It happened the other day.
The thing I promised myself I would NEVER let happen to my girls.
I was walking through our hallway and caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror, and I did it. I lifted up my shirt, gave my belly a disappointed look and sucked it all in. My train of thought was interrupted by a tiny perceptive voice, “Mommy, watchya doing? You ok?” Shame burned my cheeks as I quickly kneeled down to my little girl and kissed her forehead. I grabbed her hand and took her into the bathroom with me and lifted my shirt again, attempting to undo whatever damage I just did.
“Look how beautiful mommy’s belly is. Look how soft and strong it is. Isn’t it just amazing?! You and sissy grew in there TOGETHER, and so I will always love my belly whenever I look at it because it gave me you.” She rubbed my belly and laughed. Asking questions and poking my squishy belly button.
“And look at mommy’s legs! They aren’t the fastest, but they are fast enough! Did you know mommy used her legs to run long races? And they’ve taken me on so many adventures! I can’t wait to hear about the adventures your legs take you on.”
And then I looked in the mirror again, fighting to see the beauty instead of the flaws, and I said, “Look at mommy’s arms, how strong they are from carrying you, sissy, and baby brother! Isn’t it great how God gave mommy strong arms to carry you?”
She quickly flexed her arms and we ooooh’d and ahhhhh’d over how God beautifully made her. We continued to point out how her body was healthy, linking beauty to the functionality of her parts, rather than focusing on what culture deems aesthetically pleasing. From her head to her toe, I spoke truth into her future body image.
That reality of that moment both haunts and ignites something in me.
That night I went to bed praying for God to free my girls from the captivity of our culture’s lies about beauty. I prayed they would know that their identity, their worth, was not found in a number on a scale or size of dress. And as I thought more about our encounter, I realized something...
Ben and I teach our kids how to brush their teeth and how to have semi-good hygiene (just keepin’ it real here). We teach them to be polite and speak “encouraging words” to others. We teach them to take their dishes to the sink, and that we have to pick up a toy or two before we leave the house.
I guess what I’m getting at is this, we teach them 1000 different things that help them become contributing members in society. And yet, until a few days ago, I was planning on just hoping and praying that they would learn to have a healthy body image on their own.
I can’t control how my kids turn out or what they face in life, but I can equip them with the tools on how to look at and discuss their bodies by modeling self-care to my own body and inviting my children to join in on the fun.
So I’ve been stewing on that concept and this is what I've come up with.
4 Ways to Model and Foster a Healthy Body Image for our Children
It's not a comprehensive list. But just 4 areas that I can start changing and intentionally modeling right now (and if you have other ways you already do this, feel free to share below in the comments! I'd love to hear them!).
Without further adieu... Here we go.
1. How you speak about your body (& others’):
Talk positively about your body and it’s functions to your younger children. Praise your imperfections and share the stories that they tell. Then praise their bodies too! Link function to beauty, rather than cultural notions. While you're telling your body how amazing it is... Hand out praise to others like it’s going out of style. Have a friend who looks great today? Praise her. Have a friend who said something extremely moving today? Praise her. Learn to be a cheerleader of others (& yourself), OUT LOUD and in front of your kids.
On the flip side... Don’t talk negatively about your body OR other bodies ever… but especially in front of your kids. That woman who hasn’t lost all her baby weight, no need to comment on it. That friend who has put on or lost a few pounds, don’t highlight it. Just don’t do it. Like my mama said... if you don't have anything nice to say... keep your mouth shut... er don't say anything at all.
2. How you look at your body:
When looking at your body in the mirror, don’t sigh or look at yourself with disappointment. Your kids are watching you. They see how you look at your body, how often you do so, and what your response is. They see how you suck your belly in, and stick your shoulders back. They see you wiggle your arm fat in disgust. They are perceptive little beings and we underestimate how much they absorb!
Start practicing looking in the mirror and admiring how your body is a miracle. Take every thought captive and then contradict it by looking on your body with pride. Did you know that the average heart beats about 100,000 a day? That when you get a flesh wound, your skin goes through a regenerative process that HEALS itself? What about those of you who have carried humans IN your body - such a miracle!!! And if for no other reason, remember that YOU were created in the image of God. You are His creation and He delights in you, so why don’t you join him in delighting in the gift he’s given you in your physical body.
3. How you treat your body:
Value health over beauty. Take care of your body. Rest, exercise, and fuel your body well. I’m not saying you have to become a crazy runner who only eats kale smoothies (#justno). Rather, treat your body well and train it for good. Go on missions trips, serve your community, walk around your neighborhood and meet your neighbors. But while you take care of your body, focus on strength, rest, and health instead of size. Because here’s the kicker, the point of the exercise is to maintain or increase health, NOT to lose weight. If losing weight is a byproduct of getting healthy - great! If gaining weight is a byproduct of getting healthy - great! But... let me repeat: the focus of exercise is health, not size. Treat your body accordingly and I promise your kids will notice and want to join in on the fun.
4. How you fuel your body:
Food. Oi! This one is hard for me. You see, I like a lot of things that are bad for my health. And I've discovered that when I try to change my diet in order to lose weight, I get obsessive and dissatisfied. Yet when I eat for health and ask the question, "Does this food nourish my body?" I feel proud and accomplished! The difference in what I actually eat is dismal, but the difference between the two perspectives is HUGE. And guess what, my kids notice the difference!
Modeling a healthy approach to food is so important for our kids. They don't need to see a mom who is skipping meals (unless it's for medicinal or spiritual purposes). They don't need to hear a mom say, "Oh I can't eat that or it'll go straight to my hips." They need parents who make good decisions in regards to food. Y'all I am NOT good at this, but I know that how I model this will directly impact how our kids connect food to body image for years to come.
Psalm 139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Y'all, do you see that? We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our souls are DESIGNED to know this truth WELL.
It doesn't mean we won't wrestle with this... I definitely failed this past week... but I say let's fight. Let’s take this body image issue by the horns and stop playing victim to cultural lies and stand up and fight like women who are fearfully and wonderfully made. Because, ladies, we are strong. We are capable. We are beautiful. We were made in God’s image and these bodies are GIFTS. And that is everything I want my children growing up believing about their bodies. Don't you?
I believe we can change the culture of the next generation of kids and body image, but only IF we are willing to change our own personal approach to body image.
Let's do this thing. You in?