A “Rare” Expression of Self-Worth from Selena Gomez

Along with Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez has proven to be one of the more enduring pop icons of the last decade. In January, she returned with her third studio album—the first in four years—and it’s like she never left. On her new album, “Rare”, the 27-year-old singer pens lyrics on identity and self-worth that suggest that we will never be satisfied if we find our self-worth in the opinions of others.

 

Many of the album’s songs share the themes of identity and self-worth. On “People You Know,” Gomez sings:

And what hurts the most is people can go
From people you know to people you don’t

Gomez expresses how painful it is when the people we find our identity in change, going from “people we know” to “people we don’t.” Just like people change, their opinions of us will change, and that can be unbearably painful.

A Need to be Loved
The album’s title song, “Rare,” tells the story of how Gomez feels she is ignored, unloved, and forgotten by the person she cares about the most. She sings,

It feels like you don’t care
Oh, why don’t you recognize I’m so rare?
Always there
You don’t do the same for me
That’s not fair

Gomez recognizes that there is something not right, or “not fair,” when a person does not recognize the worth of another person. Feeling unvalued, she proclaims that she knows that she is valuable, and wonders why this person in her life does not recognize how rare she is.

I don’t have it all
I’m not claiming to
But I know that I’m special, yeah
And I’ll bet there’s somebody else out there
To tell me I’m rare, to make me feel rare

Because Gomez is seeking someone to put her identity in, she needs to find someone who will tell her that she is rare. Similarly, most of us, when we feel like we are not valued or appreciated by others, question whether we are worth anything at all. This is because, to some extent, each of us finds our identity in those around us and what they think. Even those of us who care the least about the opinions of those around us cannot help being affected by what others think.

Clearly, Gomez has experience putting her identity in other people and she has paid the price for it. But she has also learned that identity doesn’t come from others. She sings in the album’s first single, “Lose You to Love Me,”

I needed to lose you to find me
This dance, it was killing me softly
…I needed to lose you to love me

Gomez realized that putting her value in another person was “killing her softly,” and the solution was to let go of that person and stop allowing them to define her. In Gomez’s words, this allowed her to both “find herself” and “love herself”.

Where We Find “Rare” Love
Having an identity that is even partly rooted in the opinions of others puts us on unsteady ground because the opinions of others can always change. We may find ourselves standing on sand that washes right out from under our feet when peoples’ good opinions of us change. If being seen as attractive, smart, successful, or popular defines who we are, an identity crisis is inevitable.

The solution to this identity crisis is finding our identity in something other than peoples’ opinions of us; something rock solid.

Gomez is right that we need to know and feel that we are loved. Because we were made to be in relationship with God and others, the desire to be loved and accepted is a good desire. Similar to the “argument from desire” articulated by C.S. Lewis, that we have a desire to be loved does not prove that we will be loved, but it does make it probable that there is such a thing as love and we were made for it. Yet, even if we surround ourselves with supportive and loving people, we will not solve our crises of identity or experience lasting love. We don’t just need to learn to “love ourselves” or feel love from a significant other or friends; we need to know that we are loved by Jesus Christ. Rebecca McLaughlin writes this in her book, Confronting Christianity, concerning finding our identity in Jesus instead of in this world:

“Modern Western society teaches me to prioritize discovering my authentic self, peeling back the onion layers of my identity and living out of what I find there at all costs. But from a Christian perspective, who I am in relation to God is my authentic self. I find myself not in the depths of my psychology but in the depths of his heart. And when he calls you or me ‘child,’ ‘beloved,’ ‘friend,’ that’s who we are, and any other identity—male, female, father, mother, child, friend—flows out of that.”¹

God gets to decide who we are, and he has declared that we are valuable because we are made in his image. Gomez insists that she be loved because she is rare, but we do not receive love because of our rarity. We are not loved because we are rare people, but because Jesus is a rare person—the kind of person who would sacrifice himself on a cross because of his love for those who hated him (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9).

Our identity is not in what we do, but who we are. As many famous thinkers have said, we are “human beings,” not “human doings.” We are defined not by what we do, but by who we are: image-bearers of God. God does not love us any more or any less because of the things we do. Theologians often talk of God’s agape love—the highest form of love, sacrificial love given as a gift (“agape” is the Greek word for love used in the New Testament when speaking of how God loves us). God’s agape love for us is something that we can count on.

Knowing that our identity is secure in who God says we are frees us to rely less and less on the opinions of others. This in turn allows us to be more honest with others about who we are, because we do not need to present a certain version of ourselves to make people like us. When we find our identity in God, this draws us closer to God, but it also fosters genuine, meaningful relationships with those around us.

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