The Unending Battle over Body Image

Sharon Body Image, Girl Stuff 5 Comments

Right now I’m in Atlanta hanging out with my 10 year old cousin, and we’ve been having a blast! We’ve gone to Stone Mountain Park, Lake Lanier Water Park, and last night we had a “Camp Rock” sleepover with one of her friends.

(In case you don’t know what “Camp Rock” is, it’s a movie that debuted on Disney last night starring the Jonas Brothers. And if you don’t know who the Jonas Brothers are, then you are hopelessly uncool and I’m afraid I can’t help you.)

My cousin and uncle live in a suburb of Atlanta that is so idyllic it makes me feel like I’m living in the 50’s. All the houses are perfect with nicely manicured lawns, all the kids are friends with each other, all the parents hang out together, and they all go to the same school (which also happens to be amazing–it’s nice and it’s safe and the teachers are wonderful). Oh, and everyone is pretty…even the dads.

And that’s exactly why I’ve always loved coming here to visit. It’s always been the kind of place I wanted to raise my family. However, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not quite as perfect as I always thought. I’ve started to notice something during this trip that I hadn’t noticed before. It first grabbed my attention a couple days ago at my cousin’s swim meet, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since…

I was standing near the pool waiting for my cousin’s race to begin, when I noticed three women standing in front of me. What caught my attention was that they all pretty much looked the same–thin, athletic, toned bodies, blond hair, manicured hands and feet, and cute outfits. From the back, they almost looked like teenagers–but they were in their late 30’s or early 40’s.

As I observed these women I started to feel a little insecure about myself. Not only were they in better shape than I am, but I wondered if I’d be able to make my body look like that after I’d had kids. These women didn’t look like they’d actually given birth to human children! They instead had the bodies of 18 year old girls.

Well I decided to start looking around at the other people nearby so that I would stop feeling so insecure about myself, but to my dismay I saw exactly the same thing. Actually that’s a lie–some of the women were brunettes. But they were all skinny, toned, and cute. There were a couple women who had, well, women’s bodies, but they were the exception to the rule.

At first I thought, “Is this what lies ahead for me? Does the quest for model-like bodies never end?” But then I comforted myself with the idea, “This probably isn’t normal. I bet it’s just this neighborhood. Surely there can’t be many communities like this one.”

I was wrong.

The next day my cousin and I went to the water park, and I saw more moms with breast enhancements than I ever thought possible. They were as skinny as rails and you could see the muscle tone in their stomachs. Again, not all of the women looked like this, but there were enough of them to be noticeable. After all, this wasn’t Los Angeles–this was an Atlanta suburb! What is going on here??

Well I think I found a possible explanation…

USA Today recently ran a story revealing that more and more women over 30 are struggling with eating disorders. It explains, “Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have long been considered diseases of the young, but experts say in recent years more women have been seeking help in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and older.” The article then cited the following distressing statistics:

In the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Park Nicollet Health Services’ Eating Disorders Institute saw 43 patients ages 38 and older in 2003 — about 9% of its total patients. For the first six months of this year (2007), the institute has treated nearly 500 patients 38 and older, about 35% of its total.

The Renfrew Center, a network of treatment centers in the eastern U.S., said about 20% of the 522 patients treated at its Philadelphia center in 2005 were 30 or older. In 2006, about 13% of the 600 patients were in that age group.

Body image is no longer the concern of teenage girls alone. Women of all ages are feeling pressure to look a certain way and to fit a particular mold. And it’s no wonder! It’s not as though you spend years feeling a certain way about your body, and then suddenly wake up one day feeling fine. In fact, the pressure is bound to get worse as your body fights the effects of age. If you give in to your insecurities now, and if you believe the lies that society tells women about their bodies, then you are sentencing yourself to a losing battle.

Now it’s not as though I think that all women are doomed to be overweight once they have children, so we should embrace obesity. It’s important for us to take care of our bodies, eat healthy, exercise, and maintain our beauty as a gift to our husbands.

BUT, there is also a degree to which we should celebrate our bodies the way God made us. The fact of the matter is that having children requires us to sacrifice our bodies. We’ll get stretch marks and we’ll gain weight in areas we never gained weight before. Our bodies will bear the marks of bringing a new life into the world.

