmation from Adam that I am beautiful.
That's just continued through all of history. That we girls have strived after and longed after. That's happened through all of human history. We girls have this love-hate relationship with beauty, where we desire to be beautiful, but we can't seem to get it through our minds that just by being female, we have inherent beauty.
Jim: Let me ask you this as Jean and I, again, as we were talking about the content of your book and the program today, she said, "You know, when I was young and beautiful (in her 20's)," she said, "I felt guilty on both ends of that continuum. When I really felt pretty, I felt guilty. And then on the other end, when she wasn't taking care of herself, she felt, you know, like she was letting everybody down, including herself, that she wasn't doing what she needed to do to be pretty, look pretty, etc. That's a terrible cycle.
Jessie: It is terrible…
Jim: You can't win.
Jessie: But Jim, that exactly hits the nail on the head, because in the church we've swung the pendulum from one way to another. So, God's given us this desire to be beautiful, but the church has said, it's only what's on the inside that counts. You shouldn't care about your beauty.And so, as Christian women, we feel guilt when we care about how we look, when we put effort into our hair or putting on mascara—
Jessie: --or whatever it is. But if we don't, if we just decide to let it all go, then that pulls at something that God has given us as women, that desire to be beautiful. And so, I think so many of us, we're trying to figure out which end of the pendulum we want to be on, when really I think there is a middle ground. There's a way to both desire beauty and let it go all at the same time.
Jim: And we're gonna discover that over the next few minutes. But let me take you back. You have dealt with this. This is part of your testimony. This is your story.
Jim: Body image and beauty was very important to you. Something happened to you recently where you were looking for a recipe online and before you knew it, you kinda got grabbed back into that world. Describe that for us.
Jessie: (Laughing) I was looking for a kale salad recipe, I promise.
Jim: Okay, right there.
Jessie: Pinkie promise.
Jim: Why are you doin' that.
Jim: Kale salad.
John: It's like cardboard. (Laughter)
Jessie: I actually am a—
Jim: So, you're gonna get the mail now.
John: I know. I like kale, actually. (Laughter)
Jessie: I know. (Laughter) I'm actually a fan of kale salad, but I was looking for that, but you know how these searches go online, right? You're looking for one thing and then it's like this virtual wonderland of rabbit holes and you get dropped in. And I [was] looking through these different pages and this picture catches my eye of actress Kate Hudson.
Now I have to back (Laughter) up and tell you that I've always thought that she was beautiful, not like in an obsessive sort of way, but just in a, you know, I wouldn't mind if I got mistaken for her twin, kind of way, you know.
Jim: You noticed.
Jessie: I noticed and so, I saw this picture for her and the title of the article claimed that she had this revolutionary new workout that got her body rockin' like five minutes after being pregnant. So, I took the bait. I clicked the bait and I went to this article and so, five minutes later I find myself doing Pilates moves on my sticky kitchen floor, being jealous of a woman (laughter) I will never meet.
And then to make matters worse, the article's advertising her new workout line of, you know, clothes. And so, I took the bait again and I go to the website and so, I'm admiring all the slouchy hoodies and neon sports bras and actually dished out my hard-earned cash to buy these workout clothes, thinking that I was gonna magically transform into Kate Hudson. It was like someone took my normally logical brain and put it on ice, so I'm oohing and awing over all these things!
Jim: That is very descriptive.
Jessie: But (Laughter) it's actually …
Jim: You're very revealing.
Jessie: Yes, well, my life is an open book for everyone to laugh at my misfortunes, but hopefully we can learn from them, as well. So, I got these workout clothes and surprisingly, I did not magically transform into Kate Hudson and I went to the gym and no one mistook me for her unfortunately.
But it reminded me that even as a confident, you know, older woman, I still struggle with these body image issues. You know, I've been doin' pretty good, being confident in my own skin. It could be that it stretched out as I've gotten older, I don't know (Laughing), but it's more comfortable. But still looking at these images sucked me right back into those old habits that I've had, you know, for a decade or more.
