(The spacing in the original document is correct. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to add tabs and extra spacing in html yet.)
THE CRISWELL COLLEGE
THE MIRROR AND AMERICAN CULTURE
AMERICAN CULTURE: CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Have I got it?
'Cause Mirror you've always told me who I am
I'm finding it's not easy to be perfect
So sorry you won't define me.
Sorry you don't own me
Who are you to tell me
That I'm less than what I should be?
Who are you? Who are you?
I don't need to listen
To the list of things I should do
I won't try, I won't try
Mirror I am seeing a new reflection
I'm looking into the eyes of He who made me
And to Him I have beauty beyond compare
I know He defines me
You don't define me, you don't define me.
“Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” (Snow White, 1994) This is one of the most classic movie quotes of all time from the beloved children’s movie, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The beautiful and vain queen gazes into her magic mirror that can only speak the truth, and she wants to receive validation from it that there is no one fairer than she. When the mirror reveals that she is not the fairest one of all, she flies off on an envious and murderous rampage. Even though this is just a fairy tale, it still holds a universal truth; people, especially women, still seek validation from their mirror and from society and culture to tell them that they are attractive and beautiful; and that they have worth, value, and identity. The song, “Mirror” by Barlowgirl, shows how American culture’s views and God’s views drastically contrast regarding a person’s image and identity.
Beginning in early childhood, American culture (i.e. television, movies, magazines, books, advertisements, family, and friends) bombards us with the message:
… [What] matters most for women… is beauty—physical beauty. Even parents, siblings, teachers, and friends sometimes add unwittingly to the chorus: “darling” children get oohs, aahs, and doting attention, while less attractive, overweight, or gangly children may be the objects of unkind comments, indifference, or even overt rejection. (DeMoss, 77)
Self-image is a struggle for most women, even super models, and Becca, Alyssa, and Lauren Barlow, the three sisters of Barlowgirl, a Christian rock group from Illinois, have also dealt with having a proper perspective of who they see when they look in the mirror. Wrestling with this issue was the reason the song, “Mirror” was written. In the song, they ask the mirror a very important question, “Who are you to tell me / that I'm less than what I should be? / Who are you?” (Barlowgirl, 2004) Everyone has answered that question whether they realize it or not. The answer is that the mirror is either their master or it is not. If they have been deceived into believing that the mirror is their master, then they have bought into a lie and have become a slave to the standards set by their culture and society. The problem with trying to live up to cultural standards is that it is an impossible task. Shannon Ethridge, a well-known Christian author, speaker, and counselor, asks some very important questions on this topic in her book, Every Young Woman’s Battle:
When you look into the mirror, what do you see? A friend or a foe? Are you thankful for God’s creation or critical of His handiwork? How much time and energy do you spend critiquing and criticizing your facial features? your hair? your body? Do you compare yourself to magazine cover models or to your girlfriends, getting discouraged that you don’t seem to measure up to everyone else? (Ethridge, 51)
Culture claims that to be accepted, you must be beautiful—more specifically, your physical appearance must match-up with what society considers to be beautiful. Some of these standards include having the perfect hairstyle, clothes, make-up, waist-size, chest-size, and the list never ends. Not only does culture’s beauty list never end, it also never stops changing. “Keeping up with the Jones” is a never-ending rat-race that will only lead to frustration, dissatisfaction, and depression. The song lyrics sum it up by saying, “I'm finding it's not easy to be perfect.” (Barlowgirl, 2004) American culture says that the mirror should be your master, and thus, a woman’s ultimate ambition should be physical beauty, but God says quite the opposite.
