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.
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?
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.
Wendy 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 www.beautybattlefield.blogspot.com. Read Wendy’s posts here.