Fight With Me?
By Nathan Key
At 2:15 on a Wednesday afternoon, Brian closes the door to his dorm room, opens up a new Firefox window, and disables safe search in Google Images. Within seconds, graphic photos of women doing all sorts of things with each other begin to appear before his eyes. He scrolls through them, taking in every image whilst his ears listen for the telling signs of his roommates returning from midday classes. Down the hall in the women’s dorm, his girlfriend Ashley flips through a recent issue of Cosmo, hating herself a little more with every turn of the page. She grabs a bag of Doritos and tries to drown out her self-loathing with food but immediately regrets her indulgence and looks for a way to balance out her gluttony. Downing a laxative seems to help, but a sudden knock on her door startles her and she rushes to hide the evidence of her purge.
The chances are that Brian and Ashley (fictional characters, by the way) will never share their private struggles with each other. They’ll keep these issues sealed away, shamefully hiding them from everyone. And in the process the walls will be built and they will slowly gravitate toward a private world where relational interdependence is unimportant.
Sadly, both pornography and food addictions are secret affairs that are rarely discovered until the addict becomes so helplessly lost in their own world that they don’t remember to hide the tell-tale signs of their indulgence. And if they do reveal their struggle to each other, it may only lead to a blame game: a fight that is actually counterproductive. This inevitably sends both man and woman further down the spiral of destructive behavior.
For instance, consider the fight that erupted between one of my closest friends and his girlfriend. She was traveling through Las Vegas and happened upon some scantily clad women. The encounter caused old feelings of insecurity to surface and soon she was certain that she was unattractive and that her soul mate was back at home fantasizing about other women- maybe even viewing them online. And her concern wasn’t completely inappropriate, for in the past he had confessed to her that he struggled with pornography. At the time, the honest moment regarding his struggle probably felt like a bonding moment, but months later it resulted in mistrust and paranoia rather than healing. He exploded and she exploded and the evening ended in tears and uncertainty- both of them feeling as if the other one was to blame for their argument.
They aren’t alone. I’m certain that this particular fight has been played out in one way or another by just about every couple. Whether or not there’s an actual eating disorder or a pornography addiction, this situation has pitted men and women against each other for as long as the world’s been turning. And in this world of media, Photoshop, and instant Internet access the stakes are getting higher and the fight is getting harder. And the only way to win the battle is if we learn that our fight is not against each other.
Here’s what I mean: if a woman finds out her husband has a problem with pornography, she almost immediately assumes that she isn’t good enough to satisfy him. She makes the problem about herself and inevitably begins to take on a rotten self-image of her own beauty. Her low self-esteem becomes directly tied to her husband’s pornography addition and he becomes the one to blame for her self-loathing. She’s fighting against him.
Or consider a woman who is obsessed with her body image, controlling the foods she takes and maintaining her exercise regimen. She retreats into a world of obsessive thinking that keep her mind from anything but measuring, weight, and calories intake. She ignores her heart and withdraws relationally from those around her. Her husband wants affection and sex and since he’s not getting it from her he ends up online, looking at the women and fantasizing about his own wife while he does. He’s ashamed, but he knows that his wife is to blame- she drove him to it. He’s fighting against her.
But what would happen if we tore down the walls and realized that these two problems are actually one in the same. The fight isn’t really about sex, lust, and control. Those elements are there, of course, just as there are probably elements of family disorders clouding up the past (distant or uncaring fathers and over-involved mothers are typical recipes for disaster in both of these addictions). But the real battle is over beauty and it’s a fight that we should be fighting together: men and women, parent and child, friend and neighbor.
Beauty is under attack. And it’s not just a problem for those with addictions. Even those of us who don’t struggle with pornography or food are dealing with this issue at some level. It comes down to this: most men and women are living with completely unreasonable expectations about what the human body should look like.
I’ve watched models prepare for a photo shoot. They are already chosen from a small selection of the population- really not indicative of the rest of us. And before the camera begins to roll, they’re done up with make up and lighting to make everything the very best that it can possibly be. And afterward, the graphic designers get a hold of the footage and manipulate the photos, cleaning up blemishes, stretching features here, compressing them there- until there’s an image ready for press that looks entirely unlike a human being. Then it's published all over town, in magazines and newspapers, on television and on the side of buses- right along side a bunch of other mutant hybrids created in Photoshop to convince us that we, too, should look that way.
But we can’t.
It’s literally not possible. And in our attempt to somehow achieve this image of perfection (to either become it or behold it) we’ve turned on each other instead of the ones responsible for the lie. And it's not working. We must realign ourselves appropriately if we're ever going to regain a true vision of beauty.
Our battle isn’t against each other- it’s with each other. We need to fight side by side in this battle for beauty. And that means that when we encounter a friend who is struggling with pornography or an eating disorder- we'll work together to reignite the reality of beauty within them and ways to recapture what beauty really is and where it comes from. We take it personally, but not in the way we have before. We don’t take it as a personal attack against our own beauty- but rather as an attack on Beauty (with a capitol B).
We must fight with prayer, inviting God to reestablish us with a clear vision of what it means to be human. We must fight with our minds and remind ourselves continually that the aliens in advertising aren’t real. With must fight with our hearts by confessing our weaknesses to one another and also hearing these confessions without blame or judgment. And we can fight with our words by writing letters to the people responsible for deceiving us- requesting that they begin to show us true beauty and stop using sex to sell us things.
It won’t be easy. We will fail from time to time. We will forget that the battle is shared and we’ll turn on each other. Blame, mistrust, and paranoia will become our worst enemies and so we'll have to banish these from our conversations and continually offer encouragement and love to each other if we’re going to overcome. We'll have to use forgiveness and grace in their place, always working to rephrase our arguments back toward the real enemy and aligning ourselves with each other and God.
The battle will be long and hard, but will you fight with me?