you are more than what you look like

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come off a platform – after preaching, singing or leading – and the first comment to me has been something about my appearance.

Sometimes it’s almost comical the people who will make a determined effort; interrupt a conversation, come from across the room, or wait patiently to get the chance to make a comment on my dress, my shoes or how I’ve styled my hair.

After a recent preaching engagement, at the end of a very detailed and authoritative review of my outfit (the colour, the suitability of the style to my figure and the context, the appropriate choice of sleeve and hem length, my choice of accessories, and even my fingernail colour) someone said “Oh, and what you said was good too.” I replied “I’m glad to hear that because I spent many hours working on my sermon and far less than that on my outfit selection!”

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate others’ appreciation of my appearance. I do put a fair amount of thought into it. Presenting from the platform requires a bit of thought for females. Not being over or underdressed while being mindful of potential distractions – ribbons coming untied, frills flapping, earrings clinking on headsets, necklaces reflecting light, bracelets that jingle, hair that moves … all of the things. Not to mention tech related issues like having a collar for a lapel mic to clip to or a waist band to hold the wireless pack. And of course, the general goal is to look “good” when we’re out in public, so no one is above the affirmation that she’s succeeded.

In my experience and observation it’s only women who do this to women. Men will very rarely comment like that to a woman. And I’ve not heard many stories of men receiving comments like that at all. In fact, in a recent gathering of leaders, the females were sharing some of these experiences and the men in the group were incredulous to discover this was even a thing.

Ladies!! Why do we do this to each other?

Can I suggest something of a self-audit and some further thinking before we’re tempted to perpetuate the narrative that our appearance ought to be what draws greatest attention and reflection?

  • Before (or instead of) commenting on a person’s appearance – offer meaningful encouragement for the function they performed or the presentation they offered. Pause to purposefully reflect on what you observed, received or appreciated in what they shared or did and tell them that! We’re all fighting fears and self doubts to get up before a group of people to speak (or present) and we can be one another’s greatest advocates in standing up in the face of them.
  • If you do want to comment on something aesthetic – make sure you emphasise the insignificance of it in comparison to what they’ve given of themselves in presentation or preparation. Add it as your “by the way” rather than making it the headline news.
  • This used to be a point of comic reflection for me. I’d roll my eyes as I recounted another story of smiling graciously as someone gushed over how well my shoes coordinated with my dress after I’d poured myself out in a sermon or worship time. But the more I speak with women who are struggling to find their place of comfort and authority in upfront roles, the more I see this as a tool to sow doubt and to cause us to take our eye off the ball.
  • Let’s get intentional about our peer support and advocacy by keeping the main things the main thing.
  • (Suggested replacements for “you looked great” include – you looked comfortable, confident, radiant, joyful, expressive, strong, or welcoming or you were articulate, dynamic, compelling, knowledgeable, gracious, or convicting or thank you for what you brought, how you prepared, your vulnerability, or your authenticity or good job you for overcoming everything that presented itself as an obstacle to you getting on the platform!)
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    3 ways to use social media (for good)

    When it comes to social media, I think many of us have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. There are so many positive aspects about the connectivity it can generate, the relationships it can develop, maintain or strengthen and the exposure it can bring to many forms of information and inspiration. But there are also well documented aspects of social media that lead some to avoid it. Here are three redemptive uses of social media that I believe could make it one of our greatest assets in making the world a better place!!

    1. Advocate & support

    Social media provides a powerful platform to raise awareness, profile and funds for deserving people and causes.

    Through social media, we are connected with needs and opportunities that might not otherwise come to our attention. From the comfort of our own couches we can donate to worthy causes, support individuals in their world changing efforts, sponsor research initiatives, support small business, petition governments and change agencies, and shine a spotlight on need and injustice. We can also share stories of courage, inspiration and hope.

    The simple act of ‘liking’ a post increases its reach, ‘sharing’ or re-posting even moreso and our comments offer encouragement and support to the person or organisation – cheering them on to bigger and better accomplishments on behalf of those who need it most.

