The Mother of All Body Image Problems

Who’s to blame for your struggle with body image?


Cosmopolitan magazine?

The internet?

The biggest influence may be closer to home. When you were young she probably lived in your house, cooked your meals, and taught you how to shave your legs.

Mothers are the number one cause of body image issues for girls.

Did your mom affirm your inner and outer beauty, or did she criticize your shape? Did she focus on your achievements or zero in on your appearance?

Did she praise your looks but criticize her own? “Sweetie, you look beautiful. It’s a good thing you’re not fat like me.”

The way your mother addressed this issue may directly influence the way you’re handling it now.

Maybe your mom did a lot of damage. Are her words the root of your negative opinion of yourself? Have her hurtful comments driven you to therapy and to web sites like this one? You’re not alone. Many of us carry baggage that our mothers packed and placed on our backs. But maybe it’s time to forgive them. If we say the Lord’s Prayer in church every Sunday, we ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive people who have sinned against us. And whether we call those offenses debts or trespasses, we all owe a debt to our mothers. Even if our moms have done us harm, we owe them at least this: forgiveness.

Oy. If that’s the place you’re in, it’s not easy. Maybe a good therapist is in order. Seriously.

Let’s try not to make the same mistakes our mothers made. Whenever you interact with children, be careful what you say. It’s not only insults that do damage. Don’t overdo the compliments, telling girls they’re attractive. The more a girl hears, “You’re beautiful,” the more she will think that being physically attractive is important. Now, maybe if you stress that you are referring to her lovely spirit, not merely her lovely face, then it’s okay.

Speaking of words, have you ever listened to what adults say to a girl they are meeting for the first time? We tend to say, “What a pretty girl you are.” Instead, when speaking to small child, try saying, “What a big girl.” It focuses the attention on health and growth, not on looks. Or praise the child’s accomplishment rather than her looks.

“You played a great game today.”

“That’s a lovely picture you colored.”

“Congratulations on that test grade. Good work!”

(By the way, listen to what people say to boys. It’s often a comment on their strength or size, not how handsome they are. Of course, comments made to boys can set them up for problems, too. What if he’s not as big or strong as his peers? A topic for another day.)

But maybe the best thing to say to a child is, “It’s nice to meet you.” We’re simply glad to have the privilege of meeting a new person. A person made in God’s image.

In the final analysis, our value is not based on what we look like or how well we colored that picture. Our valued is rooted in being made in God’s image.

When was the last time someone took your hand and said, “You are valuable because you are made in the image of God”? When was the last time you said that to someone else?

Have you ever said it to your mom? She’s not young anymore. Wrinkles have carved lines around her eyes and mouth, and her arms and legs are not as agile as they used to be. Even if your relationship is strained and you need to forgive her for what she’s said and done, remind her that she has great value in God’s eyes. Tell her that. And tell her I said, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Wendy Herrmann Smith is a 40-something mom of two. One kid she got the old fashioned way and one by adoption. Wendy writes adult Sunday School curriculum which is not as boring as it sounds. She can barely fill up an A-cup bra, and that’s okay. Really. She blogs at Read Wendy’s posts here.



1 Comment
  • Kristen Maddux
    May 10, 2017

    Wendy, your posts are always so great and thought-provoking. Thanks!

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