I sat at the edge of the table, not fully committed to the group of women already crowded around it. I love getting to know women at the MOPS and women’s groups where I speak, but, sometimes, I like to just listen to their conversations first.
“Oh she really has a hard time with her body image. She thinks she’s fat. So I just tell her to find something else she likes about herself. She has great hair, so long and shiny, so I tell her to focus on that instead of her stomach.”
As the words left her mouth and evaporated into the air, I cringed. Then, I swallowed another sip of my cream-ladened coffee and thanked the Lord for putting me in the right place today.
Women, even those in the church, are confused about how to speak into the body image issue.
A few weeks earlier another woman stood up, right before my turn to speak. to share with a group of sixty young women that they would always struggle with their body image. “It’s just part of being a woman.”
Beyond what social scientists call fat talk (“You aren’t fat, have you seen how fat I am?”) and old talk (“You call those wrinkles? Have you seen this?”), we women struggle to find helpful answers for our friends battling body image beyond, “Me, too.”
If there’s a “Christian way” to tackle body image issues, it feels like a mystery. We know what Self magazine and Oprah say, but we just aren’t sure how to reconcile their best advice with the Bible’s. We’ve heard all the cliche’s, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts!” And, “God made you beautiful, don’t worry about it.” But, we know these answers don’t work on us. It feels patronizing to offer these platitudes to others.
Women in our churches are struggling with body image.
We need better, meatier, answers for them than, “You are enough!”
A pastor’s wife recently told me a young woman wasn’t going to come to her church anymore–she felt too fat to be there. Another pastor’s wife told me she knew many women who struggled with feeling like they didn’t have the wardrobe to dress cute enough to be a part of their congregation. Both of these pastor’s wives also told me that they didn’t see the women in the congregation as especially stylish, thin, or model-like.
It didn’t matter though. The enemy whispers his lies in the ears of these women and keeps them out of healthy Christian community–by way of their body image issues.
If you’ve subscribed to this blog, then you, my friend, are on the road to body image freedom. This means you may also be God’s chosen ambassador to reach out to the women in your church to help them find a way out of this issue.
Do you know what you’ll say?
How will you respond when that woman tells you that she’s had an eating disorder for the last decade?
How will you reply when that young woman in your small group complains about how “fat” she is?
What should you say? Here are some ideas:
1. First, tell them to get their eyes off of their mirror. Don’t tell them to stare until they find something else they like (as my friend above suggested). Instead, encourage them that the best way to find freedom is through self-forgetfulness, not self-mindfulness.
2. Second, encourage them to study God’s love for them and to wake up each morning and spend time with Him first. Tell them that losing fifteen or fifty pounds will not change God’s love for them, because he has accepted them just as they are and He loves them beyond what they measure!
3. Then, gently and gracefully, show them that they are believing beauty’s lies. Show them how more beauty doesn’t mean a struggle free life. Expose the ways the beauty idol has deceived them. Tell the woman how beauty deceives us, how it makes us chase it–believing we’ll feel better if we can just “look like her.” Then show her that even super models and celebrities struggle with body image’s lies.
4. Finally, tell them that God has a much greater purpose for their life than just having a beautiful body. Then ask if you can pray with them–pray that the enemy’s lies be revealed and that they would be able to clearly discern how they’ve chased a false idol of beauty. Encourage them to repent, and seek reconciliation first with God and then community with other believers.
Body image is a huge issue for women in our churches. According to most studies, some 91% of women are affected–and even Christian women are not exempt from this struggle. You may also want to consider planning a body image women’s event for your church! You can invite me to come speak or you can use some of the blog posts on Compared to Who? and have discussion groups around them.
Remember to keep the focus on Jesus and self-forgetfulness–not on encouraging the women that they are “enough”–rather encouraging them that we all need Jesus!
There is great hope for the women in your church to find freedom from their body image issues. But, they need your help!
Are you up to the task?