Body Image Culture

Before we start this journey let me tell you - I am approaching this subject with a whole lot of trembling. I've known I wanted to write about it - heck, I've BEEN writing about it - but committing myself to this intentional, intense journey is shaking me up a bit. So, amen. I'm in.

One thing that sank into my soul last weekend at Influence was this: nothing beautiful comes easy. Grace is found in the molding, the chipping away and the producing of faith as you go. So lets lay it on the table first thing: I have not conquered this. I have not figured it all out; I am not a therapist. I'm going to bring you my raw heart, my own journey and how I see the hope of recovery.

Since we've already established that 75% of us are in the same boat, I'm hoping you've come to reclaim your body image too. I hope you'll see this as a shared path - something we're doing together. Your story is important. Our stories together, and what we do with them, can change the small things until the small things become the big things. I fully believe that we can change the culture of body image.

So let's start right there - with culture .

In an anthropological sense the term 'culture' can be described as "what a group of people have, think and do."  It can be traced back to German Romanticism and the idea of the Volksgeist (the "spirit" of a people). Culture is the way we live, process and function. It's what we do without thinking first. It's the way we talk, the way we interact, the rules we follow (and don't follow), the homes we live in, the way we view other people, and all of our taboos. We operate according to a certain way of life. So much of how we think is influenced by the culture we've grown up in, which why people in Africa and China and Saudi Arabia live differently that we do in America. It's also why we might enter into another culture and experience "culture shock". They have different rules - rules we don't know about. Things that come naturally to them feel uncomfortable to us. We live in different societies with different perspectives.

There are a whole lot of cultures within each culture. Certain sects of one tribe may follow the same general rules, but they will have developed their own particular societal grooves. When a group of people decide to live life with one another, they start to create a lifestyle that reflects the personal convictions and ideas of the people within that group. From the outside, they might look a lot like the next tribe over, but their day to day way of life will have its own distinctions. That's the beauty of living with other human beings. We influence one another. Our habits become other peoples habits. Their ideas engage the parts of our brains that are designed to process and form new ideas. We belong to one another. We're connected to one another. And that's not a bad thing.

What has happened within our body image culture is a distortion of our original design. We were made to love beauty. We were made to celebrate it and create it. We were made to see another beautiful woman and catch our breath the way we do when we see the sun setting over a vast ocean. It's in the deepest parts of our created selves. When we respond to beauty we are connecting to the parts of ourselves that are divinely created and inspired. But we've been poisoned, friends. Somewhere along the way comparison snuck into our cracked hearts and planted its tiny seed. For most of us, that seed has been digging deeper and deeper into our tender hearts, wrapping its roots into our thoughts and teaching us another way; a way that drags us away from the beauty of creation. And now we're lost, wandering through murky images and words, trying to conform ourselves to something that doesn't even really make sense.

I'm sure you've read those articles - the ones that tell us the truth about photoshopped models and manipulated images. Somehow the articles don't help. They don't help because the images are still being airbrushed and slimmed down. We still stand in the grocery store on a weekly basis and soak in the splendor of an unrealistic, glorified version of what we will never be. Very few of us will ever look like the woman in every advertisement, commercial and magazine. We're just not her. She's not even her. But we're still buying it. We're still sinking into the daily, subtle realization that what we're bringing to the table is lumpy, and chubby, and too scrawny, and flat, and stretched, and misproportioned, and just a little bit off center of what we SHOULD be. This has become the truth of our body image culture - the rules we follow to belong to the society of women in America. Somehow this has become the basis by which we determine our self worth.

We keep on buying it. We keep on selling it. We're just cycling.

Starting today, lets dismantle the lie. Lets challenge ourselves to step outside of our own culture for a little while, so that we can start to redefine the rules that we're following. There's another way, friends. We can change the rules. It's just going to require a little bit of bravery on our parts. Good thing we are a brave people.

I'm going to bring you (and me ) a whole lot of challenges this month, so lets start with this. For just this month I'm not going to buy a single magazine, which is not easy for me because I am a great lover of beauty, makeup and clothes. I'm not even saying magazines are bad. If I'm not buying into the lie, I can read magazines all day long and still be free. But I'm being honest right now - I do buy the lie. So I'm going to start by putting the magazine down and my wallet back in my purse. I'm going to turn my heart to what is true, noble and good; to what builds my fragile heart into a strong one. And, in a wild act of crazy hope, I'm going to invite you to do it with me.

*Can you identify the impact of body image culture in your own life? Maybe spend some time today journalling about the ideas, images and words that have influenced your perception of the female body.

*October 2013