I, like most girls, have fought the lifelong battle with body-image.
And how can we not, girls? The media tells us to have a size zero waist, a Kim Kardashian rear-end, Angelina Jolie lips, Carrie Underwood legs….and the list goes on. The media tells us we need x product to get the above results. If you have a Michael Kors purse, a wardrobe from Anthropologie, the whole line of Kylie whoever’s lipstick, etc., you will finally be happy. These things are just not achievable. We really can’t have it all. We really can’t do it all. We really can’t buy it all. And we know that. Yet, we still try.
Our moms were inundated with the same hoopla from the media and, as a result, they have never been satisfied with their appearances either. So, as a result, we grew up hearing it – not only from TV, magazines, and the internet – but from our own beloved mothers as well. It’s a vicious cycle. And now, I’ve begun to wonder…how do I prevent my future daughter from having the same impossible ideals drilled into her mind?
Here’s a little bit of my story.
When I was in probably 3rd grade, I started to put on weight. I don’t know if it was stress from both of my parents getting remarried, stress from school, stress from friendships starting to be more drama-filled, or what, but it happened. In 4th grade, I was standing in line with the rest of my class in my favorite pink dress at the time. A little boy turned to me and asked me if I was pregnant. I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say! What is a little 4th grade girl supposed to say to a comment like that?! I started to sniffle back tears and turned away as one of my friends defended me and told him how rude that was. I don’t think I ever wore that dress again. In 5th grade, I asked a few of my friends if I was fat. They told me, no, that I wasn’t fat…but that I was just “curvier” than the rest of our friend group. Then, around 6th or 7th grade, I started getting more active and following a running schedule. This really wasn’t motivated out of a desire to lose weight, although I am sure that desire existed. I had just begun to enjoy running. It was starting to become a hobby of mine.
I stayed relatively the same size until about sophomore year. That year, I was going through a really stressful and difficult breakup, so I didn’t eat a whole lot because I couldn’t. Then, I got more serious about cross-country and track. Staying “in shape” became almost effortless. And out of nowhere, I noticed that my confidence – or rather cockiness and pride – had skyrocketed. This is where things get difficult to admit. I would literally walk into a room, thinking silently, “I’m the prettiest, best-dressed, and most in-shape person in this room.”
Pause for a moment. That may seem like self-confidence…but I can tell you for a fact that if a person actually thinks that way, there are some underlying issues that may, like mine, stem from the desire to cover up how they are actually feeling. Long story short…it wasn’t self confidence. It was a body image issue, even then.
Well, when I went to college, some big stressors entered my life – like leaving my whole family behind, my little brother getting diagnosed with cancer, dissatisfaction with my major, and overall cluelessness of what I wanted to do – and eating became a source of comfort. Like so many of us do in college, I gained weight.
Flash-forward to today. I have never even thought for a moment that I am a person who struggles with body-image. And then I got married. My sweet husband has heard me criticize my long hair, criticize my short hair, hate my weight, talk about the rolls in my stomach, talk about what I don’t like about my nose….and so many other things! Us girls can stand in front of a mirror and openly hate on our bodies, taking turns saying things we detest about our thighs, our knees, our legs, our chests, our tummies, and on and on without even realizing we are doing it! And then a most wonderful man comes along and says, “Why on earth are you being so mean to yourself!? You are perfect and I love everything about you!”
So…how do I prevent my future daughter from having the same mindset that I am plagued with drilled into her mind?
- I have to learn to be grateful for the body I have. Ladies, our bodies are amazing. We can run and walk and climb and write and sing and dance and laugh! We can make, carry, birth, and feed babies! We can feel and taste and see and smell and hear! What if the next time you said something nasty about yourself – out loud or in your mind – you had to express three things you love about the very thing you just criticized? What if you had to do that every single time? Could you? I read a book that encouraged the reader to stand in front of the mirror and thank God for their whole body from head to toe. I actually tried it today and by the end, I found myself believing all of it. For the whole entire day, I was not nearly as hard on myself! What if, instead of growing up seeing us stand in the mirror, ripping ourselves apart for not being perfect, our (future) daughters watched us stand in front of the mirror and express gratitude for all that our bodies are capable of? How different could their mindset be?!
- I have to protect her from the world’s idea of beauty. The world’s beauty ideals are not only not possible, but they are also W-R-O-N-G, wrong!!! True beauty radiates from within. A girl who is “gorgeous” is a girl who smiles often, who is confident in her abilities, and who is humble about her strengths. A girl worthy of being called “beautiful” is a girl whose soul is lovely, who treats fellow humans with love and respect, who loves to serve others, who works hard, and who just shines with positive energy. Call me crazy, but I am considering the possibility of not having cable or satellite TV in the home in which Max and I raise our future children. Currently, all we have is an antenna that gets like 3 channels worth watching. It has honestly been so helpful to me for a number of reasons. How far would you go to protect precious little eyeballs and brains from absorbing the world’s standards of behavior, beauty, and success? We complain and complain about how the media is inundating young children with sexually explicit material (the reason I will never again go to Hardees/Carls Jr. or Burger King)…but are we willing to TURN OFF the TV? UNPLUG the computer? TAKE AWAY the smart phone? I know, I know…”I don’t have children” so “what do I know.” *rolling my eyes sassily*
In my opinion, a truly beautiful girl is one who follows after Jesus Christ, and who allows His sacrificial love and His grace to captivate her heart and change her from the inside out. And God has a lot of truth to share about how lovely Jesus can make us simply because we belong to Him! He says that, although we are physically wasting away, our minds are being renewed by Him every day (2 Corinthians 4:16). He shares a little humor with us when he says that we shouldn’t fuss so much over what we wear, how we do our hair, or how we paint our faces because the flowers don’t fuss over such things…and yet they are still so naturally pretty (Matthew 6:28-29)! There’s a fantastic chapter in the Bible, Proverbs 31, about things a woman can be that really are beautiful…and guess what? Physical appearance is hardly mentioned except to say that her arms are STRONG for the work she does, her hands are BUSY, and that she is clothed in STRENGTH and DIGNITY. These are beautiful traits! These are things we CAN change and achieve!
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her WORKS bring her praise at the city gate.” Proverbs 31:30-31 (emphases mine)
I realize that not everyone reading this may believe the same things that I do, and that is okay. My point in sharing these verses are is to plead with you that your value does not come from your physical appearance because your physical appearance will decline. What makes you PRECIOUS and VALUABLE is what’s inside of you – how hard you work, how passionately you love, how kind you are, and the things YOU value and believe!
I know that this is an every day battle. I still wrestle with it and continue to wrestle with it until I am completely content with my appearance AS IT IS because I know that it is not what makes me special. I have come a long way since thinking a was hot stuff in high school. I have also come a long way since crying in the line in 4th grade when a little boy – who likely didn’t understand what he was saying, but probably had been inundated with the media’s standards of beauty for women – asked if I was pregnant. Still…I must continue to fight the good fight because I have got a long way to go. My recommendation, because it is something that is helping me tremendously, is to have a handful of people who will hold you accountable to being nicer to yourself. My husband and a few of my closest friends are my advocates in this. You have to find yours in order to change!