Having lived in Indiana for some eleven years now, one might think that some knowledge regarding Indy Car racing would have made its way into my databank by now. Sadly, this is not the case. Every Memorial Day, I am surprised by the Indy 500. It’s like having some distant relative that shows up every year for Thanksgiving and you say “Oh, right! Cousin Fred!” and then you forget about him until the next Thanksgiving. I have learned to embrace, or at least accept, many aspects of Indiana culture—the town-wide rummage sales, the obsessive corn watching, the mind-blowing lack of topographical diversity. But racing is just not one of them. The closest I have come is some rather spirited (okay, more like cutthroat) video game sessions with my husband.
This past Memorial Day I was just as disinterested when somehow the topic of Danica Patrick came up in a conversation with Jim. I innocently raised the question of whether she was really that good and how much her looks had to do with her status in the racing community. It seemed fairly self-evident to me that her appearance (and her willingness to exploit her “assets”) had to have played a part in her prominence. I was rather surprised when Jim quickly came to her defense, touting statistics regarding her accomplishments, etc. After making a mental note to suggest he cut back a bit on his ESPN talk radio (stats about football, hockey, baseball—all acceptable, but what will come next? Men’s water polo?), I retorted that though I didn’t doubt Patrick’s talent, I just couldn’t buy that there weren’t plenty of other women out there just as talented who would never be given a chance simply because they looked better with the helmet on than off. Surely she had been given opportunities and advantages that others had been denied. Perhaps this is unfair of me, both to Patrick who is obviously skilled (though I would feel less sorry for her if she would wear that driving suit all the time rather than some of the other less modest apparel I have seen her wearing) and unfair to those who are as talented if not as attractive. But as the saying goes, “life’s not fair.”
As a woman, and now especially as my daughter’s mom, I often wrestle with the issue of appearance and the role it plays in our crooked and crazy world. When Maggie was born, I was shocked at how instinctive it was to praise her appearance. I find Jim and I both struggle to balance our compliments, following up on a “You look so pretty!” with a quick “And you are so smart!” Why is it that we can praise the Grand Canyon but blushingly we praise our daughter’s outward form which comes from the same source, the eternal outpouring of God’s own beauty? Should I feel pangs of guilt when I mull over which outfit choice to make in front of my ever-impressionable girl?
I remember when Maggie was about a year and a half old and suffered an injury to her mouth. There was a part of me that grieved over the change of her adorable smile which, while still adorable, now included a few chipped teeth. Another part of me was glad to have her not quite so cute. Which was the right response? Knowing what a moral handicap good looks can be, should I suppress my desire to see my daughter grow up to be beautiful? It seems as if you are torn between teaching your child that her body is bad and she should consider wearing a burlap sack all the time or fostering a value for the superficial that is unhealthy and destructive.
Whenever I find myself faced with questions such as these, I refer back to the deep wisdom of Christian kitsch—WWJD? Okay, maybe not exactly what would Jesus do, but still our lives as Christians should always come back to Him, right? The Word made flesh. And that’s the thing—the Word didn’t come down as a misty form but as flesh and bone and though we are told “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2), He did have a body and it was suited to his purpose here on earth. So I guess that is our answer, at least in part. Our bodies are for His purposes, not our own. They can be enjoyed and even admired but only in the right context. Simple enough, right? Now all I have to do is figure out what the heck that means when the rubber hits the road…so to speak.