Yet those marks that we so despise are actually marks of beauty! God created the gift of life, and women get to serve a blessed role in that process, so whatever God calls good, we must also call good. Fight the message that our culture sends women to look a certain way. Take care of your bodies, yes, but rejoice in the journey of life, and all the sags, bags and bulges it brings along with it. Our culture may reject those signs of aging as being ugly and undesirable, but Scripture reminds us that “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

*In case you’d like to read the whole USA Today article that I cited above, you can check it out here.

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Comments 5

  1. kd

    Hey Sharon. Great blog. Here are a couple of reasons for this right off the top:
    1. TV/movies – More older women (30,40s) see tv and think they must look like what they see. I have heard that peer pressure is much more prevelant as you get older then when you are in your teens.
    2. The husbands of some of said wives probably want them to look younger and keep healthy and beautiful. They see women like this at the office and the wives may fear of losing their husbands to an affair if they can’t keep looking like the college girls.
    3. Many of these women (like a lot of normal women, or overweight women) find their worth and identity in what they look like on the outside – it becomes an idol -a stronghold to them.
    Those are just some thoughts.

  2. Sam

    Awesome blog Sharon! I totally agree with kd that tv has a huge impact on how women see themselves. This yearning to have the “perfect” body is unfortuantely not limited to a specific age. My 10 year old sister (with whom I was also watching Camp Rock Friday night 🙂 comments about how she needs to lose weight everytime a commercial comes on for the latest diet or weight-loss technique. Seeing her like this at 10 years old makes me worry because I can only imagine what it will be like for her in middle and high school. The pressure will only get worse and it is really sad that women of all ages have to deal with this. I hope that more women can hear the encouragement that you give in this post!

  3. beautifulwomenproject

    Body Image issues are traditionally focused on teens and women on college and university campuses. Women in their thirties and forties are often thought to have it all together. Worse – when it comes to body image issues, society doesn’t even give these women a thought when it comes to body image issues. Women of all stages of life have experiences and challenges that they face when it comes to their image of themselves and their bodies – why wouldn’t they…they are always changing? Simply by your observations you are moving toward recognizing a solution…that as a society and culutre we need to redefine what it really means to be a beautiful woman. It is how a woman carries her life experiences, not how her clothes drape – or fall off of – her body that defines her beauty. A woman is much more than her physical parts. We need to be more respectful of ourselves and embrace our beauty as we metamorphasize throughout our lives.

  4. Anonymous

    I have been avoiding your blog. I won’t lie. This one hits WAY TO CLOSE TO HOME. I have never been able to embrace my body, well, not for long anyway. At 27 I remember feeling fantastic about my body, I had been running everyday, lifting weights, and cycling… I was one strong, fit, healthy young woman – and it felt great! I was feeling so good about myself that I went and got pregnant! HA! With my husband I’ll add.

    Once pregnant I began to see and feel my body change. While I only gained 20-25 pounds during my pregnancy, I am still 20 pounds overweight for my 5’8″ frame and I hate it. I am not fat, I am just not the size and shape I want to be.

    I KNOW my body was used by God in a glorious manner to bring the gift of my son (Cody, who will be 4in July) to me and my husband, but I have not been able to embrace my “new” body.

    I didn’t even get stretch marks, not one! Yet, I feel out of shape and “flabby” and well, not really sexy for my husband. He is my biggest supporter by the way – without him I’d be in the corner somewhere clinging to old photos of myself looking stealth, saying, “Oh… look how thin I was!”. My husband truly loves ME, not my body… thank God for good men!

    I do work out. I take an awesome class twice a week and cycle 60+ miles a week and lift weights… I could fine-tune my diet if I’m being totally honest here… but all in all I am pretty unhappy with the way I look and feel physically.

    It’s a VERY difficult thing to accept, especially when you were a Division I Volleyball player and athletics have been your life, therefore you body has been your life.

    I see other mothers that have had 3or more children looking like the ones you described EVERYWHERE in Charlotte – “City of the Beautiful” and it only makes my struggle harder.

    YET with all that said… in my heart and in my head I KNOW I am a precious LOVED perfectly formed and maintained child of God… so… what to do with these thoughts of unacceptance? At 31 (32 in October)I hope I find the answer soon.

    I feel blessed to have my health,I know so many do not… I hope to feel blessed soon about my “new” body soon too.

    Anne Steppe

  5. Dawson

    Great Observations and timely – Two women (one being a very close friend) have been admitted for treatment of such conditions. I sent a your blog link to one of them and she told me it was helpful. Blessings to you.

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