May 12, 2006

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Remembering the Church’s Original Top Model

Somewhere between the time that girls learn to recite the alphabet and to tie their shoes, they learn to scrutinize their bodies.

Five-year-olds go on diets. Sixteen-year-olds shop for prom dresses and breast implants. They’re not just in Beverly Hills. They live across the country; some come from supportive Catholic families.

I once baby-sat a 4-year-old who clung to her towel at the pool. “I like how my stomach looks when I lie down,” she observed.

Now in her formative teen years, chances are she was one of the 5 million Americans that tuned into UPN’s March premiere of “America’s Next Top Model 6.”

The models will pose for pictures, nibble carrots and bicker with a feistiness that belies their bony bodies. They don’t weigh enough to donate blood, but they seem capable of drawing it.

My friend, Katie, and I, humanitarians that we are, meet the weight requirement to give blood. To ensure that we don’t drop dangerously close, we recently did lunch at The Cheesecake Factory.

Katie, a new college graduate, is putting part of her first real paycheck into electrolysis. She’s pondering plastic surgery in the future: “Liposuction, breast augmentation and a lift, too.”

I shuddered. She sounded like a shopper rattling off her grocery list.

“Aren’t we supposed to be in our prime?” I asked, wistfully. Our calorie-conscious guilt was spoiling the feast before us.

I think Katie has watched a few too many episodes of E!’s “Dr. 90210,” a reality TV show that chronicles plastic surgeries and the lives of its surgeons. Katie has a crush on Dr. Robert Ray, the buff Brazilian who once said: “I’m a psychiatrist with a knife.” (Yikes!)

Terms like “through-the-navel breast enhancement” are now part of an American girl’s lexicon. And its techniques are part of her anatomical knowledge. Strange. And sad.

That’s another dimension of this beauty craze: Women should take every measure to fight aging, but pretend their good looks are effortless.

It got me thinking about my models of beauty, my grandmothers. They’re lovely, inside and out.

Their wrinkles are a sign that they’ve embraced life. They’ve furrowed their brows in contemplation and lifted them in surprise. They’ve pursed their lips in frustration and puckered them in affection. They’ve shed tears of joy and wept tears of sadness. They’ve smiled broadly and laughed loudly.

Why freeze those marks of a well-lived life?

It strikes me as ironic that TV’s sweeps month—full of models and plastic surgeons—coincides with Mother’s Day, a celebration of life-giving women. It also falls during Mary’s month, a celebration of The Church’s Original Top Model. She said “yes” to the Lord’s will even though it spurred societal disapproval.

While today’s stars are shallow, Mary modeled depth. While they are fickle, Mary modeled fidelity. While they clamor for the spotlight, Mary deflected it to her maker, saying, “Holy is his name.”

That doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon the pursuit of health or overcome the pressure to be pretty. That’s part of being a young adult. But it helps to remember my real models.

(Christina Capecchi is a Catholic Press Association award-winning writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)


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