Episode 46: Redefining Beauty with Melissa Louise Johnson
Melissa Louise Johnson is a Marriage and Family Therapist, adjunct professor at Bethel University, and the founder of the Impossible Beauty blog and podcast. Through her work at Impossible Beauty, Melissa is on a mission to expand and renew beauty, as she believes the American brand of beauty is divisive, destructive, and far too narrow.
Melissa explores the concept of beauty with us in this episode of Peace Meal. She describes how cultural beauty messages impacted her childhood, adolescence, and the development of her eating disorder, as well as how she recognized and reckoned with these messages in recovery.
Appearance standards were set early in Melissa’s life. Animated princesses, sitcom actresses—all of the media’s kind and “good” characters—reinforced a singular image of beauty. External beauty was important, the media showed. And beautiful meant thin.
On top of these media images, another layer of cultural messaging emerged in Melissa’s adolescence and early adulthood. These messages, Melissa sees now, included disordered ideas about food and body. Her peers actively engaged in diets and swapped diet culture messages, all of which reinforced dieting as a means to meet the thin beauty ideal.
It was in eating disorder treatment that Melissa began to critically examine society’s messages about beauty, thinness, and dieting. In group therapy, she observed how these messages had impacted other people’s lives, her heart breaking at all the damage they inflicted.
“We’ve been so lied to about what beauty is and our worth,” she came to realize.
Increasingly aware of these cultural lies about physical appearance, Melissa sought to redefine the concept of beauty for herself and others. Toward that end, she created Impossible Beauty, a blog and podcast that aim to expand narrow societal standards.
In her work at Impossible Beauty, Melissa differentiates between culture’s fleeting, fickle standards of beauty and true beauty, which is eternal and unchanging. The blog and podcast invite others to examine appearance expectations as well.
“There is actually another path that we can take that actually values our humanity and the sacredness of us as eternal beings—who have so much value beyond how we align or don’t align to this very small picture of beauty,” Melissa says.
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About the podcast:
Peace Meal is an Emily Program podcast that discusses topics related to eating disorders, body image issues, and how society may contribute to distorted thinking.
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