I didn’t look up any stats before writing this post, but without searching the internet, I can almost guarantee that a MASSIVE number of women struggle with body image. And that doesn’t exclude the girls that the world defines as having “rockin’ bodies”. No, body image insecurity doesn’t discriminate. Whether you think you need to lose 20 pounds, or you’re in the best shape of your life, you’ve probably experienced the feeling of looking in the mirror and being discouraged by what you see.
Now to be clear, I don’t think it’s bad to strive to be the best version of yourself. I believe that we feel better when we eat healthy, work out and take care of our bodies. So it’s not bad to look in the mirror and say, “Ok, it’s probably about time that I take control of my eating habits, or try to be active in order to help my body feel better.” That’s not where the issue lies. No, struggling with body image, like many other problems, is an issue of the heart.
Flashback to the Past
One random school day back in 5th grade, a friend of mine decided that on this particular day and during this particular recess it would be the perfect time to tell my crush that I liked him. The moment those words left her lips, a multitude of things happened. My mouth dropped, my eyes bugged out of my head, my heart stopped and my brain exploded.
I waited for his response for what felt like years (it was hard to tell for sure with an imploded brain), until finally my guy friend (without so much as glancing my way) said, “I don’t like her, she’s ugly.”
I think the exact prayer I prayed after hearing his oh so gracious remark was, “God, please let me evaporate. Or at least shrink me down to the size of a grasshopper and let me hop safely away until I find a hole hide in for the rest of my life.”
But in all actuality, that’s when it started. The slow killing poison, known as insecurity, started making its way into my heart.
I went home that day and started noticing things about myself that I had never seen before. Up until then, I looked at myself in the mirror just like I would anyone else. Not looking for something to critique or fix. I started noticing that I didn’t look like everyone around me. The girl that was considered the most beautiful in the class was quite literally, the very opposite of me. Silky long blond hair, blue eyes, hardly any hair on her legs, and a beautiful smile with clear braces. I, on the other hand, didn’t mesh so well with puberty. My hair was a huge, frizzy mess because I got lice at my summer camp that year and my mom had to chop it all off. [Several times I had boys pretend to have lost their pen and then find it in my hair.] I was skinny and lanky with size 9 shoes (YES! SIZE 9!) with no understanding of style whatsoever. My face was round, my eyes were small, and my multi-colored braces just set everything off nicely.
For the first time in my life, I started comparing myself.
Fast forward to 8th grade, and my best friend and I decided to go to a Halloween party dressed as zombie brides. Complete with white nightgowns, white face paint and raccoon eyes. We walked in and saw a room full of 8th-grade playboy bunnies, and we promptly realized, “Ooohhh, so this is that year when everyone starts dressing like you-know-what’s.”
[I’d like to pause for a quick second and address a few things: (1.) Yes, I realize this sounds EXACTLY like the scene from Mean Girls. (2.) No, I am not making this up, lol. We actually had the exact same experience; and (3.) not wanting to offend anyone here…but seriously! Who decided that dressing like a playboy bunny at 13 was ok?!]
Back to the story.
Hoping no one would notice us, my friend and I tried to quietly dip out of the cool kid party (we were ok to just trick or treat anyway) when one of the guys in the group said, “Hey look! Helen’s trying to be white!” Now, many of the kids didn’t laugh at this statement because even at our age they knew he had taken it too far. But even so, his words still felt like a Major League baseball player had just whacked me in the stomach with a baseball bat. [To give you perspective, I went to a school where the majority of students were white, and I was the adopted ethnic kid with white parents. I always knew that about myself, but until that day, I had never really cared.]
After that, I stopped going out in the sun as much. If I went to the pool I’d sit under the umbrella while the other girls laid out. I’d wear light make up, and straighten the heck out of my hair. I didn’t want to look different than my friends and family.
Fast Forward again to college.
