Body Image + Beauty

I read today that "a total of 75 percent of all American women endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies."

Seventy five percent, friends. That's three out of four women.

Seventy five percent of women in our country who are triggered by magazine covers, advertisements, airbrushed movie stars, the explosion of fitness propaganda, and the increasing expectation that they "should" look like someone they weren't created to be. Three out of four women sitting in a room with their girlfriends, co workers, strangers and family thinking about sitting up straighter to look skinner, walking a certain way to distract from their hips, wearing jeans in the summer to cover up cellulite, and wishing they were like the "perfect" friend who effortlessly fits the ideal image of the American woman. The craziest part is that "perfect" friend is very likely one of the seventy five percent. She's thinking about it too. She's dieted, binged, worked off last nights indulgences, cringed at the sight of another "perfect" friend or the latest star who got her body back 3 months after birth. She knows body shame like the rest of us.

My friend, Renee, talks about the scarcity mentality. She says that something happens to a woman when another pretty woman walks in. We immediately assume she's sucked up all the beauty in the room. There's nothing left for the rest of us. But chances are, that pretty woman is feeling the same scarcity deep in her gut.

Our culture values superficial. We airbrush and tuck and conceal in the hopes that we will look like the flawless, carefree California girl. We sing about it, write about it, watch movies and television that glorifies it and we tell ourselves it doesn't strike our souls. We pretend we don't care. We talk like it's nothing.

But seventy five percent of us are manipulating what we eat and how we exercise to try to conform to something that will never bring us joy. We will never feel happy - we'll just keep on feeling scarce. Maybe we'll finally have a moment where we think, "I'm in! Right now, I'm the perfect woman." And then we'll leave our house and walk into another room with another beautiful woman - suddenly, we're back to scarcity. Somehow she owns all of the beauty and we're left with an empty pursuit of what the world keeps promising will heal us.

What will heal us? What will finally set us free from the constant cycling that is stealing our joy?

I don't believe that forsaking beauty is the answer. It doesn't make sense to me that swinging to the other extreme will have a lasting impact on our freedom. Health, and freedom, are always in the midline. Our pursuit is in the fragile space that is neither here nor there. Hating the media won't change anything. Raging against women who naturally fall into the current cultural standard of beauty won't heal us. The effective pushback isn't in our anger (although it may be appropriate to feel a bit of that).

I'm one of the seventy five percent. I've starved myself. I've worked out until I was dizzy. I've gripped the never clear ideal and screamed against my complete hatred of what I am. There was a period of time in my life where I was very sick, friends. These days I'm steadier. I'm much healthier. I'm recovering in the light of community and Jesus. But this is my cross. I will never be done carrying it.

And that's okay.

Carrying it means I'm doing something about it. I'm making the choice to stop bending to the ugly distortion of what will bring me contentment and joy. I'm developing awareness of my mind and heart. I'm learning to embrace my body - flaws and all.

When someone walks into the room and I feel all of the beauty being sucked away like air in a vacuum, I whisper to my old wounds that I'm okay. We're all okay. We don't need to ride the waves of comparison. We don't need to be conformed to someone else's image. The image we're living in is perfectly designed, flawlessly written into our beings.

My friend Brittany wrote a post about her daughter Bella, who has spina bifida. She said the most profound thing. She said that God knit Bella together in her womb, called her "good" and then asked her to declare that in Bella's name. She said that God was declaring the goodness of Bella.

There's a challenge in that, isn't there? It's thrilling. It's so counter cultural - even in the body of Christ. What if, today, we chose to live in the truth of God declaring the goodness of us? What if, despite our manipulated emotions and battered souls, we listened to the voice of the one who knit us together? What if we stopped our thoughts from carrying us into despair and we wrote those words of truth over our minds and bodies? What if we became a culture of strong women; women who sought beauty by finding it first in their own lives? What if our experiences meant more than our pants size? What if our worth was rooted in our love for others? What if we all stood together, in one holy space, and declared the goodness of one another? What if the scarcity mentality had nowhere to land because we were already transparent enough to extend grace rather than assumption and judgement?

What if we changed things from the inside out?

We could do that, sisters. We could do it right now, starting today. We could start speaking love to one another. We could start speaking truth to ourselves.

Because THAT is beauty. It's the kind of beauty that transforms shallow and broken lives. It's the kind of beauty that reaches into the heart of darkness and causes an explosion of light.

It's enough to rattle the world, because if we stop buying the lie, there's no point in selling it anymore.

*What about you, friend? Are you one of the seventy five percent? What has been your biggest obstacle? How will you declare goodness today?

*September 2013