The other day I was bending over in my Pilates class when I noticed that I have saggy, wrinkly flesh on my knees. Whoa, that’s a view I’ve never noticed before! That led me to glance quickly in the mirror, where I saw to my chagrin that under certain conditions and under certain lights, my knees are a sight to behold. My knees are getting old! I’m getting granny knees!
Before you judge me, let me ask you – how often does running negative commentary about your body run through your mind? If I’m being honest, it’s sadly all too often. I notice all the imperfections of my body, and in my critical mind, it gets inflated to high alert. And I admit, there are days when I can obsess about this just a bit too much.
Body image struggles – anyone with me on this?
Oh, I know in my head that what I see in media and advertisements often aren’t the real deal. I know that the idealization of the feminine body has become a hammer with which many women beat themselves – from serious struggles with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and addictions to plastic surgery and beauty products/treatment, to the daily challenges many women face when they hate parts of their body and don’t feel beautiful. I mean I often treat women for these issues. But it’s one thing to know it in my head, it’s another thing to convince my insecure heart that my worth isn’t in my looks.
For centuries, women have been judged on their appearance. Women have become famous for their beauty, much less so for their intelligence or their accomplishments (although this is changing, the focus is still too often on a woman’s appearance). From an early age, females are bombarded with messages that their appearance is somehow tied to their worth and social standing. Layer on top of that our experiences with rejection, cruel and thoughtless comments about our bodies, and maybe even trauma, and our issues with body image become a complex, multi-layered thing.
That’s why constant reassurance from others, efforts to beat our bodies into shape, and spending tons of money on fashion and beauty products don’t stop our body image issues. We need to go deeper than that:
- Start by taking a body image inventory. Take time to journal all of your painful or traumatic experiences you’ve had related to your body or your appearance. Ask God to show you all the memories that may be tucked away that have negatively impacted your body image. For example, I still remember vividly the day my dad told me I had “really big” legs when I was in early adolescence. It marked me in that I believed I had ugly legs up until my middle adult years when I finally recognized the lie for what it was.
- Identify the pain/wound. If you struggle to identify or feel the emotion, ask the Lord to show you. And if the emotions come up, don’t shut them down or minimize them, but label them, let yourself feel them and grieve them.
- Pinpoint the lies or wrong conclusions you’ve made about yourself, your body, and your worth. This is an important step as you allow the Lord to bring the lies into your mind that have been so insidious in shaping your self-worth. Believe me, even if you don’t think they exist, they’re there if you struggle at all with your body image. You may want to ask your close friends and family as some of those negative comments have likely come out of your mouth at some point.
- Consider the ongoing effect of these wrong conclusions on your life today. Think about how this has impacted your self-worth, your romantic relationship, your sex life, your obsessions with your weight, food, exercise, etc. Think about how this may have held you back from embracing all that God has called you to, or being able to fully rest in his love for you. Become aware, as awareness is the first step to overcoming the baggage that’s holding you back.
- Challenge the lies with truth. This may be hard but it’s important to bring out the lies to the light. Choose to be honest with trusted friends (consider sharing your results from the 4 steps above) so that they can speak truth with grace. And they can also hold you accountable when they hear you bashing yourself.
- Rehearse the truths to yourself regularly. I know this sounds like a corny Dr. Phil trick, but we need to speak truth regularly to re-wire our brains and our long entrenched beliefs. If it feels awkward to stand in front of a mirror saying the truths out loud to yourself, pray them out loud as thanks prayers to God.
And if you have body image issues that are tied to traumatic memories, consider working through your trauma with a skilled trauma therapist, who can help you process these memories in a safe way. And if you are struggling with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia or very low self-esteem, then please, reach out for help.
Dr. Merry C. Lin is a psychologist, author and speaker with over 25 years of clinical experience. She is the supervising psychologist of LifeCare Centres (www.lifecarecentres.com), where she oversees a team of psychotherapists providing full service care for individuals, couples and families. A frequent speaker at conferences and guest on various TV and media shows, Dr. Merry loves to use her personal and professional experiences to speak into the lives of her audience. She often brings messages of hope and faith that help her listeners understand God’s truth in very practical ways to transform their lives. Dr. Merry is the author of The Fully Lived Life: Rescuing Our Souls from All that Holds Us Back. Visit her website at www.drmerrylin.com for more information.