    So whether it is the opportunity to support a friend’s child in the “Jump Rope for Heart” skipathon, or sign a Collective Shout petition to take steps to rid the world of sexual exploitation, or read a story that awakens our hearts to injustice, or sponsor a young person travelling overseas to understand more of the needs of the world, or donate goods to a prison or homeless ministry, or donate to aid men’s mental health, or like, share or comment on the activity of someone championing another worthy cause … or to utilise the platform to raise funds or awareness for those things God puts on your heart – do it!

    A sure fire antidote for the draw of social media to be about self-indulgence, comparison, appearance management or complaining is to consider how we might use the platform to draw attention to what matters and use our voices on behalf of those without one.

    2. Honour & encourage others

    There are no shortage of places a person can turn to if they’re looking to be torn down. Even without trying we can find ourselves on the end of others’ (or even our own) criticism, judgement and exclusion. Social media offers a place to reverse that experience and to bring encouragement, affirmation and honour into one another’s lives.

    Special occasions – birthdays, graduations, achievements, Mother’s/Father’s/Valentine’s Days, anniversaries, new jobs, farewells (etc) – are a great opportunity to publicly honour people of significance in our lives. Those we admire, those we are proud of, those we desire to champion and celebrate. And even on no-special-occasion-at-all days! What a great opportunity social media presents to say a kind word or two – to or about another person. To pause just a little longer to find words to articulate what you appreciate about them or how they are positively influencing your life and the lives of those around them.

    I love the chance to share a photo and a ‘shout out’ to someone who is giving their all and living their best life. How grateful are we for people around us who do that in a way we can aspire to and be encouraged by!? Why wouldn’t we take the opportunities to share that sense of gratitude with others and give their spirits a boost in the process?

    But even more than that, we can honour and encourage just in the ways we react to other people’s sharing. I often hear people talk about social media being a place they find hard because, for them, it breeds jealousy and discontent. What mental and/or heart shift might we make to see or hear of another’s success or enjoyment and choose to celebrate them rather than give voice to the negative or self-focussed emotions that might otherwise threaten to come to the surface? What we speak out to others we speak into our own psyche also – the choice to affirm or celebrate can do as much for our own wellbeing as it does for the object of our comments.

    3. Spread joy!

    If you have a bad customer service experience at the shops or on the phone to your insurance company. If you have opinions on the ineptitude of …**insert people of greatest annoyance here** (other road users, politicians, attendants at McDonald’s drive thru windows, people who misuse apostrophes etc). If you have a grievance about, well, anything or anyone – you will no doubt find some cathartic relief in bashing out a well-worded (or otherwise) rant on social media and then find a degree of satisfaction in the responses of others. People are very ready to jump on board with their own stories or deep empathy for your plight.

    I’m just not sure it really helps much in the long run. In some cases, it does nothing more than rally people towards judgement and bullying. In most cases, it achieves nothing positive.

    Social media platforms are perfectly poised to be a mechanism to bring joy, hope, life-giving encouragement and edification. To bring laughter to someone’s day (I find a story of your own epic failure is a great way to get people laughing!!), to acknowledge difficulty and share burdens, to speak words of peace, promise and potential into another’s circumstances. To give a cyber high-five to people who are succeeding at being an adult (you know, doing all the things!) or a cyber hug to those living through difficult seasons.

    It’s a good question to ask of what you post yourself – and also a posture to adopt in your responses to what other’s post – does this spread joy? Does this perpetuate positivity? Does this point people toward things that are beautiful and creative and life-giving and hope inspiring and people honouring and smile inducing and motivating? When you could respond in jealousy, will you choose celebration? When you could dismiss or minimise the needs and hurts of another, might you choose words of empathy and compassion? When you could highlight the negative, would you choose instead to emphasise the positive?

    Thoughts for action :-

    Do you use Social Media in these positive ways? How might you change your online engagement to utilise these platforms to advocate and support, honour and encourage and spread a little more joy?