Growing up I was acutely aware of body image, and endlessly curious about all things female. I remember watching my mother bathe, dress and put on makeup. Growing up in a house with an open door policy, nothing was off limits and I had permission to ask any question that came to mind. Mom believed she would far rather I learn a hard truth from her than figure out a half truth on my own.
It’s just the way the women in my family are. My whole life there hasn’t been a question I haven’t asked, a doubt I haven’t shared, or a secret I’ve had to keep. I realize now, it was a gift. It’s why I never considered vulnerability to be vulnerable — it’s just the way I was raised. The family of women I grew up surrounded with shared and showed their whole imperfect selves, and I loved who they were.
Real, honest, imperfect and beautiful; These women taught me who I am. And even though no relationship is perfect, and I have gone through seasons where I doubted everything they told me, I see now that every word was true. What I think and feel and know about my body I learned from them. Because we were more than our bodies. Together we were round and short and tall and thin; bumpy and jiggly and soft and strong. There’s been children and grandchildren and adopted children and lost children who’ve come back.
We’re women. We know the hardest stories from the inside because we’ve lived them. Shared them. And we’ve loved each other through them. It’s been said that loving yourself is the greatest revolution and I believe it’s true. It goes against everything we see in the culture around us. Everything we sometimes feel from the inside out. In the end, it’s not about becoming more or better, smaller or quieter so as not to offend someone else; it’s about taking away everything we ever learned that continues to hold us hostage to ourselves.
Whoever told you who you are? If you’re like me, your body image came from somewhere outside yourself. It filtered in from the people around you. The influences beside you. The experiences within you. But your body is more than a body: it’s a place where you live. Your body is a shell for your soul and a safe harbor for your spirit.
What lives in yours? Loathing or love? Freedom or fear? Maybe you didn’t have a mother who never tore herself down in the mirror, who indulged in her favorite things, or who told you over and over again that you were beautiful. But you can change the way you see yourself. You can redefine who you are.
Mary Lambert said: “You are worth more than a waistline. You are worth more than beer bottles displayed like drunken artifacts. You are worth more than any naked body could proclaim in the shadows, more than any man’s whim or your father’s mistake. You are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4. You are no less valuable as a 32a than a 36c.”
Body image doesn’t discriminate. No matter your size or shape, each of us hold our own set of fears, insecurities and shame inside our selves. But fear is a liar. And so are many of the voices that have spoken untruth over your life. Don’t let a liar define you. Before you were formed in your mother’s womb, God knew you. He made you. He set you apart.
In a culture exceedingly obsessed with the size and shape of a woman’s body, there are a few ways you can fight a negative body image:
1. Shift your focus: In today’s world we’re connected to virtually limitless sources of encouragement or discouragement. If you follow a person or organization that causes you body image stress or shame it’s your right and your responsibility to unfollow. If you read books and magazines or watch television or movies that distort or darken the perception of what it means to be a woman, then it’s in your power to turn them off. Turn your gaze toward women and companies empowering other women to discover and live into their best selves — beyond the size, shape or service of their body but rather, to moving with the heartbeat of their soul.
2. Change your language: Do the majority of your conversations revolve around diets or food? Perhaps you play on repeat your biggest complaints and what you currently hate most about your body. Stop. You will manifest what you believe. If you believe you can’t eat real food and still live well, then you will deprive yourself now and indulge in more later. If you believe you’ll be happier only when you’re thinner, then you’re overlooking everything you have to be grateful for right now.
3. Choose the company you keep: For most of us our greatest enemy is ourselves, but perhaps you have a person or group who tears you down from the outside too. You teach people how to treat you. You have the right to tell someone to stop criticizing, belittling, or degrading you or other women and if they don’t stop, then you don’t need permission to walk away. Surround yourself with healthy people with a positive body image. People who are about serving, growing, encouraging, learning, creating and being — rather than people who are consumed by comparing, competing, judging, or complaining. Walking away is never easy, but sometimes staying is infinitely worse.
4. Become what you’re looking for: Maybe you’re surrounded by the wrong people and the wrong things and you can’t even imagine a community of women like the one I grew up with. Then make it. Become the mom who doesn’t tear herself down; the sister who builds someone else up; the friend who comes alongside; or the advocate who serves another in love. Body image is learned. How you influence a woman today will help shape the woman she becomes tomorrow.
You are more than your body. You’re a woman. God created women infinitely capable. Resilient and strong. We were made to bear life and burden hard things. Loss, grief, pain and so much joy. And perhaps it is true, that loving yourself will be the most subversive, defiant, revolutionary act of your life. A turning point where you decide to fix your eyes on truth. To become what you believe. To choose who will share and influence your journey. And to impact the world in which you live and make it a better place. You are more than a body. You are a soul, a spirit, and a beautiful mind. Become who you are.