Friday, July 21, 2006

The Skinny on Body Image

Speaking of teen conversations that proved my lack of coolness: A couple nights ago the girls were discussing the attack of American culture against their self-image, and they cited Hollister as an example. Being that I am completely out of touch with what is cool (hip? phat? What do teenagers say nowadays anyway?) I had to interrupt the conversation to ask "Who or what is this Hollister of whom you speak?"

Apparently Hollister is a clothing company whose sizes run extremely small, resulting in hordes of regularly-sized teenage girls feeling like they are being told: "You are too fat, and therefore uncool. We wouldn't let you wear our clothes even if you were willing to pay our exorbitant prices. We are for skinny, cool people only, so take your money and find somewhere else to shop, loser."

Maybe those aren't the exact words they used, but it's basically the sentiment they expressed. They felt like the standard to which they were being held in terms of body image was that of a waif. They said that they felt like the company doesn't want "bigger people" to be able to wear their clothes. Not being able to fit in the largest pair of jeans in the store made them feel unwanted, like they weren't good enough and something was wrong with them.

These girls are healthy and beautiful. They are not overweight (not that it would be ok to make them feel bad about it even if they were.) They should NOT be made to feel that they are somehow falling short, or not good enough, or that something is wrong with them, just because they are not a size 2.

Two of the girls specifically expressed a history of struggling with eating disorders directly precipitated by their low feeling of self-worth. One of the girls said that her dad used to chide her for eating too much, and warned her from an early age not to "get fat" because it would make life harder for her in the long run. Yeeeah, and you telling your daughter that "being skinny makes life easier" is really going to help things run smoothly for her in the body-image department? Not so much. (Sorry, I'm a little fired up.)

I am grieved by the pressure these girls are under, the images and messages they are surrounded by that say "You must be skinny, you must be pretty, you must strive to become attractive to guys." It's not just the issue of weight/thinness that is the problem - the whole realm of striving after physical beauty is just out of control. I'm not saying that we need to be walking around in burkhas so that we don't get caught up in our looks. It's not just about "accepting our bodies" or being comfortable in our own skin.

What grieves me the most about the situation is not just the expectations and attitudes that the culture is feeding to these beautiful girls. That alone is awful, but what do we expect from the unsanctified world, which has given itself over to the one who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy? We are fooling ourselves if we think that we can solve this problem by reasoning with its perpetuators (or its victims).

What weighs so heavily on my heart is that these girls were not just talking about not feeling pretty. They were talking about not feeling valuable.

This is a spiritual issue. It gets down to the very core of who we believe ourselves to be. I believe God has given us a desire for beauty - a longing to behold beauty, and to be beautiful. This is a godly desire, but one that is so often defined and 'fulfilled' unrighteously. We, as the church in America, are failing our youth if they are not anchored in the hope of their value and worth in Christ. Their hearts (and our hearts) need to be aligned rightly with the Word of God, and what He says about beauty. If they do not know that they are beautiful to God, and desired by Him, then we are abandoning them to the transient affections of this world.

It's not ultimately about whether my body looks the way I want. It's about whether I am someone who possesses beauty. It's not really about whether my skin is clear and smooth. It's about whether I am worth anything. It's not really about whether I can attract the attention of the opposite sex. It's about whether anyone who matters to me sees me as worthy of affection.

Lest any of you wonder: You are beautiful, you are desired, and you are worth it. God poured out the most extravagant display of affection in the world, when he poured out himself on our behalf on the cross. He did it all for love - because He loves you, and He desires your love in return. There is no greater consolation in life than knowing that the God of Creation is passionately in love with me. His heart is overwhelmed with love by even the slightest inclination of my heart towards Him.

If the truth of the love of God is alive in our hearts, only then an we understand the true beauty we possess.

You have ravished my heart with one look of your eye (Song of Solomon 4:9)

You are altogether beautiful, my darling. (Song of Solomon 4:7a)

The King greatly desires your beauty (Psalm 45:11)

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing; But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. (Prov. 31:30)

As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16


  1. I love this post. With a daughter who is 4 1/2, I am already thinking about how a healthy self-esteem can go so awry in today's society. Thanks for the thought. You have given me much to pray about.

  2. Sarah,

    This has weighed heavily on my heart, especially today after I took my 7 year old shopping. She isn't one of those skinny little girls, and we have VERY hard time finding clothes that fit & are appropriate. Hubby & I often tell her she needs to watch how much she's eating, because she is overweight. We want her to be healthy & not be the brunt of others' jokes...yet we also want her to be happy. It's a hard line to walk.

    I wrote a blog about the whole body image thing not too long ago. I'm not techy enough to link, but the title is "God Doesn't Want Me to Be Nicole Kidman". You & I think a lot alike on this subject.

    Take care, friend!

  3. Excellent post, Sarah. We as the body of Christ need to be building these teens up in the self image department with a Godly infusion of truth and love. They so need a revelation of how much they are worth to God.

  4. i went to a well known lingerie store with the word secret in the title and was summarily ignored by the staff.

    I can tell you what the secret refers to in the name of the store - you have to be a size negative 2 to fit into their cheap ugly clothing!!!!

    Lisa Whelchel has some good comments about Hollister on her blog.

    Thanks for your thoughtful blog. Keep fighting the good fight.