Instagram, Beauty Ideals, and The Screwtape Letters
It’s been fifteen years since I last read C.S. Lewis’s masterful classic work, The Screwtape Letters. Figuring that my 29-year-old self would likely appreciate it more than my 14-year-old self, I decided to download it on Audible and listen to a few chapters each night. I have been blown away by its relevance to society today. I’m only on chapter 20 (the chapters are only about five minutes long), and already the crafty senior Demon, Screwtape, has discussed topics pertaining to atheism, gluttony, backsliding, and watered-down faith. Last night, he talked about Instagram.
Okay, so maybe Instagram wasn’t around 75 years ago, but The Jazz Age he described certainly called it to mind. Before I explain, take a look at this excerpt from the book:
“The age of jazz has succeeded the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. Since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children. And that is not all. We have engineered a great increase in the license which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach.”
Just before the passage above, Screwtape mentions a particular rank of beguiling demons whose job it is to pervert sexual taste. “This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type.” Every new era brings with it new demonic strategies bent on corrupting God’s plan for pleasure and sexuality.
We can flip through history books to see how “beauty” has evolved, or devolved, as it were. In Greco-Roman times, for example, voluptuous and fair-skinned trumped skinny and tan (blond was all the rage then, too). There was even an ancient contest in honor of Aphrodite Kallipugos – “Aphrodite of the beautiful buttocks.” To make themselves paler, women applied toxic white lead to their skin, a custom used even during the Victorian period. Kohl was used around the eyes during the Bronze Age to make them appear fierce and desirous (the cat eye of the day?). In the Roaring Twenties, short skirts and bobbed hair were the fad as women boldly rebelled against the established social norms. This revolution lay the groundwork for the sexual revolution which defined the 1960s.
Beauty ideals for women shifted dramatically during this decade, deviating from the curvaceous body type shared by stars such as Marilyn Monroe to the rail-thin, flat-chested figure epitomized by supermodels like Twiggy. What’s worth noting here is that just as women were beginning to make historic strides in the areas of education, employment, and politics, the ideal female body started to weaken. Women felt the pressure to look more like emaciated, non-threatening, preadolescent girls than confident, capable, working women. They were gaining one kind of power and freedom while simultaneously becoming enslaved to impossible expectations.
I want to highlight Screwtape’s line, “we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old.” Did you know that plastic surgeons performed more than 10.3 million procedures on female clients in the U.S. in 2013? Women constitute the largest portion (90.6%) of Americans who get plastic surgery. Popular procedures include buttock augmentation, Labiaplasty, liposuction, breast lift, breast augmentation, and tummy tuck. Also in 2013, the U.S. anti-aging skin care market generated about 2.1 billion U.S. dollars in retail sales. By and large, women in prosperous, first-world countries are chronically terrified of growing old, just like Lewis wrote.
This post is running long, but I wanted to leave you with a thought. I came across a blog by Tom Matlack recently, and in it, he said, “Yes, good men love women. But we love women in all their complexity, for the things they do, for their intelligence, their wit, their athleticism, their creativity, their power, their force of personality.”
This is the truth that Satan and his cohorts wish to stifle. They scheme and tempt and plot and oppress, trying to make men believe that what they honestly desire in a woman is the air-brushed, false, factory-fresh “beauty” they see plastered across billboards, commercials, and Instagram posts. They want to convince them that ample-bosomed models with tiny waists, tan, cellulite-free legs, and outrageously pouty lips are the epitome of sexuality and will therefore satisfy him in every way (these men should consider all the millionaires who have flitted from one relationship to the next, looking for the right supermodel to spend his life with).
Satan – “our father below,” as Screwtape calls him – wants women to believe that they should acquiesce to this deception if they are ever to catch the eye of a spouse, not to mention, keep him. His nefarious aim is to keep us so consumed with our appearance that we neglect our souls, our spirits, and our God. And, I’m sad to say, he does quite well at it.
Men and women both need to take a stand and fight fervently within the warzone that is perverted sexuality.
Facebook, Instagram, TV, movies…all of it is saturated with the hellish stench of carnality, the hard-to-resist Siren’s song that beckons humans to operate according to our basest impulses, to give in to them in the name of the Epicurean attitude that pervades our “if-it-feels-good-do-it” culture. Consequences, such as disease, depression, and ripped-apart families, are actively pushed from our minds from the same dark spirits that infiltrate them with lustful thoughts and perilous compulsions.
We have a role to play in this cosmic battle against good and evil. We cannot sit back and quietly wait for our culture to make a one-eighty and place chastity, modesty, and righteousness on a pedestal. It will never happen.
We must pray. For ourselves and for men and women, strangers and friends alike.
We must fight. For the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family.
We must protect. Our eyes from seductive images. Our minds from unhealthy thoughts. Our bodies from adulterous and/or impure acts.
We must ask. For the Lord to be our Strength, our Source, our Shepherd – our Truest Love.
We must remember. That true fulfillment and soul-deep peace and contentment comes from a life wholly surrendered to God’s plan. Everything else is, as King Solomon wrote, meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1).
What are your thoughts on this topic? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
The Screwtape Letters on Audio
My memoir in which I share my battle with anorexia and obsessive “health” habits and testify of God’s faithfulness, grace, and power in my life.