Advice for Young Women Struggling with Body Image

When I was 17, I struggled with body image. Thirty years later, I still struggle occasionally. Here’s some unsolicited advice for young women struggling with body image.

1. Don’t think, “I will outgrow this.”

I hate to tell you, but there are women who wrestle with body image into their 40s, 50s, and beyond. The good news is you don’t have to wait for some magic age to be over this. Fight the lies now. Here’s a start: Assume every photo of a woman in a magazine or on the Internet is altered. It probably is.

2. Don’t think, “I’ll find my true love, and his approval will help.”

My brain found ways around that, like, “He’s settling for my body because he loves me.” A man’s approval is nice but not necessary. You have intrinsic value because you’re created in God’s image. It may sound dry and theological, but only until you internalize it. After that, the meaning of being made in God’s image will still be theological, but it won’t be dry. It will be wet– like water– life-giving. Truth is that way. (Heather writes about how marriage didn’t fix her body image, here if you need more witnesses to this truth.)

I talked about what’s true. Now let’s talk about what’s not.women friends

3. The most valuable thing my therapist said was, “It’s a lie.”

Yes, after struggling with this for thirty years, I figured a little therapy couldn’t hurt. The lie I believed for 30 years? Only a woman with __________ is beautiful. No, I won’t tell you how I filled in the blank.

How would you fill in it? A thin waist? Shapely legs? Large breasts? Perfect facial features? Straight teeth? However you fill in the blank, it’s a lie. You’ve bought it because we tend to believe what we’re told over and over. Our culture repeats messages that sell stuff – like diet programs and push-up bras and plastic surgery.

How to stop believing the lies?

To start, minimize your exposure. Do not click on that site. I don’t know which site it is for you, but you probably have one that is your downfall. Stay away.

4. Get angry.

I get angry when our culture tells women and girls that their value lies in how they look. Web sites and movies encourage men to see women as objects for their pleasure. If this thinking is not checked, it leads to eating disorders, strip clubs, and human trafficking.

Jesus was angry when people turned the temple courts into a place for thievery instead of prayer. He even used a whip. What kind of Savior uses a whip? The kind who gets angry when a sacred place is profaned. In a sense, a woman’s (and a man’s) body is sacred because it’s God’s creation. Our culture profanes it. We should be angry.

And we should speak up. Is a bully hurting kids in your school or church? Speak up. Is your friend’s mother constantly telling your friend that she’s fat? Find another adult you trust and talk about how the situation can be addressed.

I’ve given you four ideas to think about and act on. Which one hits home with you? Pick one. What can you do about it? Maybe it’s just a new way of thinking. Maybe it’s a course of action. Whether you’re 17 or 77, don’t just click around the body image web sites, even if they’re good ones. Set a goal. That’s my advice. (No charge for that.) And don’t forget to ask God for direction. He also tends to give stuff away for free. The dry, theological term for it is grace. And then–wouldn’t you know it–God asks you to give him everything. God’s funny that way.

WendyHermannSmithWendy Herrmann Smith lives in Greenville SC with her husband and two kids – a son she got after seventeen hours of labor and a C-section and a daughter adopted from China after a fourteen-hour flight and a lot of paperwork. She writes adult Bible study material for her denomination and blogs at Read Wendy’s posts here.



  • Kelly Hillyer
    August 20, 2016

    I have 3 kids, but my youngest child Chloe is 15 and she is absolutely beautiful. But she Hates how she looks…we had a bad car accident Nov.2015 and so she has some bad scars on her legs. She has seen a plastic surgeon and is having surgery in November 2016. But her self esteem issues started long before the accident….what, besides praying can I do to help her.? She cries and gets upset when I try and talk to her. I can’t get her to understand she’s beautiful inside and outside….any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Heather Creekmore
      August 20, 2016

      Hi Kelly! I’m so sorry for your daughter’s struggles. I totally understand. I had things about my body that I was totally hung up over and didn’t find freedom from these struggles until I was in my thirties. I wrote a series on helping your daughter a year or so ago. All the posts I’ve written on this topic can be found here:
      Generally, though, I think we have to help our daughter’s unveil the myths behind what they believe about beauty and their value. Certainly pray for her, certainly remind her that she’s beautiful -but most body image issues aren’t fixed with a “you’re gorgeous -why are you worried about it?” Body image issues are idols of the heart -they are systems of believing that we build for ourselves. We focus on a false savior – that is – beauty – and believe the lie of the culture that says that beauty will make our lives better. We believe we’d have more/better friends, a boy/man to love us, we’d feel better about ourselves, we’d be happier…we’d be “freer” if only we looked like this image of beauty in our head that taunts us. Can I encourage you to explore with her the truth behind what beauty does and doesn’t do in our lives. Look at the women she idolizes and ask why she thinks she’d like to look like that. In many cases – you can show how gorgeous women/models/actresses don’t have “better” or “perfect” lives just because they meet a standard of beauty. They still get dumped, cheated on, divorced, and have real struggles. (though the media doesn’t usually paint that portrait of them). Help her unveil the lie of beauty in any way you can. Ask her if a boy who wants her only with unscarred legs is really a boy she should want to pursue a relationship with? What will happen after she has babies and more scars? I think with older teens the most helpful thing to do is to help them see the lie. Not that they will accept it…but start to break down the myths that culture has indoctrinated them with in this area. In some cases, it’s also helpful to repent in front of our girls. Since we’ve never met – I’m not sure how your own body image struggle is or isn’t – but sometimes we need to model for our daughters repentance for the ways we’ve personally chased beauty instead of God. Sometimes the biggest change in a family comes when we, as moms, can say “Wow, I’ve modeled this way wrong for you . . .let’s start again. . .together!” If that applies – I hope you’ll take that to heart. 🙂 If not, prayer, encouragement (not writing off her struggle) and helping her dissect the truth from the lies are the best advice I can give you. 🙂 (You may also want to read this one on why fearfully and wonderfully made never worked for me!) – Prayers for you family! Heather

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