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.
I’m working on topics for woman2woman (formerly known as mom2mom) and just last week I wrote down body image for a possible topic. You express such truth and wisdom here and this validates the topic for our group. (And, yes, you did inherit great legs from Dad’s side!)
I’d love to know what the other women say. I’m surprised every time I realize how twisted my view of my body is, but I shouldn’t be–it’s all around us! Love you and thanks for modeling the best to me.
Oh, body image. I never thought I had trouble with it until I had my first child last year, and I finally realized how much I struggle with it. For the most part, I’ve always been pretty indifferent – so long as things are going well. But when things aren’t – I really struggle to be okay with my body. It definitely doesn’t help that I have a mother who buys into what society thinks a woman should look like, which means she hates the way she looks and is talking about getting plastic surgery. I really want to limit my daughter’s exposure to this, and be a good role model myself, because I know how much that can affect her.
Checking out other women is definitely something I struggle with. Honestly, I’ve had to stop reading a few blogs because they can easily incite comparison, which is a slippery slope. For me, comparison really is the thief of joy.
Offering up a prayer for you. :)
Ashley, thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m the same way–when things are good, I’m pretty good. And what’s worse is how sneaky it is! I’ll say a prayer that your perspective (and God’s perspective) of your little girl will saturate her mind. She’s lucky to have you.
every time I’ve tried to write a response to this post, it’s felt so unfinished that I’ve deleted it, but, even knowing that my thoughts are still muddied, I do definitely yes for sure want to say that I love you and I love your open heart and I love that you’re not afraid to speak real words about real things to the people reading. it is a huge gift. as are our bodies and all the many layers of things we think about them. there are so many layers, in fact, that I struggle to say anything that makes sense, haha. there’s nobody who’s ever met you who cannot see your shocking beauty from the inside out, which is exactly how I always describe you to people, as the most beautiful soul I know. I know this post is about more than that but it should at least start with that because you are and I do and it is so so so real.
I miss you and wish we could sit down and have a long, probing, confusing but still truth-affirming talk about these things now.
Thank you for this. Your words are a blessing to