I can still remember my first negative body image thought. I had to have been in early elementary school and remember sitting down, looking down at my thighs pressed against the seat, and thinking that they looked fat. Had someone first told me something? Made a joke? Stated a dumb comment? I’m not sure. When I look back at pictures now, I see that I was an average-sized girl. And yet, the Enemy spoke lies in my ears already at the age of 5-6.
I was, however, always above average in height. I went to a very small, private school, with just a handful of other girls in my class. Every time someone would comment on my height, I would want to shrink down. Though I’m sure it was just an observation and never meant as a negative statement, somewhere along the way the message was given to me, “You are too tall and your body isn’t good.” While other girls were cute and small, I was tall – which equated in my mind to “bad.” I thought God must have made a mistake and my body was not what a girl’s body was supposed to be.
These body image issues plagued me through elementary, middle school, and high school, though I was self-aware enough to not let vanity rule my mouth and only my thoughts. I would rarely communicate my own lack of self-worth to others b/c I didn’t want to be the girl that was constantly complaining about her body. Instead, probably worse, I let satan wreak havoc inside my mind.
This negative body image coupled with a decent gift of running placed me in positions where I was surrounded by women with similar struggles with body image and eating disorders, and this eventually led to my own disordered eating patterns. Not to be beaten, but conscious enough to not allow me to totally dive into a full-fledged eating disorder, I began experimenting with limiting my calories and putting in extra miles to decrease my weight. This was effective to some extent – until I lost all willpower on the weekend and had to eat food! This pattern continued until I got married in my Junior year. For whatever reason, I lost my fast running times and ended up quitting the team. What was a hard time in life was really God taking away an idol that could have destroyed me if I would have continued down the road I was on.
Fast forward 17 years and here I am – a woman who, by the Grace of God, was set free from disordered eating and body image issues (which is a whole different story I will share here down the road) and am raising three daughters, currently age 11, 5, and 2. So how does my past affect how I talk to my daughters about their bodies?
Please know that I am absolutely not an expert in this area, but I do believe, as a person who has been through the fire and back, I have a few tips to share that I hope will be helpful to all moms, grandmas, aunts, sisters, and friends as we disciple and love the girls and women around us. Here are Three TRUTHS:
- She has a GOOD body – Don’t make comments about your daughter’s body OR anyone else’s body (including your own) – EVER. Though I hope you have the common sense never to tell your daughter she is “fat” or “needs to lose weight,” have you ever said it about someone else? Have you ever thought it? When even negative THOUGHTS come in our heads about our bodies OR others, we need to snuff that flame out immediately by repeating, “She has a good body.” “I have a good body.” Please don’t use words like,
- “You’re big-boned,”
- “Oh, you’re so tall…or short,”
- “She has a large frame,”
- “She’s shaped like…”
Our only comments should be on the goodness of the creation – the beauty, the strength, the incredible way she is uniquely created. If a woman is 6’2” or 4’10,” who are we to say that God made a mistake? These seemingly harmless comments can create roots of negativity that can last a lifetime. In the same way, by saying these comments about others or yourself, you set a standard or an image about what you think is good and acceptable, and what is not.
- She is an image of her Creator. We were created in the image of our Father and we display Him through the uniqueness of our individual selves. What is beauty in the Lord’s eyes? I don’t know, but I believe it’s for sure diversity. How is it that no fingerprint is exactly alike? Or no snowflake is exactly alike? In the same way, he fashioned different shades of skin, eyes, and hair color. He also gave various sizes and shapes to our physical bodies, and GOODNESS is represented in every single shape on this earth because it’s made in the image of the Father. Regardless of health status, BMI, or body fat percentage, I believe each body is created GOOD and can be used to display the Father to the world.
- Her body is a vessel used to serve and love. Our bodies are not meant to be an idol. They’re not a trophy to behold. They are given to us to bring the love of God to the world. A functional body hugs, speaks a kind word, tend to those in need, can put others before herself, lends a helping hand, and gives a listening ear. Just as it is made in the image of God, it gives us the ability to share the love of God with others. We SHOW his love through a sweet smile, twinkling eyes, and hands that hold. Not through a tiny waistline, long legs, or six-pack abs. These mean nothing in the Kingdom. Do you have a body that can move and serve and love? GOOD. Let our focus be on caring for our temple for service to the King vs. beating our bodies in service to an image the world has fed us.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I do believe it’s a start. In a culture plagued with fake images of what the world has told us women are supposed to look like, we need to be proactive, loud voices saying that we will not participate. We need to be the MAIN voice in our daughters’ ears because they will be surrounded by lies at every single turn. You can’t start too young, and you can’t ignore it even if you think they don’t have any struggles – even if they TELL you they don’t have any struggles. I believe we can raise daughters with healthy views of their bodies that will break generational chains of struggle.
And it starts with YOU. It starts with your freedom. It starts by changing the way you view YOUR body. You can’t set someone else free while you still live in chains. The BEST way you set your daughter free is by getting free yourself. Do the work, friend. It’s worth it.