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 2 of 2)
Jessie Minassian: "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—one of the two. Or you know, if you tell me that my outfit looks cute, "Oh, I got it on sale."
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John Fuller: That's Jessie Minassian, describing how hard it is for a lot of women to accept compliments and we're gonna be talking with Jessie today about teen girls, women in general and understanding and accepting beauty. I'm John Fuller and your host for "Focus on the Family" is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, you know, we're two guys tryin' to—
John: I've noticed!
Jim: --understand (Laughter) you know, this whole them, but we're married to women and I know for Jean, this has been a struggle her entire life. You know, I said last time that I married the most beautiful woman in the world, but I could never convince her of that. And you know, it's just something she struggled with—body image.
Her cousin actually died of anorexia and that's a serious topic. We covered a bit of that last time. If you didn't hear the broadcast last time, you really should get it. You can get it through a download at Focus on the Family. Get it off your smartphone. Download the app and you can listen to it right now.
But I thought so much of the material we covered last time was beneficial. Jessie's book, Backwards Beauty: How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps is what we're covering last time and this time. And of course, that's a play on words. It's the opposite of that where we want you to end up. It's not yearning for that external beauty, but understand how God has made you and knowing your beauty in Christ and payin' attention to that, not making it an idol.
John: And for those who weren't with us last time, Jessie is an author and speaker and blogger and she encourages teens and young women through her website, Life, Love and God and we'll link over to it at our website, www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Jessie, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Jessie: Thanks for havin' me back.
Jim: You know, I really have an interest in this, 'cause I love my wife and I want to better understand her. And I would say right now, even the discussion we had about your book, her perusing it and me prepping for the program led us into some really interesting questions, things I'd never really heard her express to me before.
So, for couples listening, this would be a good dialogue for you to have no matter what your age. Women tend to struggle with body image and appearance throughout their entire life. And I think it's a wonderful area where men can step up and better understand those hidden secrets that may not be expressed by your wife. And I think it's a great point of communication in your marriage.
Jim: You shared an important truth about how God created women to be beautiful when we were together last time. But because of sin and those other influences—the culture and how they're trying to press us in this area of body image—most women don't see themselves in the most positive of ways. Recap for us why that is.
Jessie: Yeah, but God has designed us as women to have an inherent beauty just by being female. But we've been blinded to it because of sin and because of the media coming at us from all angles. And I would say also, Jim, because of the over-sexualization of our culture—
Jessie: --we've created this idea of beauty that is largely unattainable because of photoshopping and all of those things, but also equates beauty with an overt sexuality among women, which adds another layer, especially for married women and older women of confusion in our minds about what beauty is and what it isn't.
Jim: And that's so good and so helpful to know and try to reorient around who you are in Christ, right?
Jim: That is the goal. Who am I in Christ and why am I behaving like I don't know Him? You regularly communicate with teen girls and young women through your website called Life, Love and God. Is that www.lifeloveandgod.com?
Jim: Okay. And you get a lot of feedback from teen girls, from moms. What are they saying about this issue of body image? What's kinda the common top three things that you hear?
Jessie: I'd say the top three things I hear from teens and their moms is, one, how do I balance this desire that I have to be beautiful with my Christian faith? Right, is it okay to like a cute outfit? Is it okay to put on makeup in the morning? Is it okay to post a selfie of myself on Instagram, right? These are questions that girls have, because they're confused about the messages they're perceiving the church is sending them versus these desires that they have in their heart to be beautiful.
A second one would be from the parents, how do I help my daughter understand that she's beautiful? That's a hard thing—
Jim: It is.
Jessie: --as a parent. And I think honestly as parents we can only go so far. It's the Holy Spirit that opens our eyes to see truth and so, we can set the table, but they have to decide if they're gonna come down and feast.
Jim: You know, so often we talk about gateway drugs and how they introduce young people to harder and harder things. I think in this area of beauty, when it becomes obsessive, it's a gateway toward greater sin—sexual promiscuity, trying to be more adult than you should be at your age, 15, 14, 16. I mean, this isn't the time to go through that door. When you get married is the time to go through that door.
Jim: But it does kinda pull young women in that direction, doesn't it?
Jessie: It does and I would back up and say, the gateway drug is probably, you know, the Seventeen magazine and the CosmoGIRL!, that we're looking at, where we're getting, you know, 350 images of perfection in 170-page magazine.
Jim: You counted it.
Jessie: I did--
Jim: That's where it was.
Jessie: --count it. I counted it out.
