Guest Post: Life to the Wheaton Girl

Written by Nichole, a member of my contesseration here at Wheaton. She has subtitled it, "A critical response to 'Death to the Wheaton girl.'" I hope you continue to find this mythical (or not-so) Girl a familiar figure, although we have located her in the context of our own college.

She is nicely dressed because during her entire life it has been suggested, directly or implicitly, that she is only as valuable as her appearance.  She has grown up on Silver Ring Thing and True Love Waits fare, hearing at least once a year that virgin status is the apex of her virtue, and women who give this gift away have about as much inherent value as once (twice or thrice) chewed gum. As a result of the power structures in her home, church, and community, she has come to view male approval as the ultimate validation of her selfhood. Losing aforementioned approval would jeopardize her ability to have success as it has been defined for her over and over again. Every week, she secretly dashes into the Counseling Center to find healing for depression, eating disorders, anxiety, sexual abuse, and emotional trauma. She has no peace, a fact which only serves to inspire more anxiety about her spirituality.

Is she even real? Absolutely. She is sitting quietly in your classes. Obediently doing her homework in your dorm. Anxiously burning off those extra calories on the treadmill next to you. Condemning herself in the pew in front of you.

It is easy to judge the Wheaton Girl because she embodies the illusion of perfection. She is easy to like, to love even, but that which is being loved is not her Self. No, it is the primped, perfected, and idealized extension of her Self that she puts on display for her community.

It would be a simple task to condemn her for her deception, her willful self-subjugation to unfair power structures, but a few moments of self-reflection will undoubtedly be followed by the soft thud, thud of stones dropping to the ground and hurried feet scuffling away.

We, every one of us, display, market, and advertise some idealized image of our Selves to the world. We may not be selling effortless physical perfection and the soft, accommodating disposition of the Nice Christian Girl, but there are hundreds of other ways to market our vulnerabilities to our relationally consumeristic world.

The high-browed intellectual sells her intelligence. The mysterious outsider markets her nonconformity. The she-jock advertises her physical prowess and mental toughness. Until the day we die, we will all be selling something. It is the inheritance of our culture for better or for worse.

Yet hope remains while the Company is true. While I do not think it is possible to ever truly escape self-objectification in this life, we can make the slow, painful, and often discouraging journey of taking our bodies, minds, and spirits off the shelves. How is this done? Grace, humility, and great generosity. Place your gifts at the service of others. Use your intellect without making others feel small. Employ your physical loveliness to affirm that beauty is not merely the sum of your features. Channel your popularity into helping hurting and wounded people.

Selling your gifts out of a desire to receive some form of compensation from another person will turn every relationship into an economic transaction, a sign-value exchange based on cost-benefit analysis. But placing your gifts, your very Self in the service of others leads to relationships that our bound together by truth and respect and love and life.

And so we are all on this journey. Some of us have been traveling for years, others for weeks. Some of us have only just realized that the path even exists. We all started at the same place, though, and must delight in giving grace to others as bountifully as it has been given to us. I wish life for all my friends. I hope for scraped knees, calloused feet, chipped nails, split ends, no mascara days filled with life, filled with grace for our Selves and for others.

9 comments:

Geo 4/27/2010 2:24 PM  

what is ├ža change?

This is really interesting - I especially like the bit about not making every interaction an economic transaction. That is a very important concept.
Also, on the whole, I think this applies to men also, not just girls. I noticed you used only female examples, and while societal pressures and male privilege still currently oppress a lot of women, I think this idea of selling certain aspects of yourself is not gendered.

Nichole 4/27/2010 2:49 PM  

Geo - Thanks for your comment. I agree that relational capitalism is not gendered. However, since women in our culture are generally portrayed as objects and men as consumers, I felt comfortable using feminine pronouns and examples in this piece. Also, it is a response to a topic concerning the female 18-24 demographic, so my thoughts are meant to intentionally explore the female experience of this age group. Thanks again!

gabi dickinson 4/28/2010 4:07 AM  

This is absolutely beautiful.
I love this.

Erin 4/28/2010 10:22 AM  

Absolutely lovely; especially the last paragraph.

pinkapplecore 4/28/2010 11:08 AM  

lovely, really the whole thing is truthful. I remember one day I had the thought "I wonder if kids now have ever scraped their knees?"

aipingplum 4/29/2010 12:25 PM  

Tell Nichi (sp?) that was brilliant. Maybe THIS is why I hung out w/ mostly boys at Wheaton...Holly, did I ever tell you I went to the counseling center my freshman year because I was having such a hard time making female friends at Wheaton, and I was wondering what was wrong with me? Haha. Ohhh Wheaton...

Holly 4/29/2010 2:16 PM  

I know, she's pretty awesome.

pinkapplecore - it feels kind of satisfying when I get play wounds like scraped knees now.

aipingplum - aw really? little freshman steph! that's kind of sweet...:)

Emma 5/02/2010 1:35 PM  

Hey, hey, this is really great. I found myself nodding like a madwoman frequently throughout this piece. I like the relativity of the Wheaton girl, how her experience can be amplified to fit just about anyone.

Nichole should start something, if she hasn't already.

Holly 5/03/2010 1:37 PM  

Emma - I agree! I've BEEN telling her that.

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