Well, I had quite the response to the last blog commentary on our image-driven society; confirming that I'm not the only one who struggles with it. And I'm not the only one trying to comply with it (yes, I realize the dichotomy). If you missed that post, you can find it here. Image is such a huge part of who we are as a society that it has seeped into the practice of medicine. I recently read about a 2009 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association that found people with a BMI (Body Mass Index) in the overweight range (25-30), had a 6 percent lower risk of death in any given period than people whose BMI fit in what is considered the "normal" range (18.5-25). And this was no small study! 97 separate studies and 2.88 million people around the world were analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, the researchers found that the risk of death only increased once a person's BMI was above 35 - putting them quite firmly in the obese category. In light of this information, we can only conclude that the BMI scale is really a gauge of what we consider most attractive, not most healthy. And yet many doctors still use this chart in dealing with patients.
Image is so important to our culture that it inhabits our nomenclature. In English, when referring to someone who is overweight, we say, "He is fat." or "I am fat." In Spanish, Hebrew and many other languages, the same sentiment is expressed as "He has fat." or "I have fat." It's not defining. Extra pounds are something that you have. It's not who you are. See the difference?
While reading Kimberly Rae Miller's second memoir Beautiful Bodies (which largely spurred my interest in writing on this topic and where lots of these ideas and facts come from), she admits that "For years I'd treated my body like a project on my to-do list. I simply needed to research and put in the work, and then it would be fixed, and I could move on to the next thing." This resonated with me more than I'd like to admit.
In last week's polemic I mentioned my fear that battling image would only be worse for our children. Miller states research in her book showing that 80 percent of 10 year old girls have dieted. 10 year old girls! If this doesn't signify a desperate need for change, I don't know what will! And Miller says of herself, "I hadn't had any connection to my body since I was seven years old. I'd made it the villain of my life story - I blamed everything on it. If I didn't get the part, I blamed my body. If I didn't get the guy, I blamed my body. If I didn't like who I was, I blamed my body." Sigh. I can relate. But I don't want my daughter to.
Last week my 12 year old was given a Creative Writing assignment to pen a slam poem. This is what she wrote:
SLAM POETRY PROJECT - TRAPPED
I'm trapped inside walls built by words, a perfect picture frame, peculiarly placing me somewhere I don't want to be
I'm trapped inside societies rules and regulations, why can't I be my own creation
I'm trapped inside some suburban bubble only to be popped by the ones who put me there, why do I have to struggle here
I'm trapped where I have to grow up long before 18, where I have to look like the screen on tv
I'm trapped in some community where to be pretty is to look like that magazine, why can't they see that inner beauty is key
I'm trapped behind bars of makeup and hair, where I have to act like I don't care
well I do
I care for those of you whose fathers broke their hearts long before any boy could chose too
I care for you who hurt themselves only to feel worse, it feels like a curse, a trance their stuck under only to feel, worse
I really do, for those of you who are scared to come to school, who's bullies and hardships make them feel like a fool, you don't have to be stuck in this wild whirlpool
I will keep you out of there
taken to a place with no worry, no care, no people who say. sticks and stones break my bones but words will never hurt, well their wrong
words do hurt
and to act like they don't should be considered a crime
leaving young kids alone just to cry
some even thinking they would rather go die
I will take you there
somewhere you don't have to be
Wow! She already feels the pressure to conform to what celebrity, and society and the media tells her she should be. But I see so much hope in the last few lines. She wants to help others who are hurting and struggling with the boxes they have been put into. I want to help her, so she can help others. I've been racking my brain with the "how". It seems like a gargantuan task. The messages encouraging all of us to look a certain way and be a certain way are constant and prolific. I may not be able to change the whole world, but maybe I can change the world for my child - and maybe you can too. The first step is simple. Pray. Pray against the pressures our youth face amidst peer pressure, social media and celebrity sermons. Pray that they would thrive in the skin God gave them and love who He created them to be. Second, love them lavishly for who they are, not what they look like or what they can accomplish. When someone knows they are loved, no matter what, they are more comfortable in their authentic self.
The last step may be the toughest of all. I don't believe we can teach our children to love and accept themselves until we stop hating ourselves. The word "hate" may sound harsh, but before you discredit its place in your life, ask yourself how many things about your appearance you are trying to change. Ask yourself if you are constantly wishing God had given you someone else's talent instead of your own. Your child looks up to you. If you currently have teenagers, you may doubt this, but its true. If you never walk confidently in who God created you to be, your children will find nothing in themselves to be confident in. We need to analyze the language we use to speak about ourselves. Are you thankful for how God made you? Or are you constantly complaining? Are you using the talents God has given you for the benefit of His kingdom? Our children need to see this. It may not be easy, but its important.
If you struggle with negative self-talk, find a friend to hold you accountable to changing your narrative. Ask that friend what he/she thinks are the best things about you (it will be uncomfortable, but do it) and write them down. Refer to it often and ask the friend to call you out when you tear yourself down. Study scripture to hide in your heart what God says about you - and ask Him to help you believe it! And last, let me know if this struck a cord with you. We can pray for each other.
"Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him - " Colossians 3:9-10 NASB