Your Body Image Will Affect Her Body Image

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I'd like to start by saying that I may be the least qualified person to write an article on healthy body image. And yet as unqualified as I feel, I know I must write about it. Maybe in a strange way, I'm more qualified than I think because it's something I've struggled with. It isn't easy for me to write about; In fact, I've been working on this for a week and deleted hours of work, only to start over. I'm sorting it out in my brain as I go, and if I sound preachy at any point, please know, I'm preaching at myself! So with that disclaimer in place, here we go. Body image. Drumroll please...

I've often wondered, what in the world ever made me think so much about my appearance? It doesn't take much thinking to figure it out. We live in a culture obsessed with outward appearance. Starting in middle school--if not grade school--it seems like the most popular girls are always the prettiest, most well dressed. In college there's pressure not to gain the dreaded "freshman 15" (I gained 30, thank you very much), and if you do gain weight, there's temptation to experiment with diet pills, crash diets, and even eating disorders in order to stay thin. Everywhere we look, there are billboards, commercials and magazine covers with seemingly perfect women: perfect hair, skin, teeth, clothes, and of course, body. We rarely stop to remember what we've probably been told somewhere along the way, that these women are airbrushed to perfection. Pounds shaved off, cellulite smoothed, skin magically cleared, breasts 'enhanced', teeth whitened. It's fake, but it still makes us women somehow feel less-than. While we should all strive to be healthy, striving for an unattainable, unrealistic pants size is...well, it's tempting. I know, I've been there. It's tempting, it's vain, and it can become all consuming. When we allow ourselves to gaze jealously at the women on the cover of magazines, we are setting ourselves up for discontentment with the amazing, beautiful, unique person that God lovingly, painstakingly created us to be; to look like. And we forget that we were created for the sole purpose of glorifying God by loving him and loving others. (I've found that the busier I am loving others, the less I think of myself and my appearance; and also, the more focused I am on myself and my appearance, the less I find myself looking for ways to love others. Funny how that works...)

Can I be honest? The women I often find myself envying are not those who are dressed to the nines. I don't envy other women's shoe collections, perfect hair, or seemingly perfect lives. I envy the woman who is absolutely, unabashedly unashamed of her body. Whether she is overweight or underweight, short or tall, flat chested or ample. Whether she has visible stretch marks or a less-than-flat tummy, tangible evidence that she birthed one or more babies from her body. These are the women I envy. You know the ones? They walk confidently, head held high. They dress nicely, wearing clothes that they actually like, not clothes made to hide every imperfection. And they rarely, if ever, make comments about what they'd like to fix about themselves.

Oh that we could all be like this! That we could all find our worth in who we are in Christ, and that that would be enough! I'm not saying that if a woman is overweight and desires to get healthy, she shouldn't bother. In fact, health is what we should all strive for--regardless of our weight, but we so often confuse being healthy with being skinny. You may be healthiest at size six, whereas I'm most healthy at size eight. Women struggling with certain medical issues may not budge below size ten or twelve. God made each of us so uniquely different, health can look a hundred different ways, but the absolute truth is that we need to think less about what size jeans we wear and more about what size heart we have! Consider the following:

"Rather, it [beauty] should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:4

"Charm is deceptive and beauty fades, but a women who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30

"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

If we want our daughters to have beautiful hearts, it starts with us putting our hearts before our appearances. Our daughters pick up on everything, and you better believe that they hear you when you complain to your husband about your tummy pooch or your jiggly arms. Conversely, they hear you when you talk about matters of the heart. Not only do they pick up on our words, they see every little action. Our daughters see us spend time in front of the mirror and they see us spending time in the Word, in prayer, in serving others. Which one do they see more of? Stop and really think about that (I am too).

Please do not misunderstand. Exercising is good. Eating healthy is wonderful! In fact, I teach boot camp and fitness classes, and am a former personal trainer. I read about nutrition for fun. I am definitely a huge proponent of eating well and exercising. Letting your daughters see you exercise and take care of your physical body is fine! In fact, when my girls ask, "Mommy, why do you exercise?", I tell them that it's because it helps keep me strong so that I can take care of them and have more fun with them. That's the truth and it completely satisfies their need for an answer every single time, plus it's giving them the right mindset about exercise from a very young age: exercise is (or at least, it should be) about keeping a person physically and mentally healthy. Period. Please, don't ever answer your daughter's question with, "I'm exercising to lose weight" or "To get rid of these gross love handles." Instead, tell her the benefits of exercise; how it gives you more energy, makes you strong, and helps you be mentally healthy (a proven benefit of exercise). We should never teach our daughters that exercise is about achieving a six-pack, fitting into those size 4 jeans we've had tucked away, or having killer thighs.