God desires to free women from bondage to their mirror by becoming their Master and showing them that inner beauty is much more valuable to Him than physical beauty. Michelle Graham, a speaker for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, says that “the place to begin is to wrestle with some key biblical truths about how God made us and how much He delights in us. I have found very little hope for a truly healthy body image outside of knowing Jesus intimately.” (Graham, 27) Though culture tells women that they are only as beautiful as their society rates them to be, God reveals that to be a lie. He is the creator of all things, and everyone is made in His image (Genesis 1:26a NIV). Not only does God consider all that He has made to be very good (Genesis 1:31a NIV), He also says that He is enthralled by our beauty (Psalm 45:11 NLT). King David proclaimed to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well…. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!” (Psalm 139:14, 17-18 NIV) What an incredible statement! The Creator of the Universe knows you intimately, and even more amazing is that He promises that as we continue to deepen our love relationship with Jesus Christ, we will be changed from the inside out. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Though your physical appearance may not change, your perception will as you begin to see things in a whole new light. The turning point in the song says, “Mirror I am seeing a new reflection. / I'm looking into the eyes of He who made me, / And to Him I have beauty beyond compare.” (Barlowgirl, 2004) “…The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart….” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV) Being set free from the bondage of the mirror and culture is the first step, but the next step is sometimes more difficult. Barlowgirl declares, “I don't need to listen / to the list of things I should do. / I won’t try.” (Barlowgirl, 2004) What this means is that “the quest for a healthy body image requires us to swim against the current of mainstream culture.” (Graham, 27) This doesn’t mean that “women [shouldn’t] seek to look their best… [; it] simply challenges [us] to not devote all [our] energies toward painting the outside, thus neglecting the enduring qualities that need developing on the inside.” (Kendall & Jones, 54)
Another aspect of American culture that the song, “Mirror” reveals is that our culture and society tries to make us believe that they are the ones who define us and give us our identity. “‘Cause Mirror you've always told me who I am.” (Barlowgirl, 2004) Nancy Leigh DeMoss, a well-known Christian host and teacher on the daily radio program, “Revive Our Hearts,” says in her book, Lies That Women Believe:
… [Our] view of ourselves and our sense of worth are often determined by the input and opinions of others. Sometimes the input of others is accurate and helpful. But not always. If, for some reason, the person we are listening to is looking through a defective “lens,” his or her vision will be distorted. Some of us have lived all our lives in an emotional prison because we have accepted what a false, “broken” mirror said to us about ourselves. (DeMoss, 66)
Our Darwinist and atheistic society teaches us starting in grade school science class that everything is the result of evolution. Science tries to convince us that there is no God, or a Divine Creator; so everything is the way it is by nothing more than random chance. Thus, everyone is nothing more than an accident, which voids out the idea that people have inherent value and worth. With this idea as our society’s presupposition, people have spent and wasted their lives striving to turn themselves into an image and identity that will be accepted by our society, so they can feel valuable and worthy of love. People seek to find their identity through many avenues. Someone may find their worth by being a successful business executive, or by being a high-priced lawyer. Someone may achieve fame by being a well-known actor, singer, or artist. Another may find prestige by being a professor with multiple degrees hanging on their wall, or by being a pastor of a mega-church with pack-out services every Sunday. Having a profession is not the only goal that people pursue to find their identity; many people seek relationships to find their fulfillment. One of the mottos that Barlowgirl is known for is their stance on not dating. Alyssa, the bass guitarist in Barlowgirl, said in an interview, “[Single people are] using relationships as a crutch to cover up our insecurity. The reason why our generation's singles are jumping so often from person to person is because they're searching for self worth.” (Fervent, 2006) The truth is that “… it doesn’t matter how good-looking, rich, athletic, smart, godly, or charming [a person] may be. No [one] can ever make you feel like you are somebody. That comes from knowing how special you are to God and from becoming the person God created you to be.” (Ethridge, 34)
God tells us two important things about our identity. The first is that He is the one who made us, and second, He is the one who defines us. The person in the song is looking in the mirror and sees a reflection that is different from their own—a new one; they reveal to the mirror that they are “…looking into the eyes of He who made me [emphasis mine].” (Barlowgirl, 2004) God says in His Word that no one is an accident. He is our creator and formed and knit us in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:13 NIV) and that every moment of our lives was ordained by Him before we were even conceived (Palm 139:16 NIV). No one is an accident, despite what culture says, and God has given everyone who is born-again a purpose and a reason for being. “Now all of you together are Christ's body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT) If God is our creator, then that also means that He is the one who defines us. Jackie Kendall and Debbie Jones, in their book, Lady In Waiting, give us a great picture of how God defines his people:
By spending time in God’s Word, you will also learn what God thinks of you. In  Peter 2:4, God says you are choice and precious to Him. He calls you precious, honored, loved, and His redeemed one in Isaiah 43:1-6. Isaiah 43:7 says you were created for His glory. You are very special to God—so special that He has plans for you: “plans for [your] welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11b) (Kendall & Jones, 102)
Those who are followers of Christ have been set free and are no longer slaves to this world. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, our creator, and it is Him we are called to imitate, and be a reflection of to our society and culture. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV) Once we have established our firm foundation in Christ, we can boldly and confidently tell our society, culture, and the mirror, “So sorry you won't define me. / Sorry you don't own me.” (Barlowgirl, 2004) The song, “Mirror” by Barlowgirl, clearly shows how American culture’s views and God’s views drastically contrast regarding a person’s image and identity.
Barlowgirl. “Mirror.” Barlowgirl. Fervent Records/Spirit-led Records, Nashville, TN, 2004. CD.
DeMoss, Nancy Leigh. Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free. Chicago, IL:
Moody Press, 2001.
Ethridge, Shannon and Stephen Arterburn. Every Young Woman’s Battle. Colorado Springs:
WaterBrook Press, 2004.
Fervent Records. “Barlowgirl Biography.” Yahoo! Music. Avaiable from http://music.yahoo.com/ar-310014-bio--Barlowgirl. Accessed 1 October 2006.
Graham, Michelle. Wanting to Be Her: Body Image Secrets Victoria Won’t Tell You. Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Kendall, Jackie, and Debby Jones. Lady in Waiting: Becoming God’s Best While Waiting for Mr. Right (Expanded Edition). Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2005.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Directed by David Hand, Perce Pearce, William Cottrell,
Larry Morey, Wilfred Jackson, and Ben Sharpsteen. 84 min. Walt Disney, 1994. Videocassette.