Thursday, July 21

On Body Image

I started dieting when I was ten.

And stopped when I was twenty-one.

For eleven years I tried to fix all that perceived was wrong with my body.

I could not pay to have my crooked teeth straightened or banish my regretfully red hair but I could make sure my one pair of jeans in 7th grade kept fitting. The women around me were always dieting or talking about calories and I remember the one day an older boy told me my only pair of jeans were too tight. A junior high growth spurt I perceived as fat.

I thought the women in my circle of life were beautiful until they did not think it themselves. And if they weren't beautiful, how much uglier I must be than them, I thought.

There was a heavy emphasis on looks while I was in private and public schools. I woefully allowed my physical education teacher to pinch the skin at my waist and measure it and, tongue clicking, declare me at 30 percent body fat. I stayed after school every day all year working out in the gym with my girlfriends and ran track and played soccer. But I was so out of shape, I thought.

I weighed in at the massive (sarcasm here) amount of 12o pounds and stood 5'4".

I cut out sugar, I cut out chocolate, I cut out meals, I drank water, became a vegetarian, walked to school instead of taking the bus...

When I realized men thought I was beautiful in a bikini, I wore one. Skin was beautiful so I shortened my skirt and short lengths. It cheapened my lot but made me feel good about myself.

Being the mama of a ten year old daughter now, and having three daughters, my stomach turns at the thought of them having the thoughts that I did at their age. We use the word beautiful but we put more emphasis on the word healthy in our home. Their papa tells them they are beautiful and loved and asks them for whose glory they are beauteous. "For God's glory..." they answer. They have been asked from birth and know. We have taught our children to choose foods because they are healthy, because they help our bodies fight infection and germs, because they give us strength to run and play, because they were raised nutritiously and kindly...

And so a word of caution to the mamas. Your little girls are watching. They are listening. If you hate your nose or hate your hair and they have been God-given the same genetics, they will learn to despise from you. What is beautiful and precious will be disdainful to them. If you use the word diet and cut out nourishment to like yourselves more, so will they. If you critique what you see in the mirror or ask your husbands if you look fat, they will critique and question their own selves.

I stopped warring against my body when I was twenty-one, the year our daughter was born and it was a huge relief. In the past ten years I have gained and lost the weight equivalent to a large grown man. My body has been stretched and pulled and swollen and full and empty but I've never felt to comfortable or contented in my own skin though it would take a whole lot of photoshop to make it purty enough for a fashion magazine.

It is all skin and flesh; it does not determine my value or worth. I don't read fashion magazines anymore, though I like fashion and love beautiful clothing because every time I would browse through one I got up feeling gross about myself. It cost my spirit too much.

Who we are as women and the value of our lives is not in our dress size or shape of a feature or crooked or straight teeth. Our value comes from being created in the image of God, from who He says we are (loved, beautiful, precious, valuable) and from living a life that glorifies Him.

The danger of poor image of self is not that it is something superficial or that we've been deceived by the devil, but that it is something that takes our eyes off of Jesus and stops us from glorifying Him with our lives.

“Let your beauty not be external - the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes - but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in the God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4


AKA Jane Random said...

Beautiful post. What a gift and a burden the Lord has given to those of us with children. Only through God's grace can I hope to impart how the Lord see's her to my daughter.

~ Shannon said...

Oh Hannah, what a beautiful post! Our culture chants the "be yourself" mantra -- and yet, it's only acceptable to be yourself if you look like a supermodel. I remember seeing an article in a parenting magazine with a title like "Loving Your New Mommy Body." The content? Work-out routines to shed baby weight fast! It's such a double standard.

Even though I know that the world's values are shabby and unimportant, it's so easy to get sucked into that way of thinking because it's so rampant, even in the church. Your post was such an encouragement.

And though I don't have daughters (yet), I plan to store up your wisdom so that, Lord willing, I can share it with them one day. I praise God that your sweet little girls are being raised in such a loving, gospel-centered home!


Sophy said...

Thanks for this touching post.

Allison said...

Thank you, Hannah, for this insightful post. I have been thinking a lot lately about my issues with body image. I finally came to realize that it is an idol to me. Yes, I want to be healthy---to live a fruitful, God-glorifying life here on this earth for as long as he will allow. Yes, I want to be beautiful..but for what reason? Too often, I know that my desire to be beautiful, to be thin, to be noticed stems from a need to feel accepted. My head knows that this is not a biblical attitude. There is nothing wrong with is a wonderful gift from our great Creator. But when attaining some worldly ideal constantly occupies my mind, it pushes out the only One who longs to give me true and lasting beauty.
As for the fashion magazines, I say..."Do not give the devil a foothold". These are just adding fuel to the fire. Similarly, if you struggle with discontent and covetousness you should avoid the glossy home magazines. You get so caught up in the eye candy, you forget that those rooms are staged! They are not actually lived in looking like that! But, I digress...

