In the last week, have you walked by a mirror and been affected by your reflection? When you got dressed this morning, did you use some critical words to assess your appearance? Have you felt guilty lately about the size or shape of any part of your body? Why? Why do we as women find it so hard to feel good about the way we look?
This post is the beginning of a new 3 part series called Let’s Change Our Body Image! We’ll begin by looking at 5 big reasons why women have a negative body image. (UPDATE: The links to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series can now be found at the bottom of this post.)
First, I have to admit that I am writing this series for myself as much as I am for each of you. Because of much travel last year and mainly compromising my eating standards, I found at the end of the holidays I had put on some extra weight.
When I finally even allowed myself to accept the fact that I had gained weight (again!), it was all I could do to stop the negative voices and emotions rearing up inside of me. Can you relate?
I think you probably can! In their research about body image, the Dove Company found that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.
And it doesn’t always get better when we age! A New York Times article (found here) reports of a study in the Journal of Eating Disorders.
Researchers surveyed more than 900 women, ages 18 to 87, and found that while fat talk tended to decrease with age, old talk often came in to replace it, and that both were reported by women who appeared to have a negative body image.
Hope Dwellers is all about giving you hope and confidence to overcome so you can be all God created you to be. In this series, I want to address these body image issues so we can begin to learn how to deal with our own body image and see ourselves the way God does.
We’re going to begin with looking at 5 big reasons why women have a negative body image. I believe if we understand why we have these perceptions about our bodies, we’re more likely to be aware of them and can then begin the process of learning to have a healthy, life-giving view of this “house” we live in.
Negative Body Image is Influenced by Media and Advertising
This reason comes as no surprise, I’m sure. Everywhere we look we see beautiful women (and men) being used to advertise. In promoting products, marketers often use outward beauty to appeal to our own desire for beauty, persuading us ever so subtly (or not!) that if we buy their products, we’ll look the same. But honestly, this often leaves me wondering what exactly it is they are really selling!
The standards for beauty in the fashion and film industries seem to shift ever more gradually to unattainable and unreasonable ideals. France has even instituted a law banning the use of unhealthily thin models. Part of their aim is to fight “inaccessible ideals of beauty”. Isn’t that wonderful?!!
This is such a powerful quote in regards to the heart behind France’s new law:
“Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-depreciation and poor self-esteem that can impact health-related behaviour,” said France’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Marisol Touraine. (from this post)
How true this is! When we look at images, whether in print or on film or even on our Facebook feed, we let what we see affect our self-esteem, don’t we? When really, we haven’t seen the make-up artist or the hair stylist or even the person who used some PhotoShop to give us this image of beauty. Even on Facebook, we don’t see other women’s bad hair days or the mornings when they have baggy eyes.
Images are selectively chosen to give us the facade of beauty with misleading ideals for us to attain. If we had trainers and stylists and wardrobe consultants, we might also look amazing.
And the blaring message keeps going out that we need to be beautiful by the world’s standards, and we are “less than” if we aren’t.
Negative Body Image Often Comes From the Voices of Others
While we are greatly influenced by the media, we may be even more influenced by what hits close to home. When you were a child, did you ever have someone on the playground point out something about your body and make fun of it? I was often called “four eyes” or once I was even called “banana nose”.
Or maybe in high school you were made fun of because of something you were wearing or the haircut you just received or the way some part of your body was different. The ones throwing out the cutting words thought no more about it, but we on the receiving end are often left still feeling the wounds years and years later.
Maybe your mother was your biggest critic. She wanted to doll you up but you never measured up to her expectations. Or she criticized you every time you gained an ounce.
The words and opinions of others can certainly have a lasting effect. This is especially true when we so badly want to be beautiful in order to have acceptance and belonging. The opinions of others can then become our mirror, not only to confirm our looks but to affirm our worth as well.
We tend to believe those voices. And before we know it, those voices can become our own. We start listening to the voice in our heads that tells us we are lacking in our bodies, that we are not enough. The feelings come that we should do more or be more to be acceptable.
Negative Body Image Is Often Associated with Shame
If we listened to name calling or taunts or disparaging remarks from others as we grew in life, at some point we probably came face to face with shame about our bodies. The pressure from the media and the messages we heard in our own lives may have led us to wrap our bodies in a cloak of shame, feeling embarrassed about the way we look.
The insistence everywhere to have thin bodies as a sign of beauty can lead us to feel shame every time we gain weight. For me, I find it very difficult not to beat myself up when the pounds come back on. “You should have known better. You should have had more discipline. Who wants to be fat now?” I can really let myself have it and then want to crawl in a hole for no one to see me ever again.
