How My Soap Taught Me to Be a Better Neighbor
I’m also a sucker for trendy marketing. And lately, trendy marketing includes phrases like “all-natural,” “organic” and “eco-friendly.” I was totally buying into this all-natural fad. I was feeling empowered and enlightened and, honestly, a bit self-righteous, until I noticed something — all my organic products, including my soap, are wrapped in plastic. Oh, the irony! Plastic, which takes hundreds of years to biodegrade and kills thousands of birds and marine life each year, is encasing my cosmetics.
My priorities feel a bit off. But should I be surprised? That plastic-wrapped organic soap — an excellent intention yet toxic — is an analogy I find overshadowing much of my life, not just my cosmetics.
Culture tells us you are most important.
Society pushes us toward individualization. Fitness ads, health fads, quick ways to make money and beauty products are essentially “me” products. Culture caters to this “me first” idea that oftentimes ends in depression and a feeling of inferiority — at least for me, anyway.
I’m not saying fitness, health, finances and beauty aren’t important; they most definitely are in their own respects. But culture tells us to prioritize those things. Sometimes the good intention of being the best version of ourselves gets distorted by cultural norms that tell us we’re not good enough. We’re often told — especially as women — that we’ve gotta be more beautiful and skinnier to be desirable. I’m allowing beauty and a desire for acceptance dominate other more important things.
Let me explain.
I’m getting married in May and I’ve been trying to get into shape since January. I work out several times a week, eat mainly a paleo diet and take a lot of vitamins. And that sounds great, right? Except I’m letting it consume me.
Something that started out as a genuine intention to lose some weight, be healthier and feel good in my wedding dress has turned into an obsession. Just losing some weight isn’t enough for me anymore. Society has convinced me that I don’t need to lose a little weight, but I also need to whiten my teeth, color my hair and do crunches until I can’t breathe. My obsession with being beautiful has me prioritizing it over just about everything else. I’m not getting enough sleep because I’m exercising late at night. I’m not reading my Bible and praying as much, which often means I’m also becoming easily angered and impatient.
My obsession with me is hurting my neighbor.
When my church serves meals after service, I used to sit down, eat the meal my neighbors prepared and fellowship with the community. But lately I’ll leave and make or buy my own meal — you know, one that is paleo-approved. I prioritize getting in enough leafy greens over talking with a new person at church.
If I go to a birthday party, I have to make sure I eat something beforehand because I can’t eat a carb. But what about when my friend prepared a meal for me and it’s pasta? My obsession with my body image is hurting people I love. I’m perpetuating a me-centered culture that counters the selflessness of Christ.
Jesus, who had a whole lot on His plate, still took time for people. And yet I allow myself to neglect my neighbor the moment I get preoccupied. My good intentions for health are covered in plastic and they’re toxic, not only to my community but to myself as well.
My desire to lose weight, much like my desire to recycle more and use products without harsh chemicals, is a good thing. But instead of simply losing weight, I’ve taken it to a new level that’s negatively affecting how I treat others and how I view myself.
So what should I do?
Stop eating healthy and stop exercising? Absolutely not! But my goals for weight loss can’t take priority over loving my neighbor. Maybe I should take a step back and realize that having a bowl of pasta at my friend’s house or eating a “cheat” meal with my neighbors on Sunday isn’t going to destroy my weight loss goals.
I also need to remember that no matter how much weight I lose or how many raw almonds I eat, my fiancé loves me in my current size. He didn’t propose to me with a “but you gotta lose 20 pounds” condition on the end. Praise the Lord!
I want to be able to share a meal with my friends and family without feeling insecure, which means I need to reevaluate my priorities. If loving my neighbor like I love myself is of the utmost importance, and yet I have a distorted view of myself, how am I able to love my neighbor fully?
Health is important, but it’s not something to obsess over. I’m learning that when I do obsess over it, I need to take a step back and think critically — finding the reason for my obsession and also looking at how those thoughts and actions may be negatively impacting my community.
Now when I look at the plastic wrapped around my organic soap, I reminded to take a look at the bigger picture, to see how even good intentions might have elements that are toxic to the world around me.
About the Author
Dani Fitzgerald Brown is a small-town journalist living in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a small city outside of Pittsburgh. She’s married to her best friend, Mike Brown, who can make her laugh no matter the circumstance. Dani often listens to audiobooks, drinks copious amounts of mint tea and is constantly munching on popcorn.