Getting back to body image I leave you with a quote from a book I have in my Amazon wish list, "Wanting to Be Her: Body Image Secrets Victoria Won't Tell You" by Michelle Graham.

"A recent survey found that 70 percent of women felt depressed, guilty, and shameful after looking at a fashion magazine for only three minutes."

Thank you for your honesty, and your commitment to raise daughters with a God-honoring body image. I commit to strive towards training my daughter (15) to have a better understanding of what it means to be beautiful, made in her Creator's image.


Anonymous said...

Wow...I needeed this! Thanks.

Gail @ The Imperfect Housewife said...

So true! I never have really struggled with my weight, except for after having our children. It's always those last couple of pounds that I've wanted to lose and have a hard time losing that make me think less of myself. And then, like you, I realize it doesn't really matter. I'm healthy. I'm not overweight. I'm taking care of myself. It's okay if the numbers on the scale don't match up with the way I feel when I'm confident of who God made me to be. Thank you for the reminder that our daughters are watching us. I have 3. And although they are young, self-image is coming into play at a very young age. Thank you again!

Verna said...

Great post! I will be welcoming a daughter in October! I hope to set a good example, for her, of a healthy body image. I've been watching my words more carefully, lately, thinking of her precious ears that will soon be hearing my words.

Miss Paige said...

I appreciate your thoughts here very much. My parents worked to counteract the rantings of my childhood ballet teacher a bout how we could all stand it to lose some weight...we were all slim but sturdy country dancers, not skinny city ballerinas. I went through some of the short skirt phase, too, and had the same sort of turnaround (whoa, this is not right!) as I approached motherhood for the first time. Since my fifth pregnancy decreased my physical activity on the farm, I have been falling into self-disgust with needing larger clothes, and also fearing recurrence of some physical weight-aggravated ailments from the past...all this has had me seeking something that is not dieting in the sense of denying myself, but an adjustment in how I eat so that I'll at least be in a better position to lose some unnecessary weight when and as I do get a chance to dedicate time to intentional exercise. I think I have found that course now; what I have taken away from your post is the reminder not to make this quest one of self-denigration. Note to self: it isn't because I'm ugly that I want to lose weight. And also, you have made me conscious that for the good of my slim (and beautiful) daughters, I must not draw attention to a poor self image by any derogatory comments I make about my shape.
Bless you for your thoughtfulness.

Unknown said...

Good reminders! Those little eyes and ears!!!!

Anonymous said...

Love this post.. Thank you.. being the mother of girls I have thought about this since the day they were born. Since we live in a world that so much is about looks.
I have struggled with my weight since day one. I have never been obese, obese, but never THIN. Having a mother and sisters who could just diet for like a couple of weeks and drop 30lbs and me, not eating half of what they did and never lose any weight, they could never be much help in that department or give much sympathy.
I am hoping I am doing right by my girls more so than my mother or sisters did by me.
Sue in NJ

Teri said...

I've always thought that you are lovely. But I know what you mean. I have been "dumped" because I am overweight, but told in the next breath that I was the kindest, most honest person that man has ever dated. It took me many years to figure out that no matter what type of person I am, it will be my looks that people will judge me on. And that is heartbreaking. That was 9 years ago and I have not dated once since then, and never will. It's too bad the world is this way.

Sarah said...

wow. wow. I really needed to read that this morning and have only just got round to commenting. I too have had body issues and likewise have never become more comfortable in my own body since having children. After long thoughts on how I raise my daughters and inspiration from yourself I started to wear modest skirts again and embracing my feminism so that my daughters would copy and not long for the teenager type clothes they see in the 4 year old section of the clothes store. I honestly say it has made me feel great even though I don't always fit in with others around me (clothes wise). However, recently I have found myself skipping the odd meal here and there and this particualr morning.. breakfast too. Why? because we are going on holiday soon and I would normally be wearing a bikini (we haven't been on holiday since my 'image change'). So I have immediately become body conscious and self obsessed. I always cover the children up on holiday.. mainly because we all have lilly white English skin and so they wear UV suits to prevent burning. So I asked myself after reading your blog...whose benefit am I wearing a bikini for? ..and can't really come up with an answer. So I have purchased a UV cover top and swim skirt. I feel so relaxed now.. I can stop bothering about my body once again.. hopefully be a good role model to my children and as an extra plus.. not get burnt while building sand castles! Thank you Hannah for knocking some sense into me today. Sarah x

mandi said...