Jim: Well, it shows you how powerful this is—
Jim: --this attraction is--
Jim: --and this momentum is. And the culture again, doesn't help.I've mentioned the book, Backwards Beauty, you identify these 10 ways, 10 easy steps to feeling ugly. I mean, let's hear 'em real quick and then we'll dig into a couple of them.
Jessie: Absolutely, so the first one is to believe what you see on screen. If you want to feel ugly, then assume that every image that you see is real and you should look just like it.
John: Now is this kinda what happened with you and Kate Hudson?
Jessie: Exactly (Laughter) what happens!
Jim: Way to put the—
Jessie: See, I can teach it—
Jim: --the fork in there--
Jessie: --but I can't … (Laughing)
John: Well, now, I was just catchin' the connection there I think.
Jessie: I saw her body rockin' after being pregnant and I thought, my body should look just like that, regardless of DNA, regardless of our different histories. I should be able to look just like that.The second way to feel ugly is to get the look at all costs. No matter what the cost of beauty, whether it be time, whether it be money, whether it be your own dignity, get that look.
And the third one is to compare yourself to every other girl out there, whether she's real or something fake in the media…
Jim: Let me ask you about that one, because that caught my attention and I was unaware of that, that you talk about how men obviously, oftentimes will look at women. There's something deep in our brain, too.
Jim: And we'll confess that, as well. I think that deep area of our brain lights up for two reasons—food and a woman. (Laughter) God created us, right?
Jim: There's something core in a male brain.But what I was astounded by as you talked about how women look at each other.
Jim: I never thought about it in those terms that, you know, women are checking each other out to see kind of where you're at in the pecking order of beauty. Is that right?
Jessie: Absolutely, it is right. We totally do this and it's why a picture of a beautiful woman is an advertiser's best friend because they know that they can get men to look at it for the reason that you explained. But women will look at an advertisement much longer if there's a picture of a girl in it, because we're comparing.
Jessie: We're trying to see if we measure up.
Jim: Okay, so that's believe what you see on screen. Get the look at all costs. Compare yourself to every other girl. What's No. 4?
Jessie: To believe nasty words, whether someone else's or your own. And I do believe that the evil word ninja in our own mind can be the cruelest words of all.
Jim: What do those words sound like?
Jessie: You're fatter than her. You're ugly. You look like a new balloon butt today, right? This might just be in my own mind, but (Laughter) pretty common among women. We can be so cruel and … and I think we … we take other's words, sometimes well-meaning words from a parent or from a teacher or a friend and we twist them into something negative about ourselves and then that evil word ninja gets ahold of them and just is relentless.
Jim: Yeah, No. 5.
Jessie: No. 5 is to refuse to take a compliment.
Jim: Boy, that is for sure! (Laughter) And men are worse off because of it (Chuckling), I'm gonna tell ya.
Jessie: It's so true. I've talked to so many guys who say, "I would love to go up to a girl and just tell her she looks pretty today, but I don't want to get pounced on and told—
Jim: Well, right.
Jessie: --how stupid I am for thinking that. (Laughing)
Jim: That's very politically incorrect today. That's such a no-no and it might be. I mean, it depends on your motivation, but even husband and wife—
Jim: --that could be dangerous territory.
John: --but I hear you saying that a lot of women will just deflect that or say, "Oh, no, I'm really not"—
John: --even if it's a genuine compliment from somebody they know and trust?
Jessie: Absolutely. Watch, give me a compliment, Jim.
Jim: You … you are the sister of Kate Hudson. (Laughter) Wow! How did you do that?
Jessie: No, you are so wrong (Laughter), Jim. (Laughter) It comes second nature. I can dodge it. I can deflect it. I can down it like a fighter jet, because I'm trained in this art as a woman, that if you give me a compliment, you are either blind or crazy, right—
Jessie: --one of the two. Or you know, if you tell me that my outfit looks cute, "Oh, I got it on sale," right? Or I got it—
Jim: Always discount it.
Jessie: --at Goodwill. I think it's one of two things. Either we genuinely feel like you're blind or crazy or we don't want to feel prideful.
Jessie: We don't want to appear prideful—
Jessie: --because that's a no-no in the church, too.
