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Do Not Trivialize Your Struggles

July 6, 2011

Usually I keep things pretty light and carefree around here, but for reasons I’ll explain in this post, today we’re delving into topics normally reserved for much more serious blogs. I’ll try to at least make my rantings entertaining and sort of to the point.

Part 1

When describing the differences between men and women, one of the most common items on the list is the average man’s preoccupation with appearances. I’d venture to say this is a common and widely accepted fact—men are very visual beings. Granted, what a man calls pretty varies from person to person, but they each like beauty.

Angelina Jolie

Ain't gonna happen, gentlemen.

This appreciation for beauty is all well and good, right? No one is arguing that men should suck it up and marry the girl with a haggle tooth, who has a closet full of muumuus, and thinks that getting dolled up means dusting her collection of porcelain dolls. But most people would also agree that there is a balance found somewhere between expecting all women to look like Angelina Jolie, and the haggle tooth muumuu wearer.

However, men often struggle to find this balance, and being bombarded by images of what the world calls beauty is not helping. As a Christian, I absolutely believe that this culture of sexualizing everything is very damaging—whether maker or consumer. Even if someone isn’t a Christian, I’d presume they’d at least believe that too much of these things can be damaging to anyone. (Including and especially pornography, which I believe is damaging in any amount.) And yet men are constantly tempted to indulge in their desires for beautiful and sexually alluring women. The media bombards men with images that do nothing but fan the flame.

With all of that being said, I can say that I understand that this is something 99.99999 percent of men struggle with each and every day, and it is no small matter. I’d imagine that living with that struggle in this hyper-sexualized culture is like being an alcoholic and walking through the world’s largest liquor store when they’re having a buy one get three free sale.

However, I cannot say that I personally know how it feels to struggle with this each and every day. I would never be so presumptuous as to say that I know how this feels, because I don’t. And therefore I would never tell them to get over it or “just stop” because I have a hard enough time “just stopping” the things with which I struggle. I would also never assume that this is something they’ll just grow out of.

Part 2

Just as men struggle with lust, women struggle with insecurities about their looks. Men are bombarded with images and think “sex.” Women are bombarded with images and think “I’m not good enough.” Same images, different interpretation. Go figure. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

Trolls

Even trolls are not allowed to be ugly.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Just as there is that .00001 percent of men who do not struggle with lust, there are women who do not have a lot of insecurities about their looks. We call these women Gwyneth Paltrow. And some women do struggle with lust and pornography. (Though I’d venture to say it’s almost always a bigger struggle for men.) There are also men who struggle with insecurities about their looks. (Though I’d also venture to say that it’s almost always a bigger struggle for women.)

So we have established two things: Both sexes struggle with lust, though men struggle with it more. Both sexes struggle with insecurities about their appearance, though women struggle with it more. It’s sad that these two struggles seem to feed off each other, but that’s just the way it is.

I think we can also all agree that you have no idea how it feels to struggle with something unless you’ve struggled with it yourself. As Atticus Finch said: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

And yet it has been my experience that the insecurities of women are treated like something that we just need to grow out of, whereas the struggles of men are treated to be as serious as they actually are.

And so I ask: Why the discrepancy?

Part 3

A few months ago Rachel Held Evans posted an entry on her blog that called out a group of men who assert that it is the duty of women to never “let themselves go.” It is part of their marital duty to keep up their appearances as a way to show that they love their husband. Nobody ever seems to say the same for men. And if someone says it, it’s in response to someone (men and women) saying that wives should already be doing it. In other words, it’s an aside to their main point that women should be pretty to keep their husbands happy.

What these people are doing is feeding into the insecurities with which women are constantly struggling. Rather than looking at it from the viewpoint of women, these people are looking at it from the viewpoint of the man. Men struggle with lust, so let’s give them a beautiful wife and make sure she stays pretty for him. Let’s not worry about what it says to the woman, who is already struggling with insecurities about whether or not she really is attractive, or whether she’ll have a bad few months and be left behind because of this. No, no, let’s just worry about making sure the man is happy and fulfilled.

Conclusion:

Yesterday a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook about men struggling with a woman’s appearance, and women struggling with their own appearance. This also got me thinking. Each of the replies to her question were very civil and well thought out, so this post is not a passive aggressive diatribe directed at any of the commenters. It just got me thinking, and after much brewing and lip-chewing, here is my final thought:

Do not belittle my insecurities and I won’t belittle your struggles either.

I do not believe that the insecurities of women are seen as real struggles by a lot of men or by women who do not struggle with that particular problem. I say that with full confidence and will argue anyone into the ground who believes otherwise. However, when I argue you into the ground, I will do so with as much kindness as I can conjure, and I expect the same from you. But it’s true. The struggle that men have with lust is treated like it should be treated—as something with the potential to rip families apart. The struggle that women have with insecurities is treated like something women will grow out of or get over once they lose a few pounds and go shopping at Anthropologie.

