The Distorted Image

Full disclosure: My wife made me go into a tanning booth. It’s not because she’s weird, it’s because I was going to Hawaii for a wedding and I live in Oregon. She told me that If I didn’t go into the booth for 5 minutes per day for three days, my skin would explode once I arrived in the tropics.

On day 1 I went to the local tanning parlor, put on some tiny glasses and laid in a blue cocoon for 4 and a half minutes. When I left the salon, I was still white as a bleach bucket. I went home where I was confronted about skipping my appointment. I produced my receipt, ate dinner, watched Seinfeld, and went to bed.

I woke up 8 hours later, sunburned.

Instead of getting off of the plane and getting sunburned, I spent 5 hours on a plane sunburned and then arrived in Hawaii only to stay undercover to keep from worsening the damage.

I haven’t been back to a salon for a tan.

When I was in the salon, I noticed that there were a lot of women there with me who were also not tan. They weren’t pale like me, they were orange. Their frequent visits to the tanning salon had taken them to a place that pigment rarely goes of its own free will and volition.

I wondered if any of them knew that they were orange.

This week we’re learning that not only do some people have a hard time knowing when to say when at the UV beds, but that they will also put their kids into the same situation. There is a street term for these types of people, they’re called “tanorexic“.

They can’t stop themselves from indulging in the art of artificial pigmentation.

I know that the orange women walk past mirrors everyday.

The problem is that they don’t see their reflection in the mirror, they only see what they want to see. While a few of them see something they love too much, the majority only see something that they hate.

I know that the orange women have friends.

The problem is that their friends don’t have permission to speak truth into their lives. The women who do have friends who will speak up, can’t override the preconceptions and misconceptions that the orange person has about themselves and their appearance.

Which is what makes us all “orange” regardless of our pigmentation.

Each of us sees ourselves as we want to be seen. We live our lives as if we are the sum total of our ideals, then act surprised when we catch a wayward glimpse of ourselves from the unflattering angle that rearview mirrors and store windows offer us on sunny days.

In those moments we turn to someone else and ask them what we “look like”, desperate to hear them validate us and alleviate our concerns.

Unless we give them the permission to hurt or disappoint us, their words will ultimately be meaningless in our ears.

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” , and quite truthfully many of us spend time invalidating others to keep their words from hurting us.

The problem with this strategy is that when you invalidate someone’s ability to hurt you, you also remove their ability to help you… because you have made them out to be un-credible, regardless of how truthful they are.

We make them into mirrors that we ignore, because our mind is made up about how we already “look”, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

Unless we empower, and rely on, the honesty of faithful friends, we become a tanorexic version of ourselves- a blissfully ignorant mockery to everyone who beholds us.

I’ve learned that the best way to lose “pigment”:

bitterness,

deceit,

malice,

jealousy,

pettiness,

conceit,

pretense,

and weight,

is to not gain it in the first place.

This is why I’ve asked, and allowed, close friends to worry, wound, and wake me with truth.

Who is the person that I’ve empowered with brutal honesty?

Do I have the ears to hear them?

Do they have the power to hurt me?

Until they do, they’ll never be able to help me.

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirrorand, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” – James 1:23-25

4 Responses to “The Distorted Image”

  1. Joe Daly May 4, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    This post ties into a lot of your past posts, in that many people perceive their worth from external, worldly inputs. Until people fully trust in God and feel the love of his forgiveness, they will fall pray to all kinds of promises.

  2. Sharon O May 4, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    I have seen the picture of that ‘lady’ who excessively tanned and even took her five year old there to tan. She looks ‘awful’ and I felt very sad for her. It has to be an illness similar to any other ‘excessive compulsive’ illness. My question is this: where is the responsibility of the tanning parlor? It is very obvious she over tans and they are still taking her money. It is all about integrity and like you say ‘seeing’ oneself in a true light. It is a sad situation and requires intervention.

  3. Ernest Martinez May 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    I have never had a problem accepting myself or how I look, so I don’t think that applies to everyone. Yes we all struggle with sin, but not all struggle with so-called “self-worth.” I have never looked in a mirror and thought I was anything than what God created me to be, good and bad. It is easy to oversimplify or assume we all struggle with the “white” dilemma of beauty or fitting in. I think that is a problem of mostly those who want to be seen as worthy from a outward standpoint. What I have seen is mostly those with a “white” pigment trying to look “tan” or young, trying to stay young rather than age gracefully. It is a matter of an American obsession with looks that not all struggle with.

    • Jon May 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      There really wasn’t anything in this post about race… My point was that each of us have blind spots that only faithful friends can reveal, when they are given permission to.

      Youth obsession isn’t merely a white problem. Cultures that become affluent become obsessed with youth (the youh obsessed ancient Egyptians and Assyrians weren’t white) since death becomes one of the only problems that copious amounts of cash can’t solve.

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