May your fountain be blessed,and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?
-Proverbs 5:18-20 (NIV)
Kylie Bisutti was at the top of her game when she retired. At 21, she had reached the pinnacle of success in her field. So it was something of a surprise when she quit last week, especially since she was doing something that very few young women have ever chosen to walk away from.
Kylie was a lingerie model. And not just any lingerie model - she was a Victoria’s Secret model. She beat out 10,000 other girls in a model search two years ago, and the fame and money she’s walking away from are considerable.
Even more surprising than her abrupt retirement are her reasons for it. Kylie is a believer, and her faith led her to this decision.
“Growing in my relationship with the Lord and my faith…,” Kylie explained on Good Morning America, (some lingerie photos in the video) “I just became so convicted about wanting to honor my husband with my body and wanting to be a role model for younger women out there that look up to me.”
She says she was really convicted when her 8-year-old niece said to her, “I think I want to stop eating so I can look like you.”
“And it just broke my heart, because she looks up to me,” Kylie explained. “Thousands of girls that think beauty is an outer issue, and really it's a heart issue.”
It’s about the heart, not the skin. She may have something there.
The problem, I think, with the level of exposure that has become commonplace in our society - and accessible by anyone - is not skin. If there was something inherently shameful about the human body, God could have created us with pants or dresses or burqas or something. The fact that he didn't, and that human nakedness was only a problem, or even worth noticing, after sin entered the world, says something decisive about the goodness of all creation - including human bodies. The “Christian” tendency toward prudishness sells short on the biblical assertion that God called his creation “good.”
The problem is that Victoria isn't just selling Secrets. She's selling fantasy. (I know Victoria’s not a real person. Just go with it here.) She, and others like her, are literally banking on the fact that men and women will invest heavily in the fantasy of flawless physical beauty, eternal youth, and the perfect sexual partner. Her models are prophets, acting out visions of this fantasy world, proclaiming that it's within reach. Just buy the fantasy. Buy it because you want the models. Buy it because you want to be the models. Either way, the fantasy is compelling.
But that fantasy that’s being sold to us isn’t real life, and in fact it’s toxic to real life. It ruins real relationships because it feeds unrealistic expectations that no one - including a lingerie model - can fulfill. Husbands and wives start to look elsewhere - if not physically, then at least emotionally - when the fantasies they’ve bought into about love, romance, and sex crash on the rocks of reality. And when that fantasy gets sold to younger customers, it almost has to have some effect on the way they see the opposite sex, the assumptions they bring into future relationships, and the way they define beauty.
Maybe that’s why, in addition to adultery, the Ten Commandments prohibit coveting - and explicitly include “your neighbor’s wife” in the list of what we ought not covet. Or why Jesus likewise says that lust is really not an acceptable alternative to adultery. Apparently, Victoria didn’t invent the fantasy. She just found an attractive way to package it.
So the wise father of Proverbs embarrasses church-going grandmothers in all times and places by telling his son simply to opt out of the fantasy. (Take a look at Eugene Peterson’s The Message if you really want to make Grandma blush.) His advice is that he should be content with his wife - no, not content, captivated. As he appreciates her for who she is and delights in her - and yes, including in her body - the fantasy will be exposed as the cheap, self-centered imitation of real love that it is.
In our equal-opportunity world, both men and women need to pay attention to that advice.
Because one thing we’re not going to be able to do is avoid the fantasy. It’s everywhere, and the church’s main strategy of pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t work anymore. Truth is, it’s never worked.
That’s because the fantasy plays to something God-created in all of us. Love, the desire for intimacy, sexuality - those, too, are part of God’s good creation. But like everything else God has made, those things can be warped into selfishness, lust, greed, and entitlement. And porn producers, Hollywood studio executives, music producers, car companies - and, yes, lingerie makers - count on that.
But Victoria’s real Secret - the one she doesn’t want you to know, the one Kylie Bisutti discovered - is that you don’t have to buy the fantasy they’re selling. You can walk away.
I don’t mean from the product, necessarily. If you have a few of Victoria’s items around your house somewhere, that’s your choice and your business. (And maybe falls under that “delighting” thing from Proverbs...) You can buy the merchandise and not the fantasy.
But if we can’t avoid the fantasy entirely, let’s be careful how much we let it influence us. Be aware of its presence, and let that awareness inform what we watch, read, listen to, and download when no one else but the Lord knows. And how we interact with what we still choose to consume. Let’s be sure that our attitudes and thoughts - even our secret ones - about the people around us honor their Creator, and them as parts of his good creation.
Let’s make every effort to make sure that our marriages are places of delight and joy where we confront and discredit the fantasy head on. And let’s teach our children that there is an alternative to the fantasy that they will inevitably be exposed to. It’s just not possible to keep them from it forever. But we can and should encourage them to think about love, sexuality, romance, and appearance in ways that honor the Lord and his creation.
Kylie chose to walk away from the fantasy. We can too.
That’s no Secret.