Do not forget what I said earlier: Men see a picture and think “sex” and women see a picture and think “I’m not good enough.” And we are bombarded by these photos everywhere. In a culture obsessed with looks, we are told in every which way that there is a standard of beauty and we probably aren’t meeting it. We aren’t thin enough, tall enough, short enough, our hair isn’t silky enough, our skin is too porous or wrinkled or pale. We need to wear these shoes to go out, and then these shoes to tone our glutes. We should wear this shirt because it accentuates our bust, but we shouldn’t try too hard because it will cause men to lust. But don’t let yourselves be ugly because then you’ll never get married or if you are married, your husband will leave you!

Bottom line: The insecurities that women feel about their looks is not a small matter and not something that just goes away one morning when you’re having a good hair day.

Do not trivialize their feelings when they look at a magazine cover and feel inadequate.

Do not tell them that all they have to do is “find their identity in Christ” and everything will be okay. A person’s head says one thing, and their heart says another.

Do not preach at me and act like you know how it feels, when you obviously do not.

Do not belittle my insecurities and I won’t belittle your struggles either.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2011 2:12 pm

    perfect. so good, Tiffany.

  2. July 6, 2011 2:57 pm

    Awesome article. I agree so much with most of what you said. I absolutely hate when people trivialize things that they don’t understand. Honestly, we shouldn’t trivialize anything because even when we understand it, it’s whatever it is to whoever is dealing with it that matters. Not something I’m great at living out, but something of which I’d like to be more mindful. Also, you are an outstanding writer.

    ………….

    Not at all trivializing either side, but I have to say, I see some huge differences in the two problems. First of all, I struggle with what you call the “woman’s” side of the problem. I understand it fully (at least from a guys perspective of the same issue). It causes severe depression and isolates you from everyone else because you have decided you’re not worthy of their company, being all ugly and disgusting to be seen. It blows and I hate it.

    Second, we have control over both of these issues. The part that is the initial feeling/desire, not so much (except to change our lives and avoid putting ourselves in the compromising positions to begin with). However, the part of the problem best described as how we act or respond to the initial feeling/desire – over this, we have complete control. I don’t struggle with pornography and lust when I decide that I’m not going to and when I instead keep my eyes on the Lord. But when I decide I’m going to ignore WHAT I KNOW and instead give in to WHAT THE DEVIL WOULD HAVE ME THINK, there is where I falter. If you think of it in this way, it’s a pretty open and shut case. Yet we continue to falter. Welcome, humans; this is called life.

    Third, last, and to complete the point I wanted to make about the differences between the “struggle” and the “insecurities” as you call them, please take a seat, because you might not like what I have to tell you. To get it out of the way: they are both a struggle; “yours” is a struggle with insecurity, while “mine” is a struggle with lust. This is the biggest similarity. We both have a struggle, the struggle is real, the struggle is internal and based on what makes us fallen, sinful beings.

    Now let’s diverge from similarity. You actually outlined my thoughts quite well in your post. “The struggle that men have with lust is treated like it should be treated—as something with the potential to rip families apart.” Both actively and passively this is true. I cannot say the same for the struggle with insecurity. I see it affecting the family, most definitely. I see it isolating the struggling party from the rest of the family, sure. I can even see it causing the family to struggle as a unit because of the issues of one of its members. However, I don’t see the family being ripped apart (by this struggle alone – maybe the way the struggle is handled though…). I definitely don’t see the word “rip” in this family’s list of problems.

    I don’t want to say that this all comes down to one word or semantics in general. It doesn’t. This is much larger than that and that’s the general idea of my argument. I’m just centering around that one word for emphasis. So in conclusion, I agree that both are struggles, both affect the individual, both have the potential to affect people around the struggling party. However I disagree that both have the power in themselves to attack and destroy a family/community. I just don’t see it. That is why I don’t think they are equally destructive.

    Please keep in mind that in no way does this mean I think “women” should suck it up and get over it. I know too well that it’s not that easy and that all those internal struggles really affect our lives and our well-being. Thank you for considering my opinion.