Like many girls, I gained some weight due to poor eating habits and drinking too many…apple juices (…yaaa, we’ll go with that). My freshman year I dated a not so good guy that really brought me down and destroyed my self-confidence. That’s another story for a different blog, but what I’ll say is that the lies he told me about myself stuck. When I looked in the mirror I no longer saw a confident young woman who had done her best to work through the silly things young immature boys had said. Instead, I saw a girl heavier than she’d ever been and so unconfident that she didn’t think she was worth anything.
Eventually, I’d dump that guy and never speak to him again. I’d reconcile with friends, and decide to start learning about health. I started doing pageants which gave me something to motivate me. I’d work at being the best version of myself until finally, I got to compete on the Miss USA stage and ultimately be voted “best body of the year”.
But I’d soon find out that insecurity and body image problems don’t stop when you get an award. Unless you have a strong sense of who you are, and know that your looks don’t define you, having a so-called “good body” can control you. I didn’t realize how much my fear of not looking my best was controlled me until after Craig passed away.
A Change in Perspective
After Craig passed, I didn’t want to work out. I wanted to eat the massive amount of BBQ we had, and not lift a finger. [Apparently, when you’ve experienced loss, you’re supposed to crave a TON of BBQ because our fridge was exploding with the never-ending supply people kept bring us.] Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized what I was doing wasn’t healthy. My body didn’t feel good and I didn’t like not being active.
I started taking Barre3 classes and I’ll never forget something my instructor said. It was different than anything I’d ever heard in a work out class. During the hardest part of the class, she said, “Stop competing. Don’t do this to have the best body. Do this for yourself. Not for anyone else. Not to be what the world says you should be, but to be strong and healthy for yourself and your family.” It was like God was speaking directly to me through this unknowing instructor.
It was then that I finally realized, I realized I’d only ever tried to be the person someone else would call beautiful. I realized that without ever intending to, I was comparing myself to the girl next to me…living in fear that I wouldn’t measure up. But here’s the truth: God doesn’t want us to live in a state of comparison. He doesn’t want us to look in the mirror and pick ourselves apart. He wants us to see ourselves as He sees us.
But how do we see ourselves the way He sees us? How do we overcome the critiquing voice in our head saying we’re not good enough?
Focus on the Input
When we hear the phrase “body image”, it suggests that we’re looking at a picture. Which then further suggests, if we’re wanting to change our body image perspective, then we have to change the lens through which we’re viewing the picture.
In my opinion, in order to do this, we must focus on the input, not the outcome. Meaning, instead of focusing so much on what we want to look like, or think others expect us to look like, we focus on what we’re putting into our bodies physically, mentally and spiritually.
Are you reading magazine’s that make you feel less than? Are you staring at your IG explore page obsessing over girls you wished you looked like? Are you choosing to listen to that voice telling you that you’ll never be self-disciplined enough to live a healthy lifestyle?
– Or –
Are you searching God’s Word for His Truths about who you are and what you’re worth? Are you finding healthy habits that help you feel better? Are you looking for friends who will help you live out your new lifestyle, and who will remind you of the way God sees you?
I ask these questions because I had to ask myself the same things. I had to disengage from my old way of life and search God’s Word before I could ever become healthy physically, mentally and spiritually. The most important lesson I ever learned associated with body image is that until we’re at a good place spiritually, we’ll never have a healthy view of ourselves physically.
Don’t focus so much on the outcome (aka how you look). It will happen if we make positive changes (even if it’s just baby steps). Why? Because when we’re too focused on the outcome, we’ll start looking for shortcuts. We’ll look to people and things to define our worth and our body image. No…focus on the changes you feel God’s calling to make, and trust Him to do the rest.
The more we allow God’s truth to fill us up, the more positively we will view ourselves. We will stop coveting the way other women look and stop allowing ourselves to feel less than. Because the truth is, we’ll never be perfect by the world’s standards; and we will never love who we are if we’re always focused on how we measure up to everyone else. In order to stop struggling with body image, we have to view ourselves and others through God’s lens. His lens is focused on love. Love for others, and yes…love for yourself.
Praying for you today and always.
Love in Christ,