Jim: I mean, that's amazing, 350 images of perfection in 162 pages.
Jessie: Absolutely and those images of "perfection" are completely fake people--
Jessie: --you know, airbrushed is an understatement. When you start looking into the post work that's done on these images today, they really are creating works of art. They are not actually reflections of real people.
And so, as girls when we're feeding on that, this gateway drug as you put it, Jim, it does launch us into an idea of what beauty is. And we have that desire again in us girls to be beautiful. And so, in our oversexualized society, when we see that beauty is equated with sexuality, that does launch us into portraying ourselves as more sexual, which then we're getting attention from guys, which then leads to the things that you mentioned.
Jim: Right, things you shouldn't be doing until you're married.And it's so important for parents to have that discussion. To have as open as possible discussion with your teenager, both boys and girls, in that regard to help them better understand Scripture, and how God views you; how God views, your wedding night and that it's His gift to you. That's how I've tried to teach my boys and to say listen, you keep yourself pure until your wedding night. And God has wrapped an incredible gift for you in your wife and you should discover it and unwrap it on that night and not before. And, you know, they're getting it. They understand it.
Jessie: That's great, that's great.
Jim: But let me get to some practical parenting help. What advice can you give the parents of that teen daughter who feels so compelled to spend hours and hours? She is obsessing about her outward appearance, her weight, all those things that we've talked about. What do they do? I mean, they're probably going, I don't know what to do, Jack. I don't know what to do, Mary. And the wife's probably saying, "Jack, you need to engage this. You need to do something." And Jack's going, "This is your territory. I mean, this is our daughter. You're a woman."
Jessie: (Laughing) Right, right.
Jim: "You do it. I don't even know what to say. I feel awkward talking to her about these things.
Jim: --things." Okay, so we just—
Jim: --maybe 10,000 households or 100,000 households are going, "That's us."
Jim: Help that couple.
Jessie: Okay, it does have to be both. I'm sorry to not let either one of you off the hook. This has to come from both of you, because she needs to hear that she's beautiful from two different perspectives. One from a woman's perspective. Mom, tell her she's beautiful, but don't just emphasize her outward beauty and don't just emphasize her inward beauty. She needs to understand that she's a whole human being with a body and a soul and a spirit and you have to address beauty on all three of those levels.
When you emphasize the physical aspect of her beauty, focus on the unique qualities of being female. You know, instead of pointing out how she looks like Selena Gomez or, you know, some pop idol, instead focus on, "Your body is so beautiful. It has the ability to give life." Or you know—
Jessie: --as girls, we have those curves that you've been complaining about, honey. They're beautiful because God has given us those curves as women. They're distinctly female and that's a beautiful thing, right, to help her discover the beauty of being a girl and …
Jim: Yeah, guys get lumps; girls get curves (Laughter) Why is that? We're just lumpy. (Laughter) That's not fair, Lord. (Laughter)
John: Now you're comparing. Quit comparing, Jim. (Laughter)
Jessie: You need to have an intervention here.And to emphasize her strengths, to emphasize her body as a vehicle for being strong and being a contender in God's kingdom. So, women, that's kinda your role in emphasizing or helping her understand her beauty. As dads, you have a huge role in this, too, to let her know with your words that she is beautiful, both inside and outside.
Again, focusing on the unique characteristics of being female. Like the plague, avoid any references to her looking so grown up or alluding to her body becoming more sexual. That is a huge no-no for a dads. And she's watching the way that you're interacting with other women, the way you're … you know, if you're looking twice at that woman walking down the street, she's noticing that and what that woman's wearing and then is taking mental notes subconsciously.
John: Well, you've had some good advice there for parents. I wonder if I can just ask, Jim, a quick question personally, 'cause we do have a problem in our home. I think we've struck the balance pretty well, but I have a daughter who insists on walking around with sliced potatoes on her face to keep her skin clear. (Laughing) Now what do we do about that?
Jessie: I'm might have to try that (Laughing). Wait and tell me more about this. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, wait a second, hey, this could be good. (Laughter)
John: We really have tried to be serious about affirming the girls, but when they walk around with potatoes (Laughter) on their face—
Jim: Affirm them.
John: --come on.
Jim: And then eat—
John: Can I laugh at that?
Jim: --those taters. (Laughter)
Jessie: You know, I think it's okay for parents to take a light-hearted approach to and to you know, just like in Backwards Beauty, how we laugh about some of the ridiculous things we girls have done across human history to be beautiful. I think it is okay, you know, to tease a little bit, as long as you're building the foundation of them understanding that you really do respect and admire them.
