Enough: Or, why we should all be laughing hysterically in the magazine aisle

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
'City Java magazine rack' photo (c) 2011, Ken Hawkins - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I can’t for the life of me recall what book I read it in, but I remember an author saying once that he raised his children to be wary of consumerism by teaching them to laugh at commercials. 

Like, the whole family would sit around the TV together and bust out laughing when someone from LG asked, “Is it a washer? Or something better?”

 (It’s just a washer.)

I’ve decided I like this idea, particularly as a woman, who most advertisers seem to take for a complete idiot. 

Case in point: Last night, Eva Longoria winked at me from the TV screen and, with a gold-colored tube of mascara between her fingers, said, “Don’t just volumize your lashes! Millionize them!” 

 Okay, first of all, Eva, neither “volumize” nor “millionize” are words. 

Second of all, even if it were scientifically possible to “millionize” my lashes, would that really be safe? (I’m getting a creepy vision of Animal in a Muppet Special.)

'Disney Pook-A-Looz Booth at the D23 Expo' photo (c) 2009, Loren Javier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Millionize your lashes!

And third of all, if L’Oreal wants to join the feminist movement for real, how about they begin by not perpetuating the stereotype that girls are so bad at math and science that they’ll go out and buy a product that promises to “millionize” their eyelashes.? I mean, what’s next? A “trillionizer?” A “gazillionizer”? When you start with “millionize,” there’s nowhere else to go but crazy town. 

It reminds me of the text on the back of my shampoo bottle, which promises that all my dry, frizzy hair needs is a little “fortified fruit science” and all will be well. 

 Fortified fruit science. 

Because that’s a thing. 

You gotta laugh at this stuff to keep from crying. 

Same goes for the magazine aisle. Strategically placed near the checkout line at the grocery store, where, after a frustrating hour of decision-making, calorie counting, list checking, and child-bribing, women would otherwise be forced to stop, wait, and ask themselves a few questions about the meaning of their existence, the magazine aisle dazzles us with photoshopped images of super-skinny models, next to impeccably arranged place settings, next to actresses praised for losing their baby weight in five minutes, next to Martha Stewart holding a perfectly frosted chocolate cake. 

As if all of those scenarios are possible at once. 

The headlines say things about “10 Ways to Snag a Man” and “4 Recipes Your Family Will Love” and “29 Ways To Lose Weight And Still Eat a Donut Every Day,” but what we really read is: 

Are you pretty enough?

Are you crafty enough?

Are you sexy enough? 

Are you stylish enough? 

Are you domestic enough?

Are you enough?

Too often, we forget to laugh at the absurdity of these questions, and instead find ourselves grabbing a magazine from the rack, flipping through its pages, desperately looking for something that might make us “enough”— fortified fruit science, perhaps? 

Well, last week, TIME Magazine skipped past all the subtleties and came right out with it. Next to the now infamous picture of a thin, provocatively posed, bombshell of a mother, defiantly breastfeeding her nearly four-year-old son, were printed the words: 

Are you mom enough?

 The cover sparked a flurry of responses as women around the world issued a collective, “WTF, TIME?” 

There has to be a way to write a compelling cover story on attachment parenting without exploiting every woman’s deepest insecurities,  pitting mothers against one another, and making this poor kid’s future college life a nightmare!

But the way I see it, TIME gave us a something of a gift. By stripping that cover of all pretense, it revealed in plain language the lie behind so much of the media’s messages for women: If you aren’t a sexy, put-together, powerful, super-mom, who breastfeeds her kids until they’re four while baking apple pies, making crayon art, and investing in a successful career,  then you’re a failure. You will always fall short. You will never be enough. 

 Such an idea is so absurd, it should elicit laughter, not groans.  It’s like millionized lashes and fortified fruit science—too stupid to take seriously! 

And yet a small part of us believes it.


This whole idea of the “ideal woman” is one reason I decided to take on my year of biblical womanhood project.  I hated how well-intentioned pastors and leaders were taking the Bible I loved so much and turning into yet another magazine cover that asks:  “Are you biblical enough?”

And by “biblical,” most pointed to a glamorized, westernized version of the Proverbs 31 Woman, who rises before dawn each day, provides food for her family, trades fine linens for a profit, invests in real estate, and works late into the night weaving and sewing.  Christian books and conferences tend to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s worth should be measured by the details, rather than the message, of Proverbs 31, and like the magazines in the checkout line, often  focus on fitness, domesticity, beauty, and success as ways of earning the favor of God and men.

But here’s the thing. 

The poetic figure found in Proverbs 31 is not the only woman in the Bible to receive the high praise of, “eshet chayil!” or “woman of valor!” 

So did Ruth. 

And Ruth could not be more opposite than the Proverbs 31 Woman. 

Ruth was a Moabite (a big no-no back then; men were forbidden from marrying foreign wives). 

Ruth was childless.  

Ruth, was a widow— “damaged goods” in those days. 

Ruth was dirt poor. 

Rather than exchanging fine linens with the merchants to bring home a profit to her husband and children, Ruth spent her days gleaning leftovers from the workers in the fields so she and her mother-in-law could simply survive!

And yet, despite looking nothing like the ancient near Eastern version of a magazine cover,  Ruth is bestowed with the highest honor. She is called a woman of valor. Eshet chayil!  

She is called a woman of valor before she marries Boaz, before she has a child with him for Naomi, beforeshe becomes a wealthy and influential woman. 

Because in God’s eyes, she was already enough. 

 The brave women of Scripture—from Ruth to Deborah to Mary Magdalene to Mary of Bethany—remind me that there’s no one right way to be a woman, and that these images of perfection with which we are confronted every day are laughable to those of us who are in on the big secret: We are already enough. 

We are enough because God is enough, and God can turn even the smallest acts of valor—letting go of a grudge, cleaning puke out of a kid’s hair, inviting the homeless guy to dinner, listening to someone else’s story— into something great.  

Proverbs 31:25 says the wise woman “laughs at the days to come.”

I don’t think the Proverbs 31 Woman laughs because she has it all together.  

I think she laughs because she knows the secret about being enough. 

And so my big act of valor this week will be simple: I’m going to pick up the first magazine I see in the grocery store, point to the cover, and laugh like a maniac, right  in front of God and everybody. 

....Let’s just hope it’s not something sophisticated like The Atlantic, cause then I would look like an idiot. 

(Read more posts like this one.)

(Learn more about my year of biblical womanhood.)

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