In “Extreme Makeover, Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture,” Teresa Tomeo presents a personal plan of cultural detox from the oppressive influence of the media. “It’s sad to say many have accepted the lies of the world as truth. Contraception, abortion, sexual promiscuity and same-sex relationships are—if you listen to the mass media—as American as Apple Pie. In our efforts to be tolerant, we have accepted everything, and we are losing ourselves in the process.” Even with the bra-burning feminists of the 1960s, “many women today believe that in a tough economic times a youthful appearance, not hard work or a better resume, will help secure a job position,” writes the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Teresa writes, “despite buying into this message, I found my way back to God and my Catholic heritage. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy. But with God all things are possible. Yes, I was battered and bruised. But I survived. Even more than that, by the grace of almighty God, I blossomed into the woman I was truly meant to be.”
Five times as many journalists in the United States describe themselves as liberal as opposed to conservative. How can we get accuracy and truth, particularly in matters of faith and morals? As Matthew Kelly says, “The way people see the world is the way they live their lives.”
We know that media bias attacks the church especially in areas of sexuality and marriage. Among the staggering statistics is that the sexual content on TV nearly doubled between 1997 and 2001 alone. A whopping 75% of prime-time programs contain sexual content. More airtime promotes promiscuity and adultery than marital intimacy and fidelity by a ratio of almost three to one. Young people use the media an average of 53 hours a week and adults 40 hours a week. They see scenes depicting sex between unmarried partners outnumbering scenes depicting sex between spouses four to one.
Teresa addresses that the decline in morals and widespread falling away from the Church. She finds it the result of “the perfect cultural storm of the 1960s when the mass media exploded at the same time as the start of the women’s liberation movement and the sexual revolution.” This was a time of open dissent within the Catholic Church over Humanae Vitae prohibiting contraception. It also brought confusion and misunderstanding over the Second Vatican Council’s call to holiness. Instead of changing the culture, the culture is changing Catholics through desensitization as they gradually conform to our toxic culture.
Women hear a mixed message: achieve professional success based on their abilities not their appearance while hiding all effects of pregnancy or motherhood. Teresa’s theme is that a woman’s extreme makeover must start first with a cultural detoxification. We need to change our current way of seeing the world because it is affecting the way we live our lives. More important, it affects our relationship with God and one another. She slowly learned how much she betrayed as all women are, by voices and sources we learn to trust. But, “The truth is a person, Jesus Christ. The fullness of that truth is found in the Catholic Church.”
Through her syndicated talk show, Teresa thoroughly covers all aspects of pro-life. She gives a stunning look at how huge profits drive the abortion propaganda machine. Then debunks every distortion of the “safe, legal, and rare” equation.
She does the same with the contraception deceptions with the media selling sex as a “must-have and without-limits commodity.” Her own marriage preparation, without any mention of contraception, left her to discover on her own that it is a barricade to intimacy. She gives a historical and statistical picture of the pill as catalyst for other social ills. These include sexual promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, abortion, out-of–wedlock births and poverty, especially among single women.
So accepting the messages of our culture of death deceives many into sexual relationships outside of marriage. This leads to serious sin, serious physical and emotional illness and serious problems for society. The fruits of these relationships are higher divorce rates, more abortions, more children born out-of-wedlock, increased numbers of sexually transmitted diseases, major health complications, higher infertility rates, and increase objectification of women. “Listening to God and keeping sex right where it is supposed to be — between one man and one woman, husband and wife in the marital bed—helps us avoid all of these troubles and more. So which is more conducive to human happiness, “free sex” or the teaching of the Church?” she asks.
Women all over the world voice concerns over the culture’s portrayal of beauty and the unattainable images constantly paraded before them. Their lack of confidence about their appearance results in poor self-esteem and that lack of confidence is greatly influenced by the unrealistic standard of beauty in media messages. This happens regardless of their age and reflects the increased sexualization of girls. Humane Vitae warned that an oversexualized culture that accepted contraception and abortion would be harmful to women.
It took Teresa years of pain, struggle and study to figure out she is more that her body. What’s inside is more important that what’s outside. If women could see themselves as Christ sees them they would be fulfilled. Through her personal struggle with an eating disorder at a crucial point in her life she can relate to women who are trying to be loved by measuring up to an image of female beauty that is impossible to imitate or maintain. Eating disorders are deeply tied into self-image, which tries to mirror the super thin stars in the media. She gives stark statistics of increased hospitalizations of children with eating disorders and then gives a clear solution: realizing that we share in the dignity of the image of God.
Teresa calls Jesus, “Our biggest fan, our greatest liberator.” He broke the norms in many Gospel accounts of his relationships concerning women and their role in the culture. As she discovered the Church’s teachings on the dignity of women she was both thrilled with the documents and furious that she had not known about them earlier. As a delegate to the Vatican’s Women’s Congress in 2008, she gained new insight into the Church’s continuing efforts to help women understand and reach their full potential without losing their female identity. She believes that there is no place in contemporary society where a woman is more respected, supported or encouraged than in the Church.
She studied her way back into the faith as the Lord walked her step-by-step through the Scriptures and Church teachings. He showed her that the role he has for her and other women is not minimized or less important because women can’t be ordained to the priesthood. Women find fulfillment not only in physical motherhood, but also in spiritual motherhood. “In the Church,” she writes, “I could find out who I was meant to be in Christ.”
So how does this insight change a women’s life? Teresa presents a personal media reality check and spiritual beauty plan. This extreme makeover or cultural detox shows how every woman can be transformed by Christ instead of conformed to the culture. Her guidelines include: See yourself as a daughter of the King. Let go of the past through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Try to silence the noise in your life—the media and your own talking—and listen to God’s plans for you. Remember that the Blessed Mother is watching you—along with all the great saints of our Church. Brush up on your Catholicism. Read and know scripture. Always consider the source of the news media. Teresa lists creative ideas to take control of media use in the home plus dozens of resources as tools to help in this extreme makeover.
The questions at the end of each chapter are all thought-provoking, but those dealing with self-image were especially soul-searching.
She finds encouraging signs from the cultural front lines, situations of abortion, contraception and embryonic stem cell research where the teachings of the Church triumph. We are not alone but among a growing majority of Americans of faith and traditional values whose pro-life efforts are having an impact and helping Catholic and conservative media continue to expand. The Church will withstand all the attacks against her. Teresa concludes with twelve amazing testimonies based on the timeless truths she so passionately champions.
“Extreme Makeover” was published by Ignatius Press in 2011.