John: Yeah, keep it teasing and keep it high level teasing.
John: Never make it personal.
Jim: Jessie, you reference Matthew 5:29 and 30 in a unique way in what you read into that Scripture. Tell us about it.
Jessie: You know, when Jesus told us that if your hand causes you to sin, to cut it off. And pastors have waxed eloquent on this for millennia. But I think it applies here, too. If for us as women, if looking at Seventeen magazine causes you to sin, line your trash can with it, right? Cut it off and—
Jessie: -- it's better for us to distance ourselves from the culture's idea of beauty than for us to buy into it and end up depressed—
Jessie: --and obsessed and desperate.
Jim: And we can't emphasize that enough, but you had a wonderful story, a tragic story, but a[n] illuminating story about a woman in Rio de Janeiro. How did that go and what did it teach you?
Jessie: In the poorest areas of Rio in the favelas they still have a beauty salon on nearly every corner. This is so—
Jim: In the poorest part of town.
Jessie: --in the poorest part of town. It really speaks to this idea of beauty reaching across economic points, it reaches across cultures. But and in this poorest part of town, the women, they still save up what they can to go get things done. The plastic surgeons in the area actually gives discounts to the women in the poor areas of town. Isn't that so nice of them to—
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Jessie: -- so that they can have procedures done—breast implants, you know, nip, tuck and plump. And there was this woman there who, she got her nails and hair done every week and saved up enough money to have a surgical procedure done. And at the end of the day, she had to choose between this procedure to become "more beautiful" or a better place to live for her and her daughter. And we're talking about the poor part of town. And she chose the surgery.
And that really, for me, it seems like a no-brainer as a mom, like, why would you choose that over something better for your child? But it really speaks to how deep, deeply rooted this insecurity can be for women, that we feel that beauty has to be the highest end-all goal of our lives.
Jim: Yeah, you're listening to "Focus on the Family." Our guest today is Jessie Minassian and we're talking about her book, Backwards Beauty: How to Feel Ugly in 10 Simple Steps. And actually, it's a play on words, how to feel beautiful in Christ really. And you can go to our website, www.focusonthefamily.com to learn more.
Jessie, let me ask you, in your book you offer some practical tips for how girls and women can begin to experience their natural beauty. It sounds so vaulted. You know, we often talk about that in the church, but don't wear makeup. You don't need that. You're beautiful as you are.
But speak to the balance that Christian women struggle with, with how much beauty do I apply? (Laughing) And how much do I leave natural so everybody knows I'm in Christ.
Jessie: Right, well I can tell you—
Jim: Sorry to put it that way, but I mean—
Jim: -- it is what you struggle with.
Jessie: It's a real thing.
Jessie: It's a real thing and I will tell you right now, I will not give up my mascara, so don't ask me to. (Laughing)
Jim: That's not goin' anywhere. That's so funny.
Jessie: No, you know, I think I always shy away from legalism and I think that we can get very legalistic in this if we start dishin' out rules like, okay, you can color your hair once a year and you—
Jessie: --can … you know, like I think there's freedom in Christ. That's the bottom line. I'm passionate about freedom.
We have the freedom to enjoy our beauty and we have the freedom to wear makeup if we want to wear makeup. But it's the Holy Spirit in our hearts that convicts us when we're out of line, when we're starting to swing too far on that pendulum to say, wow, I'm really focused on my beauty.
A great litmus test on this is whether you're feeling confident in your beauty, because the truth is, the harder we run after beauty, the uglier we feel.So, if you're in a season where you're just feelin' really down on yourself and feelin' like you don't measure up and you're startin' to scroll through ads for the nearest laser center, then you're probably focused too much on beauty and you need to take a step back and maybe unplug from the drug of media that—
Jim: But Jessie—
Jessie: --you're interested in.
Jim: --you don't understand. I mean, everybody, the competition, It's stiff here and you know—
Jim: --we have a lot of issues and my body's important to my husband and he's threatened to leave me. I mean, where is that line for a woman to really understand that enough is enough? Stay focused on Christ.
Jim: You know, Paul writes about that, about not going overboard with adorning yourself.
Jim: You know, don't wear too much jewelry.
Jessie: That's 'cause he was a boy.
Jim: He actually, (Laughter) I mean, he is addressing that--
Jessie: He absolutely [did].
Jim: --which is quite interesting that he found it most important to talk about and that the Lord allowed that to find its way into the Scripture—
Jim: --in that say, canonized Scripture. So, it's important, but I think what I would hear from you as a woman is, okay, help me know where the line is.
