The Most Important Thing We Can Do for Our Daughter's Body Image
“My legs need some color”.
My mouth dropped open when I heard my 8-year-old fair-skinned daughter say these words. Yes, that’s right. My 8-year-old daughter. Where had she heard that? Why did she think that? These questions, and others, ran through my mind as I quickly began blaming the world and its messages. But suddenly the reason for her body critiquing hit me like a cold bucket of water drenched over my head.
She’d heard it from me.
My stomach sank as I recalled the week prior, standing in my doorway (my daughter nearby) with my first dress on at the start of spring and telling my girlfriend, “I really need some color on these legs, they are so pale! It’s frightening!” I sadly knew she had been copying her mom.
Two weeks later when I found myself trying on bathing suits in the Target dressing room with my daughter, I was careful with my words. I pulled that suit up over my shoulders and groaned inside. I stared in the mirror, silently bemoaning that I did not have the bathing suit body I wanted for the start of the summer. I turned around in the mirror, cringing as I saw parts of my body that were not as firm as I wanted. I felt myself internalizing these feelings as insecurity saturated my mind and heart.
But I vowed not to say a word. I was determined to not repeat my previous mistake and say something negative about my body that my daughter might repeat or internalize herself. Yet I carried that weight of insecurity about my physical body out the door. I got to my car, sat down, and suddenly had a thought,
Could it be that the Lord wants more for me than simply trying to hide the behavior and what was really going on in my heart?
I recalled my college days when I had spent 3 out of the 4 years doing yo-yo diets, obsessing over what I looked like, feeling constantly insecure about my body and weight gain, and in my lowest moments, wishing I had an eating disorder like some girls I knew simply because I wanted to lose weight.
After graduating from college I had slowly broken free from these chains by the grace of God, but indeed, there are still seasons when I feel these temptations creep in. Whether it was the weight gain of pregnancy, the difficulty losing it after birth, or the ebb and flow of body changes and some weight fluctuations with age, the temptation to idolize a particular weight or look can be enticing. If you’ve walked with various women in the area of body image, you know that body image issues entrap all women, no matter your shape or size. Body image distortions are a heart condition, not a circumstantial issue.
Taking care of our bodies-our temple-has value and is glorifying to God (1 Timothy 4:8, 1 Cor. 6:19-20). And I believe that being fit, losing weight, wearing makeup, wanting to look good, finding a cute dress we feel great in-all these things and more- can be received or done out of thanksgiving to God who wants us to care for our bodies and who loves to give good gifts to enjoy. But we’ve probably all experienced the shift from enjoying physical beauty to either disdaining or idolizing our own bodies.
And it was there in the Target parking lot that I realized the most important thing we can do for our daughter’s body image is to:
Continue to invite God in to our own body image distortions.
I could put a temporary cap on my words that day in the Target dressing room, but I couldn’t put a cap on my heart. Matthew 12:34 reminds us, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. Eventually, any body image issues I was simply stuffing inside for the sake of my daughter would come out in one way or another- through my actions, words, or even omissions. And the longer I let these negative views marinate, the deeper the insecurity would grow. Most importantly, God wants so much more for me, and us.
We watch our daughters as they grow, cringing at the world around them that idolizes physical beauty and projects a certain standard. We hurt inside when they get made fun of for a particular characteristic, when they verbalize insecurity over a personal aspect, or when they try to hide a quality we love about them. We try to shelter them from the cruel world, knowing how unkind it has been toward our own body insecurities. We want to speak loving words over their life at a very young age, telling them they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). We pray and beg God to let our voice and the truth of Scripture drown out the lies that might creep in over the years regarding their bodies.
And yet sometimes, we secretly turn to our own mirror and disdain what we see looking back at us. Or we find great pride in the mirror reflection, suddenly craving and idolizing the attention we get for it. We use our words to encourage our daughter to neither have too much pride nor despair over their bodies, when our behavior and heart toward our own body demonstrates otherwise.
As mothers we also have a parent-God the Father- who painfully watches the way we view our body in an unhealthy way. He also wants to tenderly speak truth to us, His daughters:
I created you in my image (Genesis 1:27),
You are my masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10),
I am continually forming and shaping you into a beautiful vessel (Jeremiah 18:4).
And when the chorus of the world is singing a song that lures us into body distortion, insecurity, and lies, our God sings another:
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save, he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
And for some of you moms, body image struggles have plagued you for almost your entire life. Sweet sister, don’t give up. You wouldn’t give up on your own daughter, and your Father will never give up on you. Pray and ask God to restore your belief that He can give you freedom in this area so that one day, when your daughter is in tears over her view of her body, you can truthfully and authentically hold her face in your hands and tell her that God’s creation is beautiful and that she is His masterpiece.
It’s out of the kindness and loving mercy of our Father to use our daughters’ struggles as mirrors into our own hearts. Our freedom from a distorted body image is not just for the sake of our daughters, but for our own, so that we can live resting in our creator’s hand:
“But now, O LORD, you are
our Father, we are the clay,
and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand”.”