Monday, July 22, 2013

Body Image

Let me start with this- I don't often write blog posts. I'm not the greatest blog writer. For really great blog reading, see Julie Turner's The Potluck Diaries. Greatness, really! But that being said, here's something that's been on my heart ever since reading one little book:

There are two words that strike dread and anxiety in the world of women, just two little words. Swimsuit season. And it's those two little words that inspire change in women all over, typically starting sometime in the spring. As a woman looks ahead to summer and realizes she'll either have to squeeze herself into her suit from last year or, worst still, go swimsuit shopping, she'll start packing salads for lunch, look into protein shake diets, and vow to make it to her gym/studio/box more than ever before. As this summer approached, my post-baby body brought with it new body image insecurities. Regardless, I've always felt I was pretty good about body image. Sure, I have my "things" or "issues", but doesn't everyone? Besides, I know many other women who are way worse than me. So I'm fine, right?

Then something happened. Something small, something probably no one even cared about or noticed. But it set me down a path.

I had the opportunity to "model" for a local boutique. It was fun, I loved the boutique owner, and was glad to do it. Later that day, she posted the pictures of me in the dresses I modeled. In the caption, she gave information about me, including my dress size. Yes, the actual number of size I typically buy. Right there on public social media for everyone to see. She also put this same info on her website. Now, I completely and totally understand why she did. She has to advertise her clothing so that those shopping online can decide what size to order. I was not at all upset at her. But the fact that I cared that everyone can now see my size caught me off guard. I mean, don't I have a healthy body image? Why would I care if others know what size I wear?

So, what did I turn to for answers? I wish I could say I immediately opened my Bible. Nope. I went to Pinterest. Yes, I'll admit it. I typed "body image" into Pinterest. Fortunately, my God is omniscient. He can even speak through social networking sites. As I scanned through everything it brought up, I saw the image of a book cover. I clicked on it and found it. A book that seemed to address what I felt needed addressing in my life. Wanting to Be Her by Christian writer Michelle Graham. The tagline: "Body image secrets Victoria won't tell you." Brilliant. I opened up my Amazon app and immediately ordered a copy.

I finished the book in about two weeks. It's a short read; normally I would have finished it quicker. But aside from having little time to read while chasing a very active baby girl around the house, I needed time to digest much of what I read. Ultimately, I HIGHLY recommend this book to all women. It's wonderful. I'll list the things that struck me the most while reading it, but understand those are the things that spoke to me. The following list is only a fraction of what the book teaches.

1) Women believe that their value is tied to their size.
It's sad, but let's face it gals, it's true.  We believe that the number on that tag is directly proportionate to who we are. If we do not match a certain ideal, then there is something wrong about us. Something lesser than. Something (dare I say it?) ugly. Undesirable. Unworthy. We should match the role-models (emphasis on the word model) we see in the media. Anything less (I should say anything larger really) is unacceptable. This is a product of The Fall. Remember what Adam and Eve did when they realized they were naked? They became embarrassed and covered themselves. Embarrassment over one's body didn't occur until Eve ate that stupid apple. That shame now permeates our society. We ladies feel that if we don't fit that idealized Barbie/Victoria's Secret shape, we will be rejected.

2) We crave praise. We hunger for it.
We were built to love and be loved. We were built to find contentment and satisfaction. So where do we search for love, contentment, and satisfaction? Unfortunately, not in the Builder. Because of this, we look at ourselves in the mirror and see ourselves as a checklist of imperfections. Here's a dare: spend one day, just one day where any time you look in that mirror you never, ever see anything about yourself you dislike, not even in the back of your mind. Try it. See how difficult that is. Here's the crux of the problem- let's say your checklist was perfected. Let's say everything you dislike about yourself was gone tomorrow. Would you then feel the love, contentment, and satisfaction you've been craving? No. The world is fickle. The love we need cannot be earned. Remember the story in Luke 15 about the prodigal son? Had that son earned his father's love? Nope. Did he deserve it? Heck no. Such is how grace works. Our Heavenly Father is the only one capable of giving us what we crave.

3) Our bodies are not meant for worldly validation.
God teaches us that we are created in His image. Our bodies are temples. It is a tool for His kingdom. It is a vessel that houses something so precious, our souls, that we are to appreciate them. We are his greatest artwork. I mean, he knit us together. Contemplate that verb. It's active. Knit. He formed us. He fashioned us. All those seeming "imperfections" we see in that mirror, are His intentional creations. We are meant to be different, not fit into one single mold. To quote Graham, "Adhering to one physical standard of beauty is like throwing a bucket of bleach onto a Michelangelo masterpiece." If you've never heard it, listen to the song "Art in Me" by Jars of Clay. If you have, listen to the lyrics with new ears. We are not a mistake. That nose you hate- God's design. That hair that doesn't lay quite right- His creation. The shape of your eyes- His artwork. Your too full/too flat/ too curvy/ too [insert whatever you say when you look at yourself in that mirror]- yep, His. Intentional. God-given. Masterpiece.  God does not make mistakes.

4) Such body obsession is a sin.
When I started the chapter "Beauty and Sin," I was certain I wouldn't read anything that would strongly convict me. After all, I've never gone through any extremes to live up to an ideal of beauty. Heck, I don't even color my hair. I'm good in this area. Then God hit me with something on the second page of the chapter. The author speaks about how she and her friends would openly compare themselves to others, over and over, and dismiss this tendency as just an "issue". How many times have we, have I, used that phrase? I've complained about something on my body and then backtracked and said, "But that's just one of my insecurities, one of my issues." Here I am, looking at something God has created in His likeness, and I am calling it flawed. I point my finger at the creator of all, and I, the created, say it isn't enough. And then I turn around and try and minimize this as a mere "issue." Truth is, using a body that is God-given to fit a societal ideal purely for the sake of approval is (and this hurts) a sin. Graham likens it to prostitution. (Ouch) She writes, "A prostitute uses her body to gain a profit. How often have I attempted to use my appreance to gain approval from others? I have taken the body God created out of treasure and used it as currency in exchange for love, power, esteem and a long list of desired commodities." Yikes. That wasn't easy to read.

5) Find a balance.
I love how after she points out the sin in body obsessing, she follows up with the chapter, "Can I Still Keep My Favorite Lipstick." We should always bare in mind our bodies are God's temple. This means using it for its purpose, but also maintaining it. One way to find that balance: asking myself why I am doing something. Am I choosing to not eat dessert because I must ultimately fit in a size 0/1 because that's what will gain acceptance, or am I skipping dessert because I've had sweets earlier in the day and I need to focus on feeding my body nutrients of substance? Who am I trying to please when I make decisions about what to put in or on my body? As a Christ follower, all my actions should point back to Him.

6) Become others-centered.
This part had me nodding my head constantly. I've written one other blog post before about us gals encouraging one another. We so seldom do it in the grand scheme of things. Focusing on each other rather than self is the key to true health. Not the health all the fitness programs and our self-centered culture promotes. True emotional, mental, and spiritual health. All too often, because of our own insecurities, we hold back encouraging others. Or we simply are so focused on self we don't think to notice others. There is so much freedom in focusing on others rather than self.

The last verse Graham uses is Romans 12:1-2, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." So much easier said than done. Let this be my goal. Let this be what I seek. Let this be what I teach my daughter to seek. Let me become others-centered and seek to encourage others. Let me use what I have been given for its intended purpose: to be God's ambassador.