Jim: Sometimes I don't hear the Lord clearly in this way. He's not shouting at me, "Hey, enough is enough. You don't need more makeup."
Jessie: Right, yeah.
Jim: But how do they stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit in that regard and how do they know where the line is?
Jessie: I think that's exactly it and I'm sorry to disappoint. I cannot give a line. I really can't. I wish that there was one. It would be very helpful in my own life.
But I think because we're a body, soul and spirit, as we're submitting our life to Christ in every other area of our life as we're spending time with Him and listening for His voice, that gives us opportunity to hear Him. And honestly, maybe just spend some time in a cemetery. I think that gives us a little bit--
Jessie: --of perspective (Laughing)--
Jim: That's interesting.
Jessie: --for us as girls.
Jim: Yeah, I mean …
Jessie: Every time I walk into a cemetery, I'm reminded of the end of this body, right. And so, it kinda puts into per …
Jim: It's not a beauty parlor.
Jessie: Right! (laughter) Nobody cares what's happenin' under that stone.
Jim: Yeah, well, you're goin' back to dust.
Jessie: We are going back to dust and it gives us an eternal perspective. We're gonna get a new rockin' body someday (Laughter), right? So, this one is a tool for God's kingdom in this life.
Jim: Okay, I want to hit you between the eyes on this theme. Beauty obsession is really the issue and in our culture today, I think particularly for Christian women, it's a spiritual battle.
Jim: It's not just a vanity, although that's spiritual. In fact, you use Genesis 3 to kinda pop that open to believers. Explain it.
Jessie: I was reading this story which most of us have read so many times about how Satan manipulated Eve, tricked Eve into sinning against God, right? So, he's having this conversation with her and he twists Scripture and he says, "God didn't really say, did he?" Right, in essence?
Jessie: "He didn't really tell you that." And I think he does that to us as women in this area of beauty. "God didn't really say you're beautiful just the way you are, did He? Because look at that girl over there. She's like perfectly toned and her hair is all golden loveliness. And you don't look like her."
And so, then Jessie's sitting there thinking, oh, I don't look like her. So, maybe I'm not as beautiful as I thought. And then Satan says, "That's right. You're not as beautiful as her. God was just telling you're beautiful to make you feel better. But if you really want to be beautiful, I can show you how." And so, then he outlines this, you know, 5-million-step process to being beautiful and we so easily as girls, discount what God has said about us and start believing the lie that there's other things that we have to do in order to be beautiful.
John: Jessie, along those lines, give my girls—they're three beautiful young women—give them some encouragement that they will battle this comparison and this kind of thing for a long time. I mean, you've got it together, but I think there was a story in the book about going to an NBA game, where you still struggled with this.
Jessie: Yeah, let's just be clear all of your listeners. I still struggle with this. This is not something that I will be free of until I reach glory, praise God.
It is always a tug and pull, but I found that the more that we, as girls, cling to God and cling to the freedom that Jesus has purchased for us, the equation really is true. God is greater than my beauty.
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.
John: But there are times like the NBA game thing?
Jessie: Yes, like the NBA game where we're sitting there.
John: What was that anyway?
Jessie: So, we're sitting at this--
Jim: You want this.
John: I … yeah (Laughter).
Jim: Give me that story.
Jessie: --at this game and my husband's best friend was sitting next to me and Doug leans over. It's halftime and so, the cheerleaders are down there shakin' their stuff, doin' their "twerky" thing.
And so, we're watching this halftime show and Doug leans over to me and he's like, "So what do the girls think about what's going on down there at center court? Because I'm looking around and the guys may or may not be watching, but every set of female eyes is glued on these cheerleaders."
Jim: See, that's interesting to me.
Jessie: And it's true. I knew the answer to that, like the sky is blue. But I leaned over to the girl next to me and I said, "Well, what do you think?" And she said, "Oh, I'm totally comparing." (Laughing) And I said, "Oh, yeah, that's what we're doing." She said, "My hair could never look like that even on my best hair day, you know. And my booty sure ain't gonna shake it like that on any day." And so, I mean, it totally confounded Doug that in a guy's brain it's so hard to understand this as girls that comparison feels as natural as breathing to us.
Jessie: And we have to consciously fight it. We have to tear down those thoughts.
Jim: Jessie, I want to give you permission to speak boldly to this question.
