These are all words women have used in a recent survey to describe how they feel about their bodies. And, if I am honest, it’s often how I feel about my own as well. I will be forty years old in February, and most of those years I have spent frustrated, discontent, and discouraged with varying aspects of my body.
When my hair was curly, I wanted it to be straight. Now that my hair has lost its natural curl, I wish it were curly again. I’ve wanted blue eyes instead of brown. I’ve despaired over my crooked nose with a hump in it. I’ve hated the mole on my cheek. I’ve wished I were taller and skinnier. I’ve despised my large calves and thick thighs. I’ve even wished I had better nail beds and cuticles. The absurdity of this is only now becoming apparent to me.
As part of my job at Grace Church, I’ve spent the last month or two reading, researching, surveying, and meeting with women to talk about the issue of body image. I’ve held focus groups with over 130 women, read surveys from over 260 women, and met one on one with many others.
This issue is complex, within the church, because biblical truth is so intertwined with cultural standards. I find myself trying to unravel one strand at a time. There are so many questions wrapped up in this issue: Is a woman’s desire to be attractive and desirable a bad thing? When does that desire cross the invisible line into idolatry of image? Does God care about what we do with our bodies? Does he care about our beautification processes? How much time, energy, focus, and resources spent on our physical appearance is too much? What are we responsible for and what do we need to accept?
Throughout this process, a couple of things have become very clear to me: this is a pervasive issue for almost all women, and most of the “solutions” I’ve read seem to miss the heart of the issue. Much of the treatment of the issue seems to be geared toward building self-esteem and learning to love your own body. Some solutions swing wildly between extremes on the pendulum like sculpting and molding your body through extreme exercise and dieting which borders on obsession, or being fat and proud of it which borders on passivity. And the amount of money spent on plastic surgery in America each year could actually fund the basic life necessities needed for an entire small, developing country (as cited in Darryl Roberts’ documentary, America The Beautiful).
The problem with self-esteem as the solution is that it puts me at the center. The problem with loving my body is that it will change as I go through the varying seasons of life: pregnancy, menopause, and the aging process that brings wrinkles, sagging body parts, and skin that has lost its youthful glow and elasticity. I cannot afford to put my hope in my body or me. I do not need to look in the mirror and worship myself with adoration and praise.
Likewise, I do not believe the solution is in rejecting healthy food choices, exercise, or beauty and labeling it “acceptance” and thinking it more spiritual. Nor, do I believe that conforming or striving to attain cultural standards of beauty is the answer. While I am still researching, studying, praying, and looking to the Lord for guidance, I have a sneaking suspicion that the issue is not with our bodies at all, but with poor stewardship of our bodies and the sins of envy, jealousy, pride, covetousness, idolatry, and unbelief.
The Lord created women in His image to reflect Him to the world. I truly believe He delights in the wonder and beauty of the feminine form – in all its shapes and sizes and distinctions. I believe that women not only reflect His image in character, but also in beauty. Just as a beautiful sunrise or sunset reflects His glory, so does the beauty of a woman.
Whatever the solution to my insecurities and discontentment with my body, I believe it will put the Lord at the center. My body reflects the glory of the Lord. He is a masterful Creator and the body in its form and function is an amazing thing. What I see in the mirror should lead me to worship, adore, and praise the Creator, not the creation. And how I present myself, should not hinder others from seeing God or lead them to adore my beauty, but allow them, instead, to see the One whom I reflect.
So, while I am still searching the Scriptures and praying for the Lord to lead in this area, one thing I know for certain: God does not desire for His daughters to be imprisoned to this issue.