When I was about nine or ten years old, I remember leaving church with my family and a lady I knew well from church approached me and complimented me on how cute I looked. I must have been a cute kid because this wasn’t a unique occurrence. That day, like most others, I looked back at her, horrified. I was convinced I was ugly and for her to so brazenly compliment me like that meant she was lying to my face and mocking me. I looked at my feet, trying to avoid her gaze.
“Jessica, say, “Thank you!’” I heard my mom say. With deep reluctance I thanked her, knowing it would make this painfully awkward interaction end. As we walked away, my mom inquired why I behaved the way I did.
“I’m not pretty or cute,” I replied.
With horror all over her face, she exclaimed, “Yes, you are!”
“No, I’m not,” I said firmly. I don’t remember what her response was (probably her telling me I was not ugly and that was final), but I let the issue lie.
Sobering Statistics: We Are Not Happy
According to CanadianWomen.org, girls and young women tend to feel pretty terrible about their bodies. As the infographic shows, over 50% of girls say they wish they were someone else. 50% of girls in grade 6 are on a diet. Only 36% of sixth graders say they are self-confident and that number drops to 14% by grade 10, only four years later.
Girls are not alone. Boys and young men have media pressure to look good, have “six pack abs” and an attractively muscular body. MediaSmarts.ca reports that there’s evidence boys as young as 10 are beginning to be concerned about how muscular their body is. One study showed how reading men’s magazines (that feature scantily clad women) increased young men’s self-consciousness as they assumed similar pressure would be on themselves to look good.
One of the most concerning aspects of young men’s body image issues is that it is much less well-understood and recognized. Teen boys are too embarrassed to admit there’s an issue, or unaware that being concerned with their weight and muscularity could even be a problem.
Does Jesus Make A Difference? Body Image and the Christian
Let’s go back to the story of my interaction as a girl at church. One of the themes of my life story is God’s grace intervening in my life. I have no story of major transformation in coming to the Lord. I accepted Christ at the age of four. But God’s grace in my life was evident as the Holy Spirit spoke to me and guided me even in my young age.
Up until that conversation, I had almost resolved to hate myself (so sad, I know. I was so young!).
After that interaction at church however, I realized that there was something skewed with the way I was viewing myself. I saw things differently than everyone else and therefore one of us must be wrong. At the time my self-loathing was deep enough that I did not believe the compliments I was receiving. The turning point for my self-image came when I chose to believe they weren’t lying to me. By choosing to believe the positive comments and believe that God loved me just as I was over my own feelings and perceptions, I learned to have a proper view of myself.
Looking back, it seems outrageous to think that I went from self-loathing to being a grown woman with a (mostly) healthy view of self and others without any major external intervention or counselling. While this probably isn’t the norm, what is normal is the need for all of us to have God transform our minds on all kinds of issues, including our distorted thinking of our bodies or others’ bodies.
Overcoming Unbelief: Taking God At His Word
Recently I wrote about faith and how one way we could define it is “taking God at his word.” When it comes to body image, it’s important to consider the messages we’re receiving.
The media will almost always tell us we’re not good enough, unless you’re one of the few who fit the media’s standards. Even once you fit those standards, the pressure to maintain these standards can be crushing. This can alter our own view of ourselves as we begin to believe we need to be thinner or more muscular in order to stay within the standards, leading to eating disorders or body dysmorphia.
Some of us have family pressure to look a certain way, or perhaps you’re in a relationship where your girlfriend or boyfriend is encouraging problematic standards. We can’t always listen to those we love on this issue because our cultural standards are so broken. So we must turn to the God and his Word, the Bible.
Psalm 139 is a great place for us to gain an understanding of how God views us. Addressing the whole Psalm is beyond the scope of this article, so I will just point out a few key ideas and you can investigate the rest on your own.
The Psalm begins by talking about how well God knows the psalmist, David. Verses 1-6 describe this in detail: “You have searched me and know me….”
Following this, verses 7-12 talk about how there is no way David can escape God. God is always with him; he could try to hide but God would be there.
Then David shifts the psalm’s focus to how God created him. For a few verses he describes how God knit him together in his mother’s womb, and knows every cell of his being and the events of every day of his life before they happened.
God knows everything about us, there’s no escaping him, he made us and loves us as we are. Isn’t this a wonderful comfort?
“By choosing to believe the positive comments and believe that God loved me just as I was over my own feelings and perceptions, I learned to have a proper view of myself.”Jess Versteeg
Perhaps these words aren’t a comfort to you. Perhaps it’s so desperately important for you to fit in or to look better than your peers that it doesn’t matter to you what God says about you. Perhaps you have a crushing sense of shame over how you look, or you feel guilty that your body draws attention of the opposite sex. Perhaps memories or fears of sexual assault haunt you, or the allure of attention from the opposite sex is exhilarating.
I am not a counsellor; all I have is my experience and how God has worked in my life. Body image can be a very tricky subject to address because our issues can have roots in different places for different people. These challenging issues can be overcome. They don’t have to be your entire story, or follow you your entire life. We want to help equip you on your journey to body and soul health. This is why I want to invite you to come to P2C PLUS and participate in some of the excellent workshops we have.
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