OK, I didn’t come up with the headline, but I sent this OpEd to the Tribune on a whim a few weeks ago and it landed in the Editorial section today:
Two recent studies have spotlighted Utah and Salt Lake City. First, according to Mental Health America, Utah is the most depressed state in the nation. I wasn’t surprised in the least by the findings. I’ve heard about the legions of Mormon women on Prozac for years and have seen depression up close in my friends and relatives.
The second study was done by Forbes magazine and declared Salt Lake City the most vain city in the United States. Forbes was shocked by its own findings (based primarily on plastic surgeons per capita) but again, I wasn’t surprised. Any outing in Salt Lake whether it be to a sporting event, PTA meeting or baby shower reveals masses of gorgeous women who work very hard to maintain their beauty.
So do these studies have a connection? Does our vanity, our obsession with perfection, our worries about what others think, contribute to depression? I believe they do.
Salt Lake City is a haven of outdoor sports, clean living and fresh faces. But it is also a society with an inexplicable desire to “measure up.” This isn’t simply an LDS phenomenon, but our unique population mix seems to encourage everyone to go faster, higher, stronger.
In many ways this friendly competition and desire to succeed are good things. Utah boasts more charitable service hours per capita than any other state. Our children test well and attend college in high numbers. We have a relatively low childhood obesity rate. Most kids are involved in sports. And we certainly are beautiful.
I admit to being quite vain myself. I run several miles daily, pluck my eyebrows, apply wrinkle/acne cream each night and spend far too much time and money on my wardrobe.
And to some degree my vanity brings me happiness. I know from experience that I am much happier showered and dressed nicely even if my day consists of nothing more than grocery shopping and tending sick children. I love the vigor and agility that decades of fitness have given me. I know that I am kinder and gentler with other people when I feel good about myself.
But I’ve also seen the darker side of my vanity when I obsess over flaws and pounds and become self-consumed. In these times depression haunts me as I become jealous and anxious.
When I was expecting my third son, I called my husband from the doctor’s office. “I’ve gained 10 pounds this month! I’m so fat! What is wrong with my body?”
In his sweet but firm way, my husband replied, “You are pregnant. You are supposed to gain weight. There’s nothing wrong with you. If you want to see someone whose body has turned on her go up to LDS Hospital to see your friend Anne in the cancer ward. She would be happy to have those 10 pounds.”
My friend Anne died of cancer the next day. She was 28 years old and left a loving husband and darling 3-year-old daughter behind. Anne never had the chance to grow old and flabby and gray.
I’d like to say that after Anne’s death I never whined about my weight or appearance again, but, sadly, I still complain.
Yet, in my heart I know that bulges and wrinkles and gray hair are the rewards of life and love and laughter. Bring it on. I will happily lose my looks for the pleasure of raising my children.
Ah, Salt Lake. I am glad we are so beautiful. It’s lovely to live in a city that strives for excellence. But let’s be sure our desire for beauty and success doesn’t cloud our happiness. We simply have so much to live for.
* MICHELLE LEHNARDT is a sometimes writer, avid runner and full-time mother to five sons and one daughter. She lives in Salt Lake City. Link to Salt Lake Tribune