Several months ago, Brad and I sat side by side at our dining table. We ate eggs and spinach as he said, “I think I’m losing weight again.” He was discouraged; we try really hard to get weight on him and keep it. “I looked in the mirror this morning and I can see all my ribs.”
“I wish I could see all my ribs when I looked in the mirror,” I replied.
That sentence hung in the air for a moment while we both realized what that really meant: I want to look like I’m sick, filled with a disease that withholds nutrition from my body, leaving it a weak cage for the brokenness inside.
Just telling you that story fills me with shame. I love the women and girls in my life and more than anything I want them to know their worth isn’t based on how they look, how thick their eyelashes are, whether or not their thighs touch. I want them to know they are the product of the most creative mind, the most gentle and skilled hands, the arbiter of everything beautiful, and that means their worth has nothing to do with how clear their skin is.
Ever since that conversation, I’ve been hyper-aware of how twisted my body image is. I’ll stop right here to say I’ve never had a real problem with body image. Sure, I’ve always wished my stomach were flatter, felt so grateful for the good-legs gene I got from my Dad’s side, and eyed my arms with cautious optimism. But I thought that was normal. And if I judge “normal” by what’s prevalent in every woman’s mind, I’d be right.
But “prevalent” is not my standard of normal. What God says about me should be my standard.
I’m writing this because when I scroll through Instagram and see a photo of someone, I skip right over their face and look at their waist, hips, arms. When I miss a workout, I feel crushing guilt that I’m “letting myself go.” When I wake up with zits, I tell myself I’m a loser. And I’m sick of it. This isn’t abundant life. This isn’t truth.
Magazines, blogs, even friends will tell me to be kinder to myself. But there’s no handhold for me in that statement. Be kinder to myself? Why do I deserve that? Nobody knows better than I do the many ways I fail, the disgusting parts of my heart and mind that don’t merit kindness.
And that reveals the deeper problem: My definition of me doesn’t work. It’s not strong enough to rest on. But God’s definition is. This is the truth I will be repeating to myself until the day I die and I’m released from the burden of physical expectation: God says I’m a temple–a holy place, which makes me holy, which makes me worthy. God says I’m his daughter, which gives me authority and place. God says I am artisanal. God says the final assessment of what kind of person I was won’t be based on how new my shoes are or what my jean size was. It will be based on how I served.
I am the result of loving labor. Perfect labor. You are too. I want to say that again because it’s so important: You are too. Regardless of how you feel about God, He crafted you. And when you feel shame or guilt or disgust about your body, that’s not from Him. He looks at you and sees art and beauty, endless beauty.
So what do we do with this? What are the steps we can take in faith to fight the false messages about our bodies? Here’s what’s helping me:
Gratefulness. This is almost always the first step to perspective for me. Be grateful for what your body can do, what it does for you and for others every day. Every time I go running and am tempted to stop or tempted to hate it, I think how fortunate I am to have legs that can run. Brad can barely walk around the block or get out of a chair–how much more reminder does my stubborn heart need that a healthy body is enough.
DO, don’t look. No good has ever come from time spent looking at my body. Really. Yet I go back to this again and again. I pass by a mirror and check my stomach. I’ll stare at my face for 15 minutes noting what’s wrong and what’s passable. No. The solution is to do something, anything, that refocuses me on what this body can do, not what it looks like. That face, often spotted, can smile at my husband. That chest, regrettably small, can cradle a child’s head. That waist, spilling ever so slightly over my waistband, will some day (God willing) harbor new life. Enough looking, let’s act.
Give. This is so obvious, but so hard. What are our bodies for? They’re not solely showpieces, they’re meant to serve. Giving your body in service can mean so many things. For me, it’s washing dishes, it’s rubbing Brad’s knees and ankles, it’s helping somebody shlep things to their car. For you, it could mean something totally different. It could mean something radical like traveling across the world or dying for someone. This is the very best our bodies can do.
See what’s real. That identity of being the result of perfect labor, loved by God? That’s true about you, but it’s also true about every woman you see. God help us, we women are so harmful to one another. We judge, we compare, we belittle. (And real talk: I’m the worst when it comes to this.) What if instead we saw what was real in one another and reminded one another of that?
Ask for help. Isolation compounds sick thoughts. Ask for prayer, ask for a real assessment of who you are from someone who loves you and can see the real in you.
Thanks for reading, beautiful.