On Weakness and Temptation: The Checkout Aisle and Me

I learned growing up that everyone has their own particular weaknesses, their own particular points of temptation. For men it might be porn, for women it might be gossip. In order to avoid your temptation you might have to avoid a particular store – like Victoria’s Secret – or a particular activity – like watching chic flicks. Mine was the checkout aisle.
Every time I approached the checkout aisle at the grocery, I knew I was in for a battle. It was the magazines, you see.

The trouble wasn’t that most of the models on the magazines were immodestly dressed. I was a girl, after all, and (in my understanding at the time) only boys dealt with that trouble. Instead, the problem was that the magazines were not godly. They were worldly and broadcast worldly ideas. I had to avoid such corruption like the plague.

And so as I entered the checkout aisle, I would do my best to avert my eyes. Let me tell you, not looking at something you really want to look at is really hard, especially when you insert the allure of the forbidden. Sometimes, furtively, so that my mother or sisters wouldn’t see, I would glance at the magazine covers.
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And then I would avert my eyes in shame. Once again, I had faced temptation and lost. The guilt followed me out of the store. Why did I feel such a desire to look, I wondered. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t avoid worldly things and keep my mind on what was pure?
I felt sorry for my brothers, because they had it worse than I did. When we would go to the mall, which was rare, my mom would tell them “look right” or “look left” or “eyes on the floor” to warn them when there was a storefront with immodest mannequins or pictures. When we would watch a movie that had women dressed immodestly or kissing or making out, mom would tell the boys when to look away. If it was hard for me to keep my eyes to myself in the checkout aisle, how much harder it must be for my poor brothers to avoid the temptation the world set in front of them, practically naked, every day!
I hadn’t thought about all this for a long time, but was reminded of it this past weekend in the checkout aisle. As I stood looking at the magazine covers, laughing at the images and article titles, I suddenly had a flashback and remembered the struggle I used to have there. I remembered the angst, the shame, the guilt, the fear. And I realized that it was gone, totally and completely gone. I still feel the desire to look at the magazines in the checkout aisle, but now I simply laugh at them.
Today, I’m not concerned that the magazines in the checkout aisle will cause me any harm because I no longer see them as anything other than what they are, magazines. Sometimes I even leaf through one as I wait, something I never would have dreamed of long ago. The power these magazines used to hold over me is gone.
I wonder sometimes if these ideas of “weaknesses” and “temptations” don’t create more problems than they solve. The thing is, a glance at these magazine covers would never have caused me to lose my faith. By thinking that they might lead me astray, though, I gave them a power over me that they never would have had otherwise. By seeing them as something forbidden and corrupting, I only elevated my desire to look and magnified my sense of guilt and shame if I did.
I think of my brothers. Did believing that looking at this or that storefront in the mall, or this or that modernly dressed actor, would lead them astray into sin and corruption actually magnify these things and invest them with a power they would not otherwise have had? Did holding these things up as forbidden make them a stumbling block in their own faith lives in a way they need not have been?
Either way, I’m glad the checkout aisle has ceased to be a place of battle for me. Rather than feel guilt and shame and self-loathing for looking, I can laugh at the magazine covers and then head home with a light heart and a car full of groceries.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10353346026765317698 College At Thirty

    There's probably a lot to be said about temptation here. If you were never worried about your immortal soul, would you have even cared about the magazines? Or would you have looked at them, seen them, and then forgotten them the next minute? But since it's forbidden, it's a temptation and therefore you feel yourself looking regardless. It seems to be a theme with quiverful that so much emphasis is put on the body, which makes it impossible to see anything other than that despite the fact that no one is supposed to look at it.

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    Sexual feelings are natural and dare I say it, good. In my opinion, if someone is taught appropriate (not repressive) boundaries like self respect and protection, then a bit of exploration is not going to effect a person negatively. Who hasn't taken a Cosmo sex quiz when young and giggled over the results? People who have been taught it is evil, that's who. I think it just makes it more like forbidden fruit, rather than a silly stage. Strange how they don't seem to mind violence, but show them a bare breast and they squeal in horror.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03935383254039552080 Rebecca

    Oh, my goodness, I was smiling as I read this. Oh, the checkout aisle! I remember when I was around 13 – we always had two lists and carts with our family, and I would always rush to get done before my mother so that I could snatch a "lying magazine," as we called those in the checkout aisle, and duck out of sight behind a shelf to page through it. Ah, yes, wickedness, indeed.My sister and I have confessed recently to each other sins we each were committing in secret. It's so funny because we were both honestly convinced growing up that the other was the more moral when we merely hid our sins. We had a different grandmother than our five younger siblings and would have ample opportunity to sin whilst visiting her. Apparently my sister would lock herself in her bedroom at night to read the cheap romance novels with inappropriate covers.And I, I could rarely resist the worldy library books which invariably included sex scenes. I became an expert at flipping to where things got hot and heavy in the novel. Then of course I would flush with guilt and wonder what was wrong with me.I'll never forget the culture shock that came with going to college – and a little Christian one at that! – as an English minor and being required to read book after book with sex scenes. AND my roommates subscribed to Glamour – and watched movies with nudity – and were CHRISTIANS. I couldn't get over it.Now I subscribe to Glamour and occasionally even pick up a Cosmo without the slightest twinge of guilt, or browse through a People in line. What's really weird is seeing my mother do the same. I have been living at home since last summer, since my poor mother is in the midst of a messy divorce with my horrid stepfahter, and frequently as we watch an episode of Friends while drinking a glass of wine or go see a rated R movie in the theater together, I will be struck with the surrealness of it all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15824217102632813598 Tanit-Isis

