I’m telling you, one of my favorite singers on my daughter’s playlist is Lorde. While I certainly don’t endorse all of her values, some of the messages that she sings about are penetrating not only the teen culture, but to all of us.
This 17-year-old artist calls out the real picture of society, while also noting how she gets caught up in the mess. I’ve already written about her song Royals, and how I found it a good reflection on modesty. And now I want to talk about white teeth and beauty. Lorde has a song out called White Teeth Teens. When I first heard it, I thought the title said it all. I already knew where the song was going to go. One stanza sums up the teen life, and much of adult life, pretty well:
If you want we’ll help tonight to split its seems
Give the bruises out like gifts
You’ll get the picture of your dreams
I won’t be smiling but the notes from my admirers
Fill my dashboard just the same
Lorde speaks out about the cult of beauty in an interview with The Guardian:
Everyone is so obsessed with how everything looks, how the party will look through a lens the next day. We all have Tumblr and we all have Instagram and everything. People care so much about it because, now, any random can be famous on the internet if their world looks good on Tumblr. And so everyone at high school strives for this kind of aesthetic correctness. I do it as well, you know. I curate my life in a way. It’s always playing on my mind, kind of a love-hate relationship. I’m not one of those people who’s, like, ‘I wish Facebook wasn’t around,’ because, you know, it is what it is.
Social media has affected our idea of image and beauty. It is now equated with exposure, fame, and perfect shots. And fame is an even more deceiving concept.
My teenage daughter and I found beauty this weekend in TJ Max. Really, we did. I was looking for a new bag for traveling with my laptop, books, notes, and million other things I lug around. However, I’m easily distracted and unsatisfied, and so I found myself next to an elderly couple looking at smaller bags. I thought about how I wanted a new, little bag just to fit my phone and items from my wallet. When I found a cute Bagellini and waved it in the air to Solanna, who was actually looking for what I came for, she said, “Mom, you can’t fit your computer in that!” The older couple looked up from their intense shopping process and began giggling at me. I moved on to the sunglasses. I left empty-handed and indecisive.
On the way home, Solanna went on and on about how beautiful that older couple was. The old man was saying things like, “Dear, try this one on and see if the strap digs into your shoulder.” He was just as concerned as his wife was in picking out just the right new purse for her. This may have been their major mission for the day. Solanna talked about how she wanted a marriage like that when she was old. You could see how much that man loved and cared for his wife by the way he participated in such an ordinary task.
It wasn’t going on to a Facebook feed, but we knew we stumbled upon the real deal. Later that day, I had all the kids in the car, and Lana Del Rey’s song Young and Beautiful came on, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful, I know you will…” Sol and I looked at each other, and I said, “We saw that love yesterday in TJ Max!” Yep.
Of course, our great Savior loved us when we were wretched children of wrath, dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:1-3). No matter how white our smile, our throats are an open grave without the One who loves us to the end (Rom. 3:13). And yet, we get caught up in the mess. We build our profile of beauty, and miss the truly beautiful moments that can’t be exploited.
Even a 17-year-old pop star gets this, as she tweets untouched photos of her face, wearing her flaws like a badge of honor, and asks the radio stations to quit playing her song so much because it’s overplayed. As a matter of fact, after introducing her album, she went back to her hometown in New Zealand for a while. Lorde says she’s already sick of her exposure, and needs to be a kid for a while. I’m sure it won’t be long before her return with a second album, but this teenager doesn’t want to overdo her 15 minutes of fame in the first round.
I don’t think our TJ Max couple had the whitest teeth, but I can’t get the beautiful picture of them out of my head. A little glimpse of this kind of beauty reminds me to put the world’s glimmer in perspective. All of the glow from the “beautiful people” that attracts us, “their molars blinking like the lights,” as Lorde says, is nothing compared to the glory that we will behold on the day of Christ’s return. Then we will behold the beatific vision, the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3a). And we will be like him. But enough of that, it’s time for me to remove my white strips.
*Originally published on April 24, 2014.