This month on xxxchurch.com, we are diving into a world of famous quotes and testing them to see what truth or lies they may hold. Today, I wanted to pick up a quote from Marilyn Monroe that may surprise you. Once, near the top of her career, Marilyn said, “a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing.” For many of our sons and daughters, and for many of us as adults, Marilyn Monroe represents the epitome of the sex symbol. I’ve actually spoken with many teens over the years who have glamorized Marilyn’s life and career—wanting to rise to her level of fame and die young, at the height of their beauty.
A popular TV show (Smash) has been wrestling with Marilyn’s life’s journey—struggling with how to represent her to the audience; was she a confident, calculating sex pot, or just an innocent girl who wanted to be loved and adored? When I talk with teens today about icons like Marilyn Monroe, it often takes time to help them scratch beyond the surface. Our world worships sexuality and most of the popular culture our teens ingest suggests that a girl (or woman’s) identity and self-worth is in her beauty and sexuality. The girls that I work with are struggling to keep up with Rihanna, Mila Kunis and the Victoria’s Secret models sprayed across every channel of primetime TV. To see what they wear and how they act at parties, in the halls of their schools, and even at youth events would seem to suggest that their reality is a different quote, instead of “hating to be a thing”, they seem to be striving to be reduced to “a thing”. It’s as if their saying, “A sex symbol becomes a thing, and I just love to be a thing!” This is what the ads and many of the movies and TV shows they watch seem to sell to powerfully.
In reality, however, once you dig beneath the surface, as with Marilyn, keeping up the life of a sex symbol (and today almost all of our girls expect themselves to be one), is exhausting and unfulfilling. God didn’t design us to be reduced to a thing, and being known for being beautiful or being sexy can only fill one up for so long. And, besides, beauty, even in our world of cosmetic surgery and youth cream, is fleeting. As parents and mentors, we have to help our children look beyond the artifice; we have to help them see that they were created to be much more than a thing. It’s critical for us to help our sons recognize women as having more value than visual and sexual pleasure, and we must help our daughters recognize the beauty of living into the life God created them for—a life that’s deeper, richer and more fulfilling than the rat race of chasing after beauty and living up to the moment’s understanding of sexual appeal. Additionally, we must initiate conversations and provide a listening ear to our daughters as they struggle with the pressures of today’s world. There will be time when they get caught up in trying to live up to the culture’s standards, and it’s our job to gently lead them in a better direction and to be ready to catch them when they realize that choosing anything less than God’s best for their life often ends in heartbreak.
Two simple recommendations I give the parents that I work with are to: (1) Praise their daughters for things beyond their beauty or clothes; and, (2) Set a positive example in your own home. Moms that constantly stress about their looks and their weight tend to have daughters who do as well. Sons who watch their fathers reduce women to products of consumption often fall into the same life patterns. Think carefully about the words and actions you choose—especially around your children.