Around puberty I started to notice that my body didn’t “measure up.” The girls in the locker room had flatter stomachs than I. The bras in the store never fit right. The boys in my class salivated over Pamela Anderson…but my body looked nothing like hers. Suddenly, I got the message everywhere: my body wasn’t good enough, and I needed to change it—even parts of it that nothing but surgery could change.
So began years of pain over my body and pointless striving to change what God had given me. I’m talking excessive exercise to lose weight and achieve a flat stomach; binging and purging to keep pounds off; slews of topical creams to remove unwanted hair and acne; even paying for pills that were supposed to increase my bust size. Crazy, right?
Who was I trying to impress all those years? Certainly not God, who made my body in the first place. I was using the wrong measuring tape for beauty, and until I gave up those false measures and embraced God’s perspective, I could never make peace with my body.
Why Women Struggle with Body Image
God’s Word is clear: we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Why, then, has it taken me over 30 years to (start to) believe this? Moreover, why are other Christian women so insecure? Why do young girls I know worry about achieving a “thigh gap”? Why do many women refuse to leave home before applying makeup? Why are we at war with our bodies?
I believe it’s because we live in a body-obsessed culture; underlying culprit—Satan. As the Father of lies, Satan uses every opportunity—magazine covers, TV, movies, advertising—to tell women that “beauty” consists of certain traits; and the more traits we lack, the less we measure up.
Growing up in a public school culture where Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition was normal literature for a guy, it was hard not to take the bait. I once had a boyfriend ask me, point blank, “Do you like having small breasts?” These words from this ungodly guy stung, and stuck, for years: I felt like a failure as a woman.
Even when I became a mother, Satan used my “small breasts” to derail me. I wasn’t producing enough milk. But instead of just feeding my son formula and moving on, I stared into the mirror and cried some more at what God had not given me. They are failing me again. I thought. Is it because I’m too small?
For the next few months, while I should have obsessed over my new baby, I obsessed over my body. My light as a daughter of God and mother of my son was dimmed for a time, because I was distracted from my true purpose in life.
A Biblical View of Beauty and Body
My purpose for living is to give glory to God. But when I get caught up in breast size, bikini readiness, or achieving a “thigh gap,” with an eye to measuring up to the world’s standards, I am not thinking of glorifying God. I am thinking of glorifying myself. I am trying to keep up with images on ads and magazines and billboards, sources commissioned by Satan to lie to me about true beauty.
Making peace with my body, then, begins with asking Jesus to uproot the lies in my life about beauty and body, and replacing them with God’s truth. In practice, this means looking away from secular media, rejecting ungodly role models, and choosing instead to feed on books, TV, music, etc., that uplift Christ and His principles.
According to the Bible, true beauty has nothing to do with breast size or body shape. Rather, true beauty comes from the inside, and is observed in traits such as “a gentle and quiet spirit,” fear of the Lord, and “good deeds” (see Prov. 31:30, 1 Pet. 3:3, 4, and 1 Tim. 2:9–10.). If true beauty comes from the inside, a true “makeover” will begin with changing our thoughts and the “brain food” we feed on.
Making peace with my body is an ongoing process, but as I’ve looked away from culture’s (Satan’s) lies, it’s getting easier to discern the truth about beauty, accept the body God gave me, and live in my own skin for God’s glory.
For instance, when my second child came along and a sufficient milk supply didn’t, I didn’t beat myself up. I fed him formula in the first week (as opposed to the third with baby #1), and we both felt much happier from the get-go. Where I once exercised vigorously to look good, I now exercise to feel good and be healthy. Where I once longed to have a “bikini-ready” body, now it is a non-issue. I realize now that a “sexy” body in bikini does not lift up God, it lifts up self; and when appreciated out of the context of marriage, it can evoke sinful thoughts. My body, in this sense, is for my husband; and he only should see the most intimate parts of it. Says the Bible, “May [your wife’s] breasts satisfy you always” (Prov. 5:19, NIV).
And speaking of breasts and breast size? I’m pretty much over it. Really. I have a small chest—so what? It satisfies my husband, and it makes it easy for me to live the active lifestyle I enjoy. (Plus, I’ll never sag…too much.) My point is, I’m finding the good in the body God gave me. I’m even able to joke about it.
Yes, I praise God that as I learn to seek His will and way in all things, He is changing my thinking on body and beauty. At 33 years old, even though I don’t always “measure up” to the women around me, if you know what I mean, I’m finally starting to believe my body is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” For the audience who really matters, it is good enough.
Lindsey Gendke is a wife, mother, and writer whose passion is sharing God’s redemptive work in messy lives. Lindsey tells her own story of redemption in her memoir, Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Currently, Lindsey lives in Missouri with her husband and two sons and blogs at www.lindseygendke.com.
If I am a faithful steward of the body God has given me, keeping it healthy and well-groomed with a sensible diet, exercise, and simple beauty routine, it will be enough to satisfy my man, if he’s a godly man; it will be enough to do the work God intends me to do.
As we change our brain food, and thereby our brains, our body issues will become clearer—some will even become non-issues.
At the same time we are moving our focus away from outward beauty to inward beauty, we shouldn’t completely “let ourselves go,” giving no thought or attention to our appearance. While a bikini clad body doesn’t give glory to God, neither does a frumpy woman.
In a moment of humor, Ellen White said wives should give care to their appearance at home, to avoid frightening the crows. Stormie O’Martian also concurred that wives should look good for their husbands. But notice who the focus is here: looking nice for our families, especially our husbands. Now I think that’s an appropriate focus for tasteful beauty.