Jim: It's another interesting difference between the sexes, because men, they love compliments. (Laughter) And we'll gladly take it and if you give us more, we'll take those, too. There's not a compliment we'll deflect. (Laughter)
Jessie: It's so true.
Jim: But women are totally different. They always start with their own fault line. I mean, they're always going, "No, I'm not good enough."
Jim: "How could you say that about me?" It's an interesting aspect of the female, psychology that women struggle feeling good about themselves just at the core.
Jim: And that's so hard and men probably are too comfortable feeling good about themselves (Laughter) at their core. It's like you need some reality, buddy. (Laughter) Okay, what's No. 6 really quick.
Jessie: No. 6 is to view your body as a power tool.
Jim: Now what does that mean?
Jessie: I have an affinity for power tools, so that's probably (Laughter) where that came from, but a power tool meaning to use your body as a tool to have power over guys because we do inherently have this capacity as women to intoxicate a man's brain.
Jim: It's crazy.
Jessie: We can sometimes latch onto that. Because of the curse, we desire to have power over guys, right? And so, we can sometimes get into the trap of viewing our body as something to get what we want.
Jim: A manipulation.
Jessie: A manipulative tool.
Jim: And the Scripture's full of those examples. I mean, there's many, many—
Jessie: Yeah, Delilah.
Jim: --examples of it. Yeah, I mean, it just keeps goin'.
Jim: But it's so true. Okay, No. 7, let me say it; eat junk and diet, diet, diet. I mean, I might try that once in a while (Laughter), John, but you know.
John: Jim, this is a line not to believe about yourself. (Laughter)
Jim: That happens, huh?
Jessie: It absolutely does and if you want to feel ugly about yourself, this is a perfect way to do it and it's tricky, because it plays into what we should be taking care of our bodies. There's a very healthy way to do that and I'm very passionate about eating well and to take care of the bodies that God has given us.
But if you want to feel ugly, just eat whatever you want and then if you don't like how your body's responding, just latch onto the newest fad diet and have at it.
Jim: Yeah and we should remind people, this is your subtitle, How to Feel Ugly in 10—
Jessie: Right, these—
Jim: --Simple Steps.
Jessie: --are not the tips we want—
Jim: This isn't what you're—
Jessie: --you to do. (Laughing)
Jim: --aiming for.Let's see, No. 8, adore or ignore exercise, kind of an extreme. Jean totally connected with this. You're either all in and you're obsessing about exercising or you're saying to yourself, "I can't do it."
Jim: "I'm so out of shape, I can't get back."
Jessie: Right, yeah, we tend toward these extremes as human beings I think. And I think there's a very healthy medium in between the two, to view exercise, one, not as a punishment for what I've eaten, not to purge every calorie that I've eaten, but as a way to be strong and healthy and enjoy the exercise, enjoy the way that our bodies can move.
Jim: Yeah. No. 9.
Jessie: No. 9 is to treat your scale like a magic mirror.
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, how does that work?
Jessie: Well, I just have this picture of the queen in "Snow White," like Disney's Snow White and she's standing in front of the mirror. You know, "Mirror, mirror on the wall," and I think we do that with our scales as girls. We're like standing on our scales. Scale, scale on the floor, tell me I'm lighter than the day before, pretty please! (Laughter)
Jim: That was good. I like that.
John: Did you just make that up? (Laughter)
Jessie: We can get into this habit of thinking that that number on the floor defines us.
Jim: Well, yeah.
Jessie: And I was totally guilty of this. I would weight myself morning, at night and if it didn't tell me the number that I wanted to see, it affected my mood for the whole day.
Jessie: And we're so much more than a number. First of all, it's just ridiculous, like to think that I should be at a certain number. You know, depending on your body mass and the weight of your muscle and the stage of life that you're in, there's so many factors that are in that.
But we and as a society have bought into this idea that, you know, if I can get that magic little number on the scale, then I am beautiful.