I think we haven't covered a very obvious problem and that is the way men behave and how much that conditions women and girls to dig this hole even deeper, because of what we express in terms of what we value. And I would say if I could speak boldly enough, even within the Christian community we I don't think as men, have done enough as believers to be more forceful and to be better leaders when it comes to what is true beauty.
And you know, if I could again, the issue of pornography.
Jim: Men have got to do better and we have got to be more rooted in Christ as believers and demonstrate the healthy way to go. Help me with that. Augment that. Speak to us as men and what we haven't done well.
Jessie: Wow, Jim, thank you. First of all, thank you. I mean, you put that so well and thank you for speaking boldly on that. There's really not a whole lot more I would add. I feel like that's it in a nutshell. Although when you were talking, that the pornography issue is the thing that came to mind absolutely first.
Since the advent of pornography online and how it has just exploded, we're seeing a huge backlash for young women and how they're perceiving beauty and equating beauty with sexuality and strength as women with baring more skin.
Jessie: And if guys actually took a stand and put their foot down and they're in charge of a lot of the advertising, they can be in charge of in the home how things are discussed and how women are valued and what is valued in a woman. So, yeah, I can say, men, please step up to the plate.
Jessie: And also well done. So many dads out there who are truly trying to put to death the flesh, to say no and to honor and value women in a godly way. So, thank you.
Jim: As we end here, it's been a great discussion and I hope the listeners have learned some things and hopefully enjoyed the banter. I mean, some of this is, you know, really just out of friendship that we have with you, that levity. But it is a serious topic.
Let's end with the compliments that God gives each one of us, because I don't know that we think in that context, how God speaks about us as His creation and how we are the top of that creation. He values us. He wants relationship with us. Describe that for us. I feel a bit like you do as a woman when I think, I don't deserve that compliment. I can't believe that, Lord. Why are You mindful of me?
Jim: But describe it.
Jessie: In the book we talk about, you know, how we can believe so many negative words, but words from a suitor in a woman's life have the greatest power of all, right. Like when my husband was pursuing me and he would speak loving words over me, I gobbled them up. I memorized them. I read them. (Laughing) I loved them. I hung on every word and I believed those words.
And if we understand that in Scripture, God has written those words to us. He tells us whose we are and the plans that He has for us, that He was willing to move heaven and earth to be with us. He tells us that we're beautiful, that we're His treasured possession, that He finds no fault in us because of Christ's blood covering us. And I don't want to give 'em all away. I want people to dive in and read through the Bible like a love letter and think of it in those terms of the way that He views and values and confirms the beauty that He's put in us. It's just a beautiful thing.
Jim: Well, and if you think about it, it was the rift in heaven with Satan, that God chose to create man and to create man in His image, both male and female. And that He imprinted us with His very image, that are made in the image of God. Linger on that in some quiet time, just think that over and I think that's why we have that love from Him, that we are part of Him, that He made us for that and that is hard to embrace.
But Jessie, this has been so good. Thank you for helping us parents. John, you have the girls.
John: I have so appreciated—
Jim: I have only boys.
John: --this conversation. (Laughter) They're gonna hear this.
Jessie: Awesome, thank you so much for having me. It's been fun.
Jim: It's been great.
John: Well it's been so helpful as we've said and it really has been enjoyable. And let me remind you that you can order a copy of Jessie's book, Backwards Beauty, along with a CD or download of our 2-day conversation with her at www.Focusonthefamily.com/radio. You can also call of course. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. We also have information about the return of Brio magazine. Several years ago we had to discontinue that publication but it is an awesome magazine and it's coming back and, uh, offers a positive godly alternative to so much of influences that are out there today for your teen girl. Brio magazine is a great way to bolster the faith of your teen daughter. Get information online or ask about it when you call.
And then, finally. Please remember this family ministry in your prayers and with your financial support. During the past 12 months 800,070 parents say that Focus on the Family has encouraged their family and equipped them as moms and dads. If we've done that for you, please go ahead and make a donation today and help us strengthen more families in the coming weeks.
And when you make a generous contribution today, a gift of any amount, we'll say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of Jessie's book, Backwards Beauty. Donate when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or on line at www.Focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Now coming up next time on our program, LeRoy Wagner describes the struggles that he and his wife had that actually brought them closer to God.
LeRoy Wagner: "What I thought was going to be the death of me, our miserable marriage, was the death of me. But, it was the proper death, the biblical death that we need to die in Christ in order that He might resurrect us and bring us the life that he desires for us to have, not what we think that we can work out on our own."
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John: Well, I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening, and do join us 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.