Maybe you feel shame in relation to your body because you did something with your body that made you feel ashamed. Or maybe someone else did something to you that left you feeling covered in shame and guilt.
Dear one, let me stop right here and say you don’t have to carry the weight of shame anymore. Jesus, who despised the shame, carried it to the cross for you so that you can let it go. You can have a clean slate and be free from all of shame’s affects. (For more on not letting your past or shame define you, please read this post here.)
Shame is a powerful force, but never a beneficial one. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it was then that they felt shame over their bodies and felt the need to cover up. But in God’s design, our bodies were not a reason for shame. They too were considered good.
Negative Body Image is Stirred Up By Comparison
As I was doing some research to write this post, I found an interesting article from the Huffington Post. (You can read it here) The author of the article references Kathy Peiss, author of the book, Hope in a Jar. Ms. Peiss says that many people didn’t really know what they looked like until the late 19th century, when glass mirrors became a common presence.
The article goes on to say that by the 1860’s, photography was becoming more readily available to people. According to Ms. Peiss,
-this was the first time many Americans had a permanent, fixed image of what they objectively looked like, and they were often depressed by what they saw.
Isn’t this amazing? When people saw what they looked like, they were depressed. I can’t help but think their depression was a result of comparing their picture to what other people looked like and feeling like they didn’t measure up.
How unbelievably easy it is to look at other women and see what they have that I don’t. Or in the area of weight or aging, to see what they don’t have that now I do. And this type of comparison usually leads to one of 2 things: either I become proud as a result of my comparing or I throw myself in a state of despair because I feel like I’m not enough.
We often find ourselves comparing numbers, like those on the scale or on the tag in the back of our pants. It’s one thing I love about my exercise program, T-Tapp. You’re discouraged from looking at the scale. You measure inch loss, not pounds (who compares how many inches you lost in your thighs, right?!). And you take before and after pictures so you are only comparing yourself to the former you. (You can read about T-Tapp here.)
Another thing T-Tapp has taught me is that every person has a different body shape. We are all proportioned in different ways. Because of this, we just can’t adhere to a standard that says beauty must look like model #1. Our uniqueness gives us our beauty, and comparison can keep us from even seeing it. (You can read more about body shapes in this great article. I highly recommend it! )
Negative Body Image Can Be the Scapegoat for a Deferred Hope
The last of our 5 big reasons why women have a negative body image might be the most significant. We might just have a problem with our body if we believe it’s the ticket to getting us what we really want – to feel okay about ourselves.
If we buy into the lies of the media and advertising and we allow others’ words to stay rooted in our souls, we might just have the mindset that our appearance determines our worth and value. And therefore, because our bodies aren’t picture perfect or magazine cover quality, we think we have no chance of getting what we really need.
We all long to be desired, accepted, and affirmed. These are normal and very healthy longings. Truly! You don’t need to feel guilty for wanting validation.
The desire to be beautiful is not wrong. Beauty is part of what it means to be feminine. But I also don’t believe there’s any virtue in rejecting our femininity by not caring about beauty at all.
When these deeper longings keep rumbling in us unfulfilled, we might close our ears to anyone trying to affirm us or we might even close our hearts down tight. We might even feel a need to punish ourselves or our bodies.
The false idea that our appearance will give us what we really long for leads us to depend on the opinions and the standards of others. We are ultimately deceiving ourselves when we think we’ll finally find our heart’s longings to have worth and value if we just look a certain way or be a specific size or change something else about us.
Oh dear one, what a challenge to fight this, isn’t it? I’m right there with you. This is not an encouraging, uplifting post like I enjoy writing. But I felt like we all need to be aware of what might be hiding deep within and triggering the negative body image we all tend to have.
The reasons might be:
- We’ve been influenced by media and advertising
- We’ve listened to the voices of others (or ourselves)
- We’ve let shame have too much power
- We’ve been stirred up by too much comparison
- We’ve transferred our longings to the wrong place
This is why we so desperately need to know God and His heart for us and to see ourselves the way God sees us!!! If you are struggling in this area, here are 2 posts I highly recommend you reading:
We will talk more in the next 2 posts of this series, but let me leave you with this: God sees you as beautiful and He affirms your desire to be beautiful. But even more than that, God loves you with an unchanging love that accepts you, validates you, honors you, and prizes you – all that your heart could ever long for!
Learning to accept myself right along with you, body and all,
Here are some books that have helped me in this area. Click to see them at Amazon.
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If you want to read more, here are the links to Part 2 and Part 3 of our series: Let’s Change Our Body Image!