John: Well, some great insights from Jessie Minassian today on "Focus on the Family." Jim mentioned our phone number if you've got any questions about what you've heard so far, if you have some concerns for someone in your family or a friend, our number is 800-A-FAMILY. And we're gonna post that entire list, How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps, that Jessie has kind of highlighted here the past couple of minutes. We'll have that at our website, www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
John: And Jessie, you and I have had some offline conversations because Jim, I had that moment, as you know, where our concern for our daughter and some of these very things you're talking about in terms of exercise and weight and self-image. We went from thinking she was just on a kick to get healthy, to getting very concerned for her well-being.
So much so that we had to call Focus. We actually used one of the Focus counselors here and that dear counselor spoke truth into my daughter's life to say, "You're not thinkin' right and you're gonna need some help here." And it took our doctor to actually get in her face to say, "You're gonna have to be hospitalized, 'cause we can't help you anymore." And the Lord intervened in a pretty powerful way there, but it was a struggle, because we thought, oh, she's being healthy, you know. She wants to run half marathons. And then all of us, in the house, started to notice, Jessie, she wasn't eating much.
John: It was like 8, 900 calories a day. And I think you went through somethin' kinda like that, right?
Jessie: I did; I did. Yeah, I was an athlete starting from a young age all the way through college. And so, I never really had to worry much about what I ate. Like literally ate Twix and a Sprite every day for lunch all of my junior year. And it didn't matter, because I would work out all afternoon and have games at night. And so…
Then there came a time when I wasn't doing that anymore and I realized I was starting to gain weight and I fell into the habit of exercise bulimia, where every calorie that I consumed I felt I needed to punish myself for in the form of exercise. And it's a trap. And what's so crazy, John, I'm so glad you brought that up, it often begins in a positive way of I want to get my body healthy.
Jessie: And then there's something that trips in a girl's mind where we see progress and then that progress isn't good enough. And then it's almost like our mind becomes clouded. We get these dark glasses on where we can't see reality anymore.
Jim: Compulsive really.
Jessie: It becomes compulsive--
Jessie: --where we're starting to see, wait a second. I'm starting to look more like that image I'm seeing in that magazine. If I keep this up, I might attain perfection, right? And so, we keep chasing that carrot, keep chasing it and it never fully satisfies.
In fact, someone very dear to me who went through cancer, she struggled with weight much of her life. She was in the middle of cancer treatment and so she saw all this weight dropping off and she actually told me, "You know, it sounds sick, but it's actually a relief that I'm finally losing all this weight." And she looked like she coulda been in a death camp at that point." But she finally felt like maybe she wasn't fat anymore.
Jim: Well, and that describes for me the grip that it has on people and many, many women, certainly not everyone and we realize that. But it is, it's this incredible grip, the body image and the issue of body image.
I think it's important to kinda distinguish that line. It's so particular case by case. But John, for you and Dena and the rest of the family, where you were noticing what your daughter was eating or not eating. That's kind of a good place to just be mindful of it. You don't have to go over the top, but just know the general well-being of your children, correct?
Jessie: Absolutely, yeah as a family and to be talking about what health looks like and to be open and honest as parents with what your struggles are.
Jim: And Jessie, before we close out today, I want to come back next time and keep this discussion going. There's more meat that we need to get to out of your book.
But the last one there on your list of 10, which again, we're gonna post at our website, is idolize beauty. And let me ask the question this way. You compare today's beauty obsession with idol worship.
Jim: And we should all relate to that, especially as believers. We should understand what are those idols that we possess? I mean, one of mine is football. I love it too much and you know, I've gotta curb the appetite to take in too much. But the same is true with eating issues and body image. How can girls and women acknowledge their God-given sense of beauty without turning it into something that's all-consuming, that's compulsive like we just talked about and you know, ultimately defeat evil in that way, that idol in us? It sounds like a tall order.
Jessie: It is a tall order and as believers, I think we find this in so many realms of the Christian life, that any good thing that God has given us, we can twist and put on a pedestal and make it the highest, end-all goal of our lives. And beauty can be that way for women.
Jessie: How we defeat that is a big tall order. You're right.