What a wonderful post! And one I think we can all relate to. I think of these things with my own daughter as well. Growing up I remember my mom (who was very loving, but struggled with her own self-image) saying things like "I'm so sorry you have my thighs". I knew early on that I would never mention weight in front of my children. We do as you do. We talk about nutrition. We love being active. And that is enough.

Me said...

Paula, I'm so glad that when I mess up the Lord is faithful to fix my messes and how they affect my girls.

Shannon, I stopped reading the parenting "expert" magazines also and it is very free-ing. I love the pics of your little fellow.

Sophy, thank you for taking the time to stop in and leave a comment!

Allison, I appreciate everything you've shared but especially the quote. Glad (and sad) to know I'm not the only one affected.

Got joy, thank you for stopping to leave a comment!

Gail at the imperfect housewife, this was the first pregnancy that I did not stress out afterwards about getting back into my pre-pregnancy clothes. There was so much going on that it had to take a back seat and it was so free-ing to just accept my body and be thankful that it could carry a baby.

Verna, Congratulations on the girl baby! Daughters are so much fun!

Paige, you are both beautiful and lovely and I applaud anyone's goals of health and wellness and fitness. Can't wait to get together with you soon!

They call me mommy, it is a thing I constantly have to remind myself. I've noticed my daughters even picking up annoyances that I have and mimicking them - yikes!

Sue, may God strengthen and equip you in your goals of loving on your daughters!

Teri, I cannot even imagine what a creep that guy was. I wish I could wrap you in a hug and punch him in the face (ha!). In all seriousness, there are men, and GOOD men, who love the Lord and would not dump the sweetest girl they'd ever met because of her size. Seriously, I have so many dear friends who consider themselves plus sized who are loved. Are you in the safety of a good church? If so, I'd encourage you to pull aside a kind older woman and pour out your heart to her and ask her to pray for you and soak in her love and advice. I am so sorry you had to endure that wicked hurtfulness. Love and hugs from way over my way.

Sarah, don't even get me started on the prosti-tot clothing offered in the stores! Ey-yi-yi! Hope you are enjoying your lovely vacation by the sea!

Mandi, yay for nutrition and being active! You're right. Enough said. Have a wonderful night!


Katy said...

Beautiful....thank you for this! :)

Alison said...

I like what you and your husband do when complementing you daughter's appearence, giving the glory to God. My parents, in a similar effort to keep us from being vain or overly concerned with image, chose to just never complement appearence. My two sisters and I were never told that we look beautiful, and rarely told that we looked "nice". Then, when they would occasionally mention that someone else was beautiful, or the worst, that an actress was unnatractive, I would feel so ugly. In the end, I don't think it had the affect they were looking for...

Carolyne said...

Thank you for these lovely words........The LORD has given you a true gift!

Marmee's Pantry said...

Amen & AMEN! I grew up in the fashion industry ~ modeled from age 9 until literally days b4 we were married when I was 25. And for 17 cross-over yrs, I was also a make-up artist. ( I was a size 6 when we married & I felt so fat ~ if I had known what I would look like now, I would probably have had a heart attack. lol But I am probably where I "should" be now & I am (mostly) comfortable w/that. I simply try to look my best ~ both as an example for our 20 & 23 yr old girls & for my sweet husband. I LOVE being out of that industry ~ if you've ever watched "The Devil Wears Prada" that is no lie. They really do think that the world hinges upon their fashion decisions. They have no idea that the "real" world is found in our relationship w/our Savior, our homes, our reading of the Word, our homeschool rooms & in the loving eyes & hearts of our family members.

But now, I am happy to "rebel" against that world ~ I wear my "mom jeans" (at 52, I'm WAY past the hip-huggers; wore them in the '70s & hated them then), I love not wearing the 4" heels & business suits of those days, but doing better for my feet & body in those mom jeans, long skirts & my major shoe decision being "do I wear my Earth Shoes, Burkies or flip-flops today?" My tootsies feel more like dancing now than when wearing those other shoes. :-)

I hope many, MANY women & girls read today's post.

Blessings from Ohio...Kim<><