I say this with compassion, not with an air of judgment. I am not the world’s most confident woman (oh no, I assure you – and my husband will pipe in too – that I have my very own set of hang ups!), I just don’t have this body image problem. It’s not that I’m perfect or that I think I’m perfect. I just don’t care. The one who matters is happy with me and the One who created me made me the way I am. So I move on to other obsessions.
That said, I can’t help but be worried and concerned and, well, alarmed to sit down and notice just how rampant this body image issue is. What first got me thinking deeply about it was a book I read a year ago, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, by Jean Kilbourne (link goes to my review and summary). I leant it to a friend who later told me she had her husband read whole chapters of it, to see how she felt about her body and to understand the underlying reasons. I was shocked. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who would be – or should be – worried about her body! Then, just the other day, I found out that a dear, dear person has not been coming around us because she’s ten pounds overweight. Now, I know I’m a skinny Minnie, and the mistaken conclusion some even in my own family draw from that is that I’m one of the diet-obsessed types. But my husband is not (and I don’t say that to imply that he’s unattractive, or fat, or anything unappealing. I think he’s the hottest guy on the planet.). And we don’t care. I mean, we care that it’s important to people and we’re compassionate. But we don’t judge anyone on their weight or how they look.
And what has me really pondering today is the thought that it doesn’t matter how compassionate I am or the fact that I don’t care about how someone else looks. Their reality is found in their own perception, not in what I assure them (that I love them no matter how they look, that God loves them and created them that way, that it’s OK). There’s no convincing some of my girlfriends that they’re beautiful.
This afternoon, I told my husband that almost every woman I am friends with has some sort of body image issue. He looked at me with the look he gives me when he suspects me of making a gross exaggeration. Then he started naming names. Every single one of them was a “yup.” He was shocked; “So-and-so?!? Thus-and-such?!? They don’t have anything to worry about!” I’ve talked to many of my friends about this candidly. “Why?” I ask them. I’m curious. I want to know how to help them.
The range of answers is across the board. “I want to be healthier,” “I want to keep my husband’s attention,” “I want to lose that ten-twenty-etc pounds.” Some women have eating disorders that linger, and though they know about them, they struggle with them. Others just plain don’t like the way they look. At all.
I’m not bringing any of this up in the attitude of “good me, bad you.” I’m worried. This scares me in a way few things do. It makes me want to research and find out the root cause, though I suspect it’s not as simple as that.
This afternoon, my train of thought took a turn to my role as a mother. I thought about my two daughters. One of them is two, and is in the 98th or so percentile for weight. She’s pretty tall, and she’s solid as a brick wall. She’s a big kid for two. She’s probably going to be a big kid for three, and four, and seven, and twelve. The other one’s not born yet, but it’s possible she’ll be built just like her sister. And how long will it be before someone mentions that they’re fat? And how long before seeing the cartoons, the dolls in the stores, the infiltrations of society’s expectations of women’s bodies that they begin to obsess in the way that seems to be the norm?
Mothers, what do you do? I’m praying already. But I suspect it’s my example that’s going to set the bar, and something else. It’s the something else that I’m grappling with. It’s the cold fact of seeing every woman I know struggle with body image that has my blood alternately boiling with fury and freezing with fear for my girls.