4.03.2013

Body Image Smackdown

I have no idea if the title of this blog post is going to accurately reflect its contents. It doesn't matter. Anytime I have the chance to use the word "smackdown" in a blog post title, I'm going to. Maybe I'll also write "Lemon Crepe Cake Smackdown," too.

Maybe I'm the worst person to write about body image... or maybe I'm the best person to write about it. I'm not thin and have never been thin. I'm thinner now than I've ever been, but honestly, I like love to eat and I dislike hate working out. Combine that with a slowing metabolism, and you have a bonafide weight-struggler. Hi, my name is Amanda and I'm a weight-struggler. But somehow, as a chubby kid, I never fell into an eating disorder. How could that be? Somehow, I never thought I was "not _______ enough." How did I develop a healthy body image as a child, and why did it get worse as I got older? As I thought about it, here's what I came up with:
  • It's not about the dolls I played with-- I played with Barbies and everything else and didn't compare myself to them.
  • I have a distinct memory as a very young child, putting two halves of an Easter egg under my shirt, to resemble breasts. My mom didn't freak out. She just said, "You'll have those someday."
  • I can't remember a single time in my childhood that I heard my mom complain about her body.
  • When my mom did work out, it never interfered with our normal lives and wasn't a topic of conversation, except when my dad labeled her workout video "Belly Butt Boogie," and we laughed.
  • My mom cooked good, healthy, satisfying, balanced meals and enjoyed them.
  • I was accomplished in lots of things: academics, drawing, music, writing, and imagination. My body wasn't my focus.
  • I had a positive male presence in my life who didn't emphasize physical beauty.
What I can infer is that body image is not necessarily developed by mini plastic mannequins, but by what is taught and modeled to little girls by their moms and dads. That's really what it comes down to. That's unfortunate for those without good parents, but fortunate for me. My body image began to change when I got older. That's when I heard a lot of girls complain about their bodies. That's when I read magazines that told me what had to be fixed about my appearance because they were unacceptable. I realized I wasn't the "ideal" weight. I had pounds to lose, incurable cellulite, and jiggly bits. My body image began to suffer. My background and God's grace was enough to protect me from eating disorders and making foolish decisions based on my insecurities. Nevertheless, since my early twenties, I've been battling a negative body image that I didn't have as a child. The following images are just some of the things I've found on Pinterest that threaten body image and kind of freak me out, too:




What's really been affected by my now struggling body image is my marriage. I know Mike loves me because he tells me so and he wanted to marry me and stay married to me. But because of my assumptions about what men find attractive, and my insecurities about my "imperfections," I seem to need affirmation-- something I never needed in the past. It's caused me to place expectations on my husband that he shouldn't have to meet. I've allowed my own body image to plummet because of what the media tells me I should be like.

The truth is, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. If I am healthy and not lazy or gluttonous, I'm doing just fine. Comparison is the thief of joy. I will always be chubby, always have cellulite, and always have jiggly bits. But I like who I am and how God made me.

Who does the world think it is, anyway, telling me what "perfect" looks like?!

I don't consciously think about body image all that often, but I'll bet it's in my head more than I realize (especially with the insurmountable piles of photos on Pinterest). Still, these thoughts about body image began yesterday, when I found this pin:

original blog post can be found here.

The post is by a mom who doesn't like seeing naked Barbies lying around the house; they disturb her. So she drew bathing suits on the dolls so her daughter can play with perpetually clothed Barbies. The idea in and of itself isn't a terrible one. I think I understand why she did it. But I do really disagree with her reasoning. She doesn't want her daughter to get negative ideas about body image, etc. from naked Barbies. I'm going to just go ahead and submit that drawing on a naked Barbie actually changes nothing about what that tiny mannequin looks like. Her breasts are just as pronounced, and they're putting molded undies on them now anyway (they're just flesh- colored, and I'll wager most women have flesh- colored undies too). And what about black Barbies? The sharpie coloring won't show up well. Does black Barbie look clothed simply because her skin isn't peach like white Barbie? Just saying.

Ultimately, it's not about the naked Barbies a little girl plays with that warps her body image. There is nothing wrong with human bodies. Let me pose this question: is there anything inherently wrong with nakedness? Answer: no. God created Adam and Eve naked and He called it good. I'm positive Adam called it good too. The only problem with nakedness is the sin that has tainted it. When sin is connected to nakedness, then it's a problem. Unfortunately, nakedness and sin have become pretty interwoven in our culture, which is why I probably won't have famous nude paintings all around my house. It's not because nakedness is bad, but because I don't want people weirded out or young men's minds going places it doesn't need to go. Unless naked Barbies cause your child (or husband/son?) to stumble, the only thing you're teaching your daughter by coloring bathing suits on them is that we should be ashamed of our bodies.

All this to say, I am not a mom, but I hope that when I am, I will do my best to foster an open, honest communication with my daughter about body image. I'll do my best to not complain about my body. I'll do my best to not make working out or healthy eating my idol. I'll do my best to praise her inward qualities, rather than focus on the physical. I'll do my best to not comment on the looks of others. And I'll do my best to combat the lies that the media throws at girls that they have to look "perfect."

And in closing, let me just say that I love Tina Fey. We do not agree politically or religiously, but she one of the most brilliant, intelligent, lovely, insanely funny and witty people of this generation, or ever. I like many of the things she's said about body image. One I love, and will leave you with today, is a quote from her book, Bossypants. I read it last summer on the cruise and it had me both laughing and thinking the whole time. The brackets are mine, to avoid language that might offend.

“...I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—BeyoncĂ© brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall [butt], long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll [breasts]..."

There is no "perfect," unless you understand that God's design for your body was and is perfect. And coloring on Barbie dolls won't help a little girl understand that without proper teaching.

xoxo, A