    • dtdorrin permalink*
      July 6, 2011 3:20 pm

      Very, very well put Andrew. It doesn’t sound like you’re trivializing anything, but I also think that the insecurities women feel are a bigger issue than you may know or realize. Not because you don’t struggle with it or because you’re a “daft man” (you aren’t), but because a lot of times women don’t talk about it much, except maybe with other women. And also because men and women think differently. From what I know about you, you probably do understand it more than most men, but you’re still coming at it as a man.
      I’d agree that a woman’s insecurity doesn’t normally rip a family apart, but it does have the very real potential to either keep a woman from ever finding a family/getting married (the fear of “putting herself out there”) or from ever fully giving herself to a man emotionally when she is married. So even though she isn’t alone or ripping a family apart, she’s also not getting the full experience of a marriage and family, and this something that effects more than just her self.
      Yes, we have control over what we do when faced with either struggle. But feeling insecure is not about clicking on that web link or not reading that magazine. A lot of it is mental and a track that is put on repeat in your mind. I know that lust is also a mental struggle, but giving into it is most often an action. Giving into insecurities (by believing them) can all be done from the comfort of your own home without ever lifting a finger. And I’m sure you know that stopping your brain from going places is a heckuva lot harder than not clicking a link. It’s just so easy to let your mind go there!
      Last but not least, I agree that both are struggles. I just used that word to simplify things so I wouldn’t have to write the words lust and pornography over and over and over….
      My goal in writing this was not to help men know how women feel (or vice versa) but to so just what you said in your comment: let people know they shouldn’t trivialize the struggles of others. Which I think you understand, but just wanted to clarify because I’m long-winded and over explain things.

      • July 6, 2011 3:49 pm

        Superb. I understand you entirely now and I agree. Though lust is just as much a problem of the mind as your insecurity. I needn’t a website, a magazine, nor even a woman in real life in order to lust after one or a fantasy or an idea or… or… or….. You get the idea.

        It’s this cycle of thought that allows us to take action. Just as the internal struggle with appearance will eventually break down the outer barriers and start to affect ones life and how they live it. Giving in, therefore, has nothing to do with action (especially physical).

  3. July 6, 2011 3:00 pm

    PS. Angelina Jolie is ugly.

    PPS. You’re pretty and no matter how you feel when you look at a magazine model, the intelligent male population is able to see your beauty, even when compared to some super-human photoshop-zilla.

    PPPS. Just ask your boy-toy. He’ll back me up. You hot lady, you!

    • dtdorrin permalink*
      July 6, 2011 3:22 pm

      Thanks Andrew! And thanks for your well thought out comments. And even if Jolie isn’t your cup of tea, she is technically pretty (she’s symmetrical and stuff and has white teeth. Apparently that means she’s pretty). 🙂

      • July 6, 2011 3:52 pm

        …and a horse’s mouth.
        I’m just not that into beastiality. I know, I’m strange.

  4. July 6, 2011 3:16 pm

    Wow.

    From the time that we’re little church girls, we hear about how lust plagues men and it’s our problem. We’re told we make them lust by wearing short skirts and low-cut shirts, or bikinis at the singles retreat instead of one-piece swimsuits.

    We’re told we should sympathize and cater to this weakness, because a good percentage of it is “our fault.”

    I always felt that perspective was demeaning to men and controlling of women.

    Very well said, Tiffany. Thanks for speaking my own heart. I e-mailed this blog to several of my friends–and a couple of people in publishing.

    • dtdorrin permalink*
      July 6, 2011 3:23 pm

      Yes! You are absolutely right! And I have yet to figure out why it’s okay for men to walk around without a shirt on, as though women don’t struggle with lust of any kind. Sigh.

      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing this post with others!

      • July 6, 2011 4:53 pm

        It’s no more “right” for men to be topless than for women to show off as much as they can without being arrested. But I doubt anyone has ever said that one was wrong and the other okay in the same context. People are usually just concerned with one or the other when making a point. Such as in a church context where women are instructed not to take the lusts of men lightly (and they shouldn’t).

        Just to clear some things up, we (and I mean the we who have decent bodies to show off, so usually not including myself) definitely take off our shirts for the sole purpose of getting your attention and your lustful mind out of dormancy long enough to get a date, a number, or at the very least, a passing glance.

        So how ’bout it, ladies? Your move.

        In no way am I serious about this being a joke. I’m just trying to get a smile. But yeah, why does anyone work out for bathing suit season? To catch some glances…

        We’re just like you. We are ridiculously obsessed with the way we look and we think that we don’t look good enough, even when you tell us otherwise.

  5. Amanda Strayer permalink
    July 6, 2011 5:13 pm

    Very well written and absolutely true. And, Tiff knows me, I was nothing but encouraged growing up. Never told anything except that I was beautiful. I am married and have a gorgeous daughter, but this is an incredible struggle for me still. The comment that you made about women not being able to fully give herself emotionally to her husband because of these struggles is absolutely true. And it 100% does hurt both parties in marriage.

    I always hated the double standard too. At our college, men would play frisbee or soccer without shirts on, and some of them definitely would require a double take. Fortunately, I married one of those such men. But it doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel bad about looking! But let a girl wear a tanktop and look out!

    • dtdorrin permalink*
      July 6, 2011 5:42 pm

      Amanda you are exactly who I think about whenever someone says that “if parents (esp fathers) raise their daughters right, insecurities won’t be a problem.” What a load of crock! Although it does play a huge role, it is so much more than that! (Also–I’m not going around talking about you and your insecurities in any debates or anything. Just so you know.)

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