    This is so funny and beautiful! I always read the magazine covers at the checkout—avidly. I wouldn't be caught dead actually *buying* one, but they're pretty much impossible not to read.It reminds me a little of my experience learning to drive. I had a couple of (minor) accidents when I was first learning to drive as a teen, that put me off it for the better part of a decade. When I did finally get my licence, in my mid-twenties, I found driving incredibly stressful. I could do it, but it caused me intense anxiety; every stop-sign, left turn, parking job left my heart beating like crazy.Then, we moved to a much bigger city. And oddly, despite the traffic being much more intense, my anxiety about driving was much less. I realized that most of my anxiety was triggered by particular places in my hometown—not the actual process of driving itself. Changing location removed the triggers, the anxiety went away—and months later, returning home for a visit, all I could do was laugh at how stressed out I used to get. It's an amazing, beautiful feeling when you truly conquer an anxiety…. which doesn't really relate to the religious aspect, at all, except that so many of our anxieties are self-created and silly, from the outside. Unfortunately that doesn't make it any easier to get rid of them—I'm glad leaving religion has helped you with yours! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06401440551873070129 Elin

    I do not read the type of magazines you refer to because I find them demeaning to both women and men although I read them as a teen but at about 15-16 I realized their message and stopped reading them. I was not a Christian at the time, I just started seeing that they made women seem shallow and men just care about sex and that was what I saw in life. I was of course never forbidden to read them and I could thankfully form my own opinion in the end.I do believe we have weaknesses that we should be aware of and things that tempt us towards bad behavior and that we should be aware of this and work on betting these sides but I believe that this is up to the individual and that like your mum tell your brothers to look away is not productive. I am for example a vain person and I work on that to better myself and my relationship with god but I do not expect myself to reach perfection.

  • Anonymous

    Oh wow, I could so relate to this post! I had all those same silly inhibitions as a kid. Now when I'm stuck in line bored at the grocery store I idly read the covers of all the magazines and think nothing of it, aside from amusement as you describe. It's a much more relaxed way to face grocery shopping, that's for sure! Leah

  • ee

    It's funny, because part of that philosophy is that "men can't control their urges", so it's the woman's fault for whatever happens to her (rape, harrassment, etc). I hate that sort of reasoning, and it's disprespectiful to both genders. When I was 14 and heard it for the first time, although I identified as Christian, I knew that was off. But it was my youth pastor who told me!I tossed it for good when my extremely conservative youth pastor was convicted for raping two teenage girls. Apparently "they were asking for it." Gross!

  • Meggie

    Very interesting to read this having just read an article on 'No Longer Qivering' saying that if you tell someone over and over again that they are weak eventually they will believe it. The example they use is lifting shopping bags – someone carries them for you because you are weak and eventually you believe that you can't carry them. It makes sense that if you are told over and over that something will corrupt you, you are going to believe it and fear it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14097266657351609701 Jeri

    I was thinking about this subject while I flipped through Cosmo during a pedicure the other day. Seems so harmless and silly now.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17967070182847617840 kisekileia

    I think this is a huge, huge contributing factor to alleged porn addiction and other problematic sexual behaviour among evangelical and fundamentalist men. People obsess over suppressing their sexuality to an unrealistic extent, and because of that, they end up obsessed with sex. If they changed their attitudes towards porn the way you changed your attitude towards those magazines, they'd be perfectly normal and functional people.

  • Steve

    The fact that such thoughts and feelings are natural and involuntary is precisely the reason why they are a "sin". Churches invent thought crimes that people are bound to commit. Then they offer a "cure", knowing with absolute certainty that people will be back soon for another dose.In the process they also make people feel ashamed and worthless, which makes them easier to control in other areas

  • Anonymous

    hahaha! I was raised almost EXACTLY the same way! And you're completely right! My brother was actually discussing this with me recently, how much "power" these extremely conservative Christians give to the magazines, the sex, the kissing, the making out etc. They put them up on a pedestal and make far bigger of an issue out of it than it should be made. Sex, period, is something that the conservative Christian church makes out into something far bigger than it was ever intended to be. So much so, that their teens are paranoid, guilt-ridden and obsessed with it. I know I was!I also felt extremely guilty looking at the magazines in the checkout aisle, and my mom taught me to turn them around if one was particularly "nudey". My family would also fast-forward any "evil" part of any movie (kissing, nudity, wet-body scenes! anything that might come across sexual or demonic). Even Prince of Egypt upset my mother because of the "Playing with the big boys now" song, so my younger siblings know when t jump up and fastforward through that song because it calls out the names of the "false" Egyptian gods. /facepalm.

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