Photoshopped Goddesses: How the Gospel Frees Women
Last week, Target got caught with their pants… er… umm… photoshopped. To be completely accurate, they got caught photoshopping pictures of the women modeling their junior line of swimwear. Their attempts to create the perfect womanly figure were so absurd that I was tempted to just laugh the whole thing off. And I would have--if this sort of thing didn’t happen each and every day. Those pictures of flawless skin that make yours look like the hide of an elephant? Photoshopped.
Those perfectly shaped curves achieved without the assistance of Spanx? Photoshopped.
Those sculpted arms that most certainly do not belong to a woman juggling her briefcase, toting a baby on her hip, and chasing her two older children down the grocery aisle? Photoshopped.
I don’t think I’m the first to tell you that the images we see everyday in magazines, on television, and splayed across the internet are not real. And yet, everyday we see them. Everyday women are confronted with impossible standards of beauty and success. Everyday women measure their own identities against these photoshopped marvels and everyday they come up short.
What you may not realize is that this problem didn’t start in the digital age.
Over the last several months, my husband has been preaching through the book of Acts. Acts begins with Christ’s commissioning his disciples to “be [his] witnesses” and details the spread of the gospel throughout the ancient world. Interestingly, Luke, the author of Acts, makes a point to record that even in a highly patriarchal society like Greece, many women came to embrace Christ. In Acts 17:12, he writes: “Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”
So why would these women be particularly drawn to the message of the gospel? What about the gospel resonated with them in a way that other philosophies had not? What about their lives made them ready to receive it as good news? I think it has something to do with photoshopping. I think it has something to do with what we experience when we’re confronted with images of unattainable womanhood. The helplessness, the judgment, the insecurity.
What comfort was there for a Greek woman in the cold gray eyes of Athene, or the stereo-typed smile of the voluptuous Aphrodite? What was there in Greek religions or philosophic thought for a woman? I am not surprised to read that these Greek women turned readily to the great Gospel. What is there in the world to-day for womanhood other than this great evangel? Let there be no undervaluing of the meaning of this. The women of high and noble estate, the convinced daughters of Greek culture, sick at heart because of the degradation of womanhood, as the result of Greek philosophy, turned to this great evangel with its broad and spacious outlook, with its light flashing and shining upon them.
I used to think that civilizations that worshiped goddesses would have a stronger view of women. After all, deifying women seems like a natural way to elevate their status in society. Turns out it doesn’t. It just sets the standard higher for us mortals.
Today we don’t have temples to Athene and Aphrodite, but we do have Sheryl Sandberg telling us that we’re not savvy enough; we do have Pinterest telling us that we’re not domestic enough; we do have religious leaders telling us we’re not feminine enough, and we do have Target telling us that we’re not beautiful enough. It was into this very same context that Paul spoke the gospel. And it was in this very same context that women embraced it and found it to be a balm for their tired, worn out souls.
The beauty of the gospel is that it frees women from the cult of perfect womanhood. It teaches us that we don’t gain immortality by pursuing certain feminine ideals but by pursuing Jesus Christ. It teaches us that we have already been “crowned with glory and honor” as His image bearers; and what sin has destroyed, Christ is actively and persistently restoring. He is right now transforming you, not into some photoshopped idealized womanhood, but into His own likeness.
C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity:
He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.
The reason those Greek women embraced the gospel—the reason you and I embrace it today—is because the gospel confirms what we already know. There is no way we will ever live up to the “ideal.” There is no way we will ever be successful enough, beautiful enough, or feminine enough. But it doesn’t stop there. The gospel reminds us that this was never the point in the first place. So in those moments when we feel small and helpless, when we feel judged and less than perfect, when we know we are not enough, the gospel invites us to Christ. It invites to run to the One who is, and will always be, enough.