An Open Letter to Lizzie Bennet (sort of)

On one level this is so embarrassing because I actually sent it.  Something Ashely Clements wrote in a tumblr post really struck a nerve with me.  And this is the only think I’ve been the least bit motivated to write since National Novel Writing Month.  If you don’t know about the The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, then click here.  I am by far not the only person obsessed with this show.

Ashley,

I read your tumblr piece about body image this morning and I felt the need to respond. I’m something of a lurker, and I’ve never chimed in before.  But I am a fan.  I read Pride and Prejudice first as a teenager and many times since, watched the 1995 BBC adaptation and 2005 movie more times than I can count, thought Bridget Jones’s Diary was brilliant and funny.  I (with my husbands consent, of course, although he maybe sensed that he really didn’t have a choice) even named our second daughter (who is 5) Lizzy–with a “y”– kind of a purist that way.  I’m an Elizabeth, so I guess that makes a potentially goofy choice a little less so.  I love the story with a capital “L.”

What struck me this morning as I read your response is the connection between the original narrative and what we still struggle with.  The fictional Lizzy/Lizzie Bennet, in whatever form she takes, so easily jumps to conclusions about others.  This works so well in the original setting because the norms of society were so strict, anyone who strayed from them was severely judged.  We have different norms, but they are still there.  I grew up in the 1980s, and I can still remember the Seventeen Magazine that featured Whitney Houston as a teenager. The image of her in a bathing suit is literally imprinted in my mind. “She is so thin and beautiful,” I thought.  They all were.  And there were no cultural messages (like the one you wrote) to counter-act any of these unrealistic expectations.  And so we learned not to judge others but judge ourselves.  Helen Fielding makes a spot-on choice when she created Bridget Jones as completely obsessed with her weight and completely unable to do anything about it.  When Mark Darcy tells her that he likes her just the way she is, it takes Bridget the rest of the story to figure out what he means by that.

My body has birthed two daughters.  It is not the same as it was and that continues to be hard for me to accept, but I watch them grow and I often think that that I would never want them to feel that way about themselves, no matter how they look on the outside.  Why should I do that to myself?  Those old tapes playing the same messages are still there in my head.  I read what you wrote and thought to myself, “How could Ashley possibly feel that way about herself?  She’s absolutely darling.”  It surprised me, quite frankly, but I understand.  And I appreciate your words.  If we have to keep pushing past the artificial in our journey to find what is real, then that is what we need to do.

Which is what I’ve come to love most about the LBD.  I know that the original intent of the series was to develop this social media inter-activeness between the characters in the series and their on-line selves.  But what has been just as interesting for me is the layer beneath that, who the actors are themselves, how authentic you all are, and how those narratives, on some level, are available, too.  There is a real-ness to the LBD that goes beyond the arc of the story that we know so well, but that we also know must come to its inevitable, beloved conclusion.  I can only speak for myself as a “fan”, but what I love about that conclusion is that Lizzy and Darcy are able (finally) to figure out what is real and true about themselves and the other and come to love it all, despite their obvious imperfections.  We all, deep down, are just Velveteen Bunnies, wanting to be loved into realness and to be able to love in return.  I, for one, delight it when this happens: in a story, with others, and within me.

8 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Lizzie Bennet (sort of)

  1. This is beautiful, Beth. Not only do I now have to get obsessed with LBD, but your post resonates with me as both the father of a daughter, whom I worry more and more about as I watch the messages girls are given, but also as someone who has struggled throughout life with very similar body image issues–I don’t think it’s nearly as common for men but it is there. You are so not a goofball.

  2. This is great! And yes, The LBD have really touched a nerve with me – I can’t wait until Monday and Thursday to find out what will happen next, and am certain part of this is the incredible acting that is done in 5 min video clips when talking to a camera. And they are all so beautiful and perfect in so many different ways! (Just like us 😉

  3. What insightful comments. Your children think you are beautiful and love you unconditional, regardless what pants or shirt size you wear. I don’t think they even notice. My mother had a deformed hand and when people would ask me about it I had to be reminded of her hand. I think I was 9 or 10 before I ever asked her how it happened. It didn’t make any difference to her kids.

  4. Yes, we all want to be loved into realness and then love in return – so beautifully said. And that is something to delight in….

    As the parent of a teenage boy and 9 year old girl, I often reminded of the effects of our cultural messages about gender, images, and expectations. As Jamie mentioned, perhaps expectations around body image are less obvious for boys and men than for girls and women, but it is just as important to help our young boys see the “realness” in themselves and others. Indeed, is not this authentic realness – this intimacy with ourselves and others – what ultimately provides the foundation for our deepest human delights and connections to God?

    Hi, Amy and Emily!

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