Jessie: But there's this little story in the Old Testament that gives me such hope as a girl. It's in the book of Exodus and you know, Moses is down there in Egypt. He's given the plagues to Pharaoh like nobody's business. Pharaoh's so stubborn. He's comin' after him with all these plagues. And in the midst of that, God tells His people, "Get ready. You're gonna have to be ready at a moment's notice."
And so, the women start packing, right? They pack their shoes. They pack some food. They get some gifts from Egyptian neighbors. They pack their mirrors! Why only women understand (Laughter), because we as girls know, it doesn't matter if it's a nighttime perilous journey through the desert. We are taking our mirrors. (Laughing)
Jessie: And we don't see that in the story of when they're leaving Egypt, but we see them a few chapters later when they're at the base of Mount Sinai. And God is giving them directions for how to build the tabernacle. And there's a little verse tucked in there that says that Bezalel made washbasin and it's stand from the bronze mirrors donated by the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle.
Now there's so much in there that I want to unpack, right? First that they took their mirrors all the way. That's just kind of … (Laughter) and no one's gonna take their—
Jim: Bronze mirrors, no less.
Jessie: --mirrors, bronze mirrors--
Jessie: --unless they're pretty concerned about their looks, right?
Secondly, they were willing to give them up for God. That's pretty huge. But thirdly, who gave them up? Not all the women gave up their mirrors, a very select few. They were the women who were serving God at the entrance of the tabernacle. And my theory is that, as those women were serving God and in His presence day after day, He started to open their eyes to the truth about who they were, to the bigger picture beyond their beauty.
And they were able to sacrifice those for His kingdom because they understood their worth and their true beauty.
Jim: Man, what a great place to pause for today, because that is outstanding observations of where Scripture is pointing the direction for us as just how to behave. This is what to do.
How great. And Jessie, I really want to say thank you for what you've done with your book, Backwards Beauty, because we've gotten the definitions of beauty and self-worth turned around in our culture and in the church. Can I be that blunt? We really are emphasizing some things that we should not be so that we can better to witness to the world, right? And meet that need where women outside the church are struggling desperately with these things, too—
Jim: --and maybe in greater ways, but to bring that shalom, God's peace to their chaos.
Jim: And I just think you've done a great job here. But I do want to come back and keep this conversation going.
One thing for moms particularly, but dads, as well, we're bringing Brio magazine back. It's been gone for a while, but we are kickin' that up again and we would love for you to subscribe to Brio for teen girls…and it is a positive and godly alternative to all the other teen magazines that so many girls are purchasing, whether it's Seventeen, you can go right through the list. So, we're excited about it and we had at the high water mark, we had over 260,000 households that were subscribing to Brio magazine. So, if you'd like to order that magazine, you can go online now and order that and I think it will be very helpful and even cover some of these topics.
John: Yeah and so, you can find Brio and that list of How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps that we've talked about today and Jessie Minassian's book, Backwards Beauty, other resources, as well, of course at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we'd be happy to help. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Let me also add that when you order that through the Focus bookstore, the online bookstore, all of that goes to helping with the ministry. So, we really appreciate it. You can certainly go to other commercial outlets to purchase Jessie's book, but Jessie, I hope you can appreciate—
Jim: --we would love them to, for a donation of any amount, that's the other thing. If you really can't afford it, we're there for you, because we believe in the guests that we have on the broadcast, so much so that we often will offer their resource for a gift of any amount, and this is a book especially for parents of teen girls. This is one you need to get, so thank you, Jessie, again.
So, thank you, Jessie and we'll look forward to next time.
John: Well make your donation and get the resources when you call 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Well, next time Jessie is back and will share more insights about keeping beauty in perspective.
Jessie Minassian: And so, I can both desire beauty and let it go at the same time and not let it become an idol in my life, but just enjoy being a girl and enjoy having an inherent beauty by being female.
End of Teaser
John: Well I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. We'll invite you to join us again next time as we once again help you and your family thrive.
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Jessie MinassianView Bio
Jessie Minassian is a public speaker and the author of several books for teen girls including Unashamed, Crushed and Respect. She is the "resident big sis" at a Q&A website for teen girls called Life, Love and God. Jessie and her husband reside in California and have two daughters.