So I hate to admit it, but I am one of countless women who have given guys a hard time for not guarding women’s hearts. Sometimes guys seem so totally oblivious that I feel like pulling out my hair and screaming, “Don’t you know anything??” However, I think that for all of our ranting, us girls run the risk of being a little hypocritical when we do this because, in reality, women do an equally poor job of guarding other women’s hearts. It’s high time we stop accusing guys of being oblivious, because girls can be shockingly thoughtless as well.
This thoughtlessness manifests itself in countless ways. For example, in the realm of dating relationships, we might have a friend start hanging out with a guy, and the next thing you know we’re talking about what their kids would look like. In doing so, we make it difficult for our friends to keep their imaginations in check, and so their hearts get carried away, making it that much harder when the relationship doesn’t work out.
However, I think there is an even greater area in which we sorely need improvement, and that is in the area of body image. This is an area in which we pay so little attention to others that we cause our sisters to stumble over and over again, without every even realizing it. And this is strikingly ironic. When it comes to causing other Christians to stumble, we are unbelievably careful about other issues, such as drinking. Many Christians wouldn’t dare take a sip of alcohol in public for fear of causing a weaker person to stumble. In fact, many Christians will even look down on those who drink at all, even if they do so responsibly, because of the effects it might have on others. We, the holy ones, wouldn’t dare tempt someone else into the sin of drinking alcohol.
Yet somehow this concern for others dissipates when it comes to issues of body image. We know that our sisters struggle with it, but our first concern is ourselves, so we talk about how much we need to lose weight or how we’re abstaining from certain foods so we can get thinner, giving little thought to how our words might be affecting others. It’s not that there is something inherently wrong with losing weight, but there is an appropriate time and place for it, and we need to start exercising more discernment as to when those times are. It is profoundly inappropriate to encourage a healthy sized woman who has struggled with eating disorders to lose weight or exercise excessively. Yet this happens all the time. We forget that doing so is like taking an alcoholic to a bar. Our sisters struggle to think about body image in a realistic way, yet we feed into their misperceptions and the lies behind them by re-emphasizing the importance of body image when it is already an idol in their lives. We help perpetuate the myth that if you’re not losing weight, or if you’re not super thin, then something is wrong, and you won’t be happy until you are.
Now I’m not saying that we should never ever speak of dieting under any circumstances. Some people are genuinely unhealthy and need the accountability to eat right and exercise. But for most of us, we are simply insecure about our bodies and can’t help but talk about it. And in doing so, we place those insecurities on our friends’ shoulders. Our friends who struggle with the disease of anorexia will begin to think, “Well, if she needs to lose weight, and she’s the same size as I am, then I must need to lose weight too.” Or, if a friend of yours is trying to stop thinking about her weight all the time, but you continue to talk to her about how you need to lose weight or eat less dessert or run more, then you are making it difficult to keep those tempting thoughts far from her mind. And finally, if you have a friend whose disorder was over-exercising, then don’t ask her to join you in training for a marathon, because you will be pushing her directly into temptation’s way.
To most of you, this advice sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often I have seen women put their weaker sisters in compromising situations like the ones I just described. I think the reason for this is that we frequently forget we are not the only ones with insecurities, and that our words can shape the way others see the world. If you are constantly thinking about and talking about weight, then your friends will begin to also. For that reason, we need to be more cognizant of how our words affect others, and therefore choose our conversations discerningly. What’s more, we need to be sensitive to our sisters’ struggles, and partner with them in fighting temptation, rather than pushing them into it. Eating disorders are similar to alcoholism in that you do not simply overcome it and then leave it in your past–you must always be on your guard against it the rest of your life, because the temptation is always there crouching at your door. So, if you have a friend who was once anorexic but is not any longer, that doesn’t mean the temptation towards it is gone. We must be just as careful not to cause our sisters to stumble in this area as we are when it comes to drinking.
So if you are someone who struggles with body image and you desire to lose weight, and you have friends who feel the same way, be intentional about having conversations that are edifying to you both. Instead of holding one another accountable in losing weight, hold one another accountable in loving your bodies. Yes, be healthy, eat right, and take care of yourself, but do it for the right reason–our body is a temple and should be treated as such. That should be your only motive, so keep one another’s motives in check. If you are dieting or exercisng out of any insecurity, then the weight you lose will only be solving the symptom of a larger problem. We need to be women in love with Christ and confident of our identities in him. That is a self-image worth loving, so as much as we need to love ourselves, we need to help our sisters do the same.