IVP - Strangely Dim - Self-Image and the Shoes of Death: On Unsqueezed

July 22, 2010

Self-Image and the Shoes of Death: On Unsqueezed

I love shoes. Tall shoes, especially. But I've always felt that in the area of shopping and fashion I was a pretty late bloomer; and having always been rather tall, wearing shoes that drew attention to this uncomfortable fact made me . . . uncomfortable. So I was in my twenties before I got over my height issues and started wearing more than a one-inch heel. It may seem trivial, but it was significant for me to realize that being tall is, really, just fine.

 So now every time I see the cover of Margot Starbuck's Unsqueezed, the first thought in my head is often, Oooh, I really want that shoe! And then, even though the thought of wearing a stiletto is, shall we say, a bit over the top for me, I run through in my head all the places I might possibly go to procure such a lovely, sexy, impossibly-angled pair of shiny red stilettos at a reasonable price. I even had, for a while, this annoying sing-song phrase running through my head (like the McDonald's "Filet-o-Fish" ad): give-me-that-sti-let-to-heel / give-me-that-heel.

Unsqueezed #3616.jpgAs you can see, I've come a long way.

The shoe on the cover of Unsqueezed gets to me because in one sweeping blow it identifies something that I really love and then tells me that I need to be free of it. And it's not just the shoe that it tells me I need freedom from, but everything the shoe represents--which is, according to Starbuck, our culture's "ill-fitting," "death-dealing" concept of beauty. Says Starbuck, "Enlightened women like us know better. . . . we're aware of our culture's distorted perception of beauty. . . . [But] dissatisfied with our bodies . . . and against our better judgment--many of us still buy into it all." Preach it, Margot!

Honestly, though, I want to argue with the shoe on the cover: Really, wearing high-heeled shoes is proof of how accepting I've become of my height. What's so bad about that? Or, Would not wearing these awesome shimmery purple pumps really mean that I have a healthy self-image? No. I like them, I'm wearing them, and I don't care what anyone says--including you, silly red-shoe-bedecked book cover! Never mind the fact that my toes go numb after standing in them for twenty minutes; or that my back swells and aches from compensating for the unnatural position it must adopt to accommodate my otherwise impeccable taste in shoes; or how hugely impractical these contraptions are when your car breaks down in a blizzard five miles from help. (Though they smite me, yet will I wear them . . .)

Yes, when it comes to how we present ourselves, women (and men, too) take far more drastic steps than wearing tall shoes, to be sure. But why do we insist upon making our bodies billboards of self-awareness? Starbuck has honed in on some reasons--lies, marketing, greed, shame. And she helps us redirect our self-obsession toward an understanding of what our bodies are really for--worship, mission, movement, relationship, service, justice--and how we can use them for the good of others and the world around us. (And she accomplishes all this while being really funny. Seriously.)

Here's Margot's take on how to step out of the mold:

Many of us think about ourselves, our bodies, all day long.

"Yeah," you might agree, "but how do you not do that?" That's the real question.

Telling someone not to think about themselves is like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. Only, instead of an elephant, it's more like telling them to not to think . . . thoughts. Deciding not to think about ourselves, not to dwell on our bodies, is no small feat. 

If we are to succeed, we sort of need a better plan.

Pastor and author Tim Keller mentions, in one of his sermons, the way that C. S. Lewis describes this humble sort of person who's not so obsessed with himself. "Do not imagine," writes Lewis, "that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody."

Please stay focused and try not to be distracted trying to visualize a greasy smarmy person.

Lewis continues, "Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him." If you've ever encountered someone like that, someone who's genuinely interested in what you're saying, you know how fantastic it is to be in their presence.

Did you catch that movement? Our eyes are freed up from being glued to ourselves when they are turned toward others. Granted, this is sort of a chicken and egg situation. Which comes first? Do we have to be freed from self-obsession first, before we can turn completely toward another? That seems like a tall, unlikely order. Or could it be that when we purpose to be concerned about someone else, when we take little dropped-stitch baby steps to make it happen, that's when the magic happens and we're liberated from having to think about ourselves so much.

I see an awful lot of hope in the latter. For everyone. However it happens, the shift from obsessive introspection to other-centered living is the movement into which we're called.


--The very brilliant cover of Unsqueezed was impeccably designed by Cindy Kiple.

--Excerpt taken from chapter eight, "Self-Preoccupation."

Posted by Christa Countryman at July 22, 2010 1:22 PM Bookmark and Share


Christa, despite being slightly irritated with you because I now have "give me that filet-o-fish / give me that fish" running through my head, I think you're wonderfully funny and I like you. And this post. And your fabulous purple shoes which you seem sufficiently free from.

Comment by: Rachel at July 23, 2010 12:32 PM

Thanks Rachel! You're very sweet. For the record, that song irritates me, too.

Comment by: Christa at July 23, 2010 12:47 PM

Christa, Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it. Although I too can make large boasts in my height, I have never had the stigma that goes with it (likely b/c I am a guy). And, I might add, I have never had the high heels struggles that you ladies have either. But, I can say that I have had another heel in my journey: introspection, self-image, and just plain self-awareness that has prevented me from loving my neighbor genuinely. Glad to see that this book was written and that you have brought it to my attention. And, I am always grateful to Lewis.
Thankfully, I have made strides in my own life by God's grace. Just have to keep that stride right one step at a time.

Comment by: matthew at July 25, 2010 4:26 PM

Mr. Matthew--thank you for your thoughtful, honest comment. And the shoe brand pun--which is doubly appropriate since I'm sure Stride Rite has not branched into stilettos.

Comment by: Christa at July 28, 2010 8:59 AM

Thanks for this post, Christa! I'm reading Unsqueezed too, and really appreciating her perspective and humor. It's scary how quickly and deeply the culture's definition of beauty gets imbedded in us--and how hard it is to challenge.

Also, I think you're funny too. And I really like your purple shoes.

Comment by: Lisa at July 30, 2010 11:31 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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