When our daughters start to realize that we find ourselves flawed physically, they immediately wonder about their own physical flaws. Just hearing us say something negative about our appearance makes them suddenly very aware of their own appearance, and makes them wonder what they need to change or improve about themselves. It sets them up for a lifetime of striving for physical improvement, which so easily spirals into the unattainable and incredibly vain desire to look perfect. Again, let's look at the opposite side of the coin: If our daughters see us spending more time on things of lasting value, then they will naturally grow up believing that those are the things that matter. Let's spend a moment in honest reflection together. Does your daughter see you reading your Bible? Does she see you praying? Visiting someone in need and maybe making a meal for them? Using your gifts to help others and to glorify God? Does she have the privilege of having you read Bible stories to her? Praying with her throughout the day? Playing with her? OR, does she see you spend an hour in front of the mirror getting ready, checking out your butt in the mirror with a sour expression on your face, changing cloths a million times as you complain how nothing fits and how you wish you were skinnier? Does she watch you do a hundred squats and sit ups when really, she's dying to go outside and play hopscotch with you? Does she see you put in more hours at the gym each week than you do quality time with your husband? Honestly, she should see both. Both are good. We just need to make sure the scale isn't tipped the wrong way, where we're spending more time on ourselves than on others and with the Lord.

My daughter's are two, four, and five (close to six). I've been very aware lately that they see me spend more time getting ready than they see me reading my Bible. Part of this is because I try to read early before they get up. Having my girls know what my priorities are in life is such an important issue to me that I've started--if only a couple of days a week--writing while they're asleep and opening up my Bible later in the day when they're awake, because I need them to know that mommy doesn't just talk about how important the Bible is, but they actually see me reading it. And as much as I love a good hard workout, I'm learning that taking them for a walk in the field and skipping with them, jumping over giant gopher holes, and giving them piggy back rides, can suffice for a decent days exercise. Again, there's not a thing wrong with them seeing me do sprints in the driveway or lunges in the living room on a rainy day, but I want to continually check my heart. What my family sees is a reflection of my heart. Is my heart leaning toward God or toward self? I think it's a question we should continually ask ourselves and answer honestly, making sure the tipping point stays toward God.

I know this isn't fun to read. I assure you, it wasn't fun for me to write. I had to take a hard look at my habits, my thought patterns, and my own actions. I realized that this is a struggle that comes in seasons for me. I'll have a season where I'm content and think very little about my appearance; when I do think about it (like when I'm getting ready in the morning), I'm just fine with who God made me. I'm not obsessed with the saggy skin on my stomach, proof of carrying and birthing three babes. I'm not squeezing my way into jeans that I only wished fit, and complaining to my husband about my butt. There's such freedom in living like that. Getting up and getting dressed and ready and then just living life without thinking about what you look like all day long. It's wonderful and it frees your mind up to be focused on all the important things around you. But then, I have seasons where I'm entirely too focused on external aspects of myself. Where I see every stretch mark, every miniscule wrinkle, the slightly crooked teeth and the mousy colored hair. It takes me forever to get dressed and I feel self conscious when I'm out. Most, if not all of us have been there at some time or another (postpartum anyone?). So what do we do when we find ourselves struggling with our body image? Here are just a few ways:

  1. Pray. Confess your struggle to the Lord and just talk to him! I feel so much lighter after just telling him why I'm struggling with something--even though I know he already knows! Ask him to help your focus return to him instead of self. Believe that he will help you overcome this frustrating struggle.
  2. As Ellie Holcomb sings in her latest album, use your "fighting words"! She's referring to fighting our inner battles with scripture. Use the scriptures I referenced above, or find some that ring true to you.
  3. Focus on the things you do like about yourself. It's easy to get so caught up in our imperfections that we forget about our assets. My husband never notices when I have a pimple (at least he claims he doesn't...), but when I have one, that's literally all I can see. Same with weight. No one else notices when my weight fluctuates five or ten pounds, but I obsess over it. I forget all about what I like about my appearance--and it's okay to like things about yourself! It doesn't make you vain or prideful:)
  4. Go out of your way to do something kind for someone else. Something out of the ordinary and unexpected. It will remind you that you are really, truly the most beautiful when you're heart is beautiful.
  5. Remember that your body is amazing: Truly, incredibly, unbelievably amazing! It carried life and delivered a tiny human into the world. It fed that tiny human for months, and now it keeps that human alive every single day! Your body bends and twists and works hard every day as you pick up and carry little ones, pick up messes, clean up spills, and give out countless hugs. Your body is capable of all that and it is amazing! Believe it!
Mama, your daughter adores you (even if she's a teenager and pretends not to!) She picks up your habits and idiosyncrasies and attitudes. You know the expression, "Like mother, like daughter"? It's true. Your daughter will become like you more than you know! I don't know about you, but I want my daughters to grow up being strong and healthy, living an active lifestyle and eating nutritious food that they enjoy! Not growing up trying to fit in a certain pants size, dieting, weighing themselves everyday and thinking about their bodies all the time. Scary as it seems sometimes, I have got to take responsibility for my actions and recognize the role that I play in their current and future thoughts and beliefs on this matter. Will they be more concerned with cultivating a beautiful heart or trying to cultivate what the world says is a beautiful body? I hope and pray that I lead them in the right direction, that I can be confident in my physical appearance in a healthy way that says, "Yes, I'm just fine with my body, but I'm also just not that concerned with it!"

I desperately want myself and my daughters to be women who fear the Lord, who are wise and strong and gentle-spirited and loving and full of faith and mercy and grace. With a tall order like that...who has time for obsessing over the imperfections?


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