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Ashley Judd and the Objectification of Human Beings

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Ashley Judd. Image from here. 

Ashley Judd recently wrote an excellent article in response to a viral discussion of her physical appearance. HER APPEARANCE.

I want you to pause for a moment, and imagine what it might feel like to have a large number of people in the media having an online discussion critiquing YOUR appearance. I say that in hopes of generating a moment of empathy, before you consider the topic I’d like to address today. Ms. Judd IS after all, a human being, with real thoughts and feelings.

While it wouldn’t have been surprising for her to have lashed out in anger at the media for the lies they were reporting, instead, she offers a more measured, more thoughtful response. I, for one, was completely impressed by her reply. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to the article.

To summarize, very briefly, she points out that judging women on the basis of their outward appearance is a symptom of a patriarchal culture.

“Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

She confronts and refutes the lies that were reported about her, but suggests the fact that the entire discussion occurred is symptomatic of a sickness in our society, a sickness that values people on the basis of external factors like their appearance. Rather than focusing on the wrongs done to herself, she calls for a new conversation to be engaged in:

“How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? “

I’ve been thinking about this in regard to my own self and my appearance. I don’t have Ms. Judd’s problem of having the media discussing my appearance. And the fact that she does, has a lot to say about the people who find it acceptable to do so,  the media system that promotes that kind of behavior,  our society, and man’s propensity in general, to make superficial judgements.

The prophet Samuel said it a long time ago, when Israel was having a beauty contest to choose the next king, to succeed King Saul. I Samuel 16:7 says: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

But even though I don’t have Ms. Judd’s problem,  I myself, can be my own worst critic. I can say the same type of unkind things to myself. I’d wager that I judge my own appearance much more harshly than those around me. (In fact, I’d like to take this moment to thank God I am NOT a celebrity, because if I were, like Ms. Judd, I might possibly be confronted with not only the harsh voices I am perfectly capable of conjuring up myself inside my own head, but also with real voices saying those same types of things, online, in real life.)

WHY are we so hard on ourselves?


WHY do I, myself, sometimes participate in this same kind of de-valuing behavior, by judging people based on their outward appearance?

I confess: I often fall into the trap of judging a human being’s worth based on the external trappings.
But it’s not how I want to be.

The internet makes it easy, somehow, to objectify others. We forget that the people we see on TV/in the headlines are real human beings, made in the image of God, of worth for that reason alone, if no other. As a Christian, my words and even my thoughts should be tempered with that realization.

So here’s my advice to me (and the critic in my head) and I make it available to anyone who’s looking to silence their own overly active inner critic:

  1. Learn to love who you are right now. In 10 years from now, you’ll see pictures of yourself at this stage, marvel at how dang good you looked back then, and wonder why you wasted all that time telling yourself how bad you looked. Plus, you’ll have a whole host of new things to criticize yourself in regard to, ten years from now. So, spend some time appreciating the good stuff you possess now. Revel in the moment: youth is fleeting.
  2. Change your focus. Life is like a manually adjustable camera lens, where you get to choose what you’re going to focus on. So, change your focal point. You can focus on all that you don’t have, or all that you do. Focus on the myriad gifts you HAVE been given. Focus on the things that are lasting, and of real worth. Focus on the fact that you are loved by the Father, and that you have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ. Grace, forgiveness, mercy, all are yours, new every morning. You have been blessed, to be a blessing. Consciously give thanks for that. Each day.
  3. What do you want to be remembered for? When you are lying in your coffin, do you want the undertaker to flex your arm so that everyone can admire your great guns? Do you want a tape measurer around your waist so that everyone can applaud your loss of belly fat? Do you want your friends and family wowed by your lack of wrinkles? Or shall we turn you over in your coffin in order to display your tantalizing tooshie? 😀  NO, say I! I want to be remembered for qualities that are a lot less transient than any of those. So, if I want to be remembered for my inner qualities, then I ought to look for and honor those same attributes in others.
  4. Remind yourself that the person on the receiving end of the criticism that you are about to level is a real human being, made in the image of God, someone for whom Christ died, and not an object.
I want to be a child of my Father in heaven: looking at the heart. When I know that I myself am loved by Him, I have love to spare. Love to lavish on others.
I want to resist the natural tendency in me to judge on the externals, and turn others into objects.
And…I’d love to live in a society where the qualities whereby I was measured had nothing to do with how I look on a particular day. I’m glad Ashley Judd brought the topic up. I think it’s worth talking about.