As I shared with you last week, so many of us struggle with our body image. One of the greatest lessons I learned and grasped on to lately is respecting my body. There are multiple ways we can respect our bodies: eating right, exercising, dressing respectfully, embracing who we are and caring about our bodies we have been given. Easier said than done, right?
If I’m being honest with you, I was taught a lot about modesty and purity as a child and teenager, but everything else lacked. I did not have perimeters around the food I was allowed to eat and developed unhealthy habits. While I did love taking walks with my mom, exercise only happened when my mom wanted to lose weight. The other times exercise happened was when I played sports, but usually only during the specific season and mostly at practices. The reality is, while I was growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, health was not a big priority nor talked about as much as it is today. As an adult, but especially in the last year, I have learned so much more about how respecting my body can create a healthy, positive body image.
Currently, I work with middle school and high school students at a church. I have the privilege of going to camps, retreats, and mission trips with my students. While I love what I do, one of my biggest struggles this summer has been setting guidelines for dress codes – specifically bathing suits for the girls. Many people have different views on dress codes and each agency we work with has different policies. Most of the time, we ask the girls wear one piece swimsuits or a shirt over their bikinis. As I struggled with implementing this policy, I spoke with two of my co-workers – one a mother of two teenagers and the other a male in his thirties. One of the most beautiful things I heard in each of these conversations was, “I don’t want these girls to be ashamed of their bodies.” This cry became the space of tension for me. For someone who has forever been ashamed of her own body, I wanted everything in me to tell these girls, “Wear your bikini’s proud! Embrace your body! You are beautiful!” But the other side of my tension did not want to police whose bikini was appropriate and whose was not, or deal with having to say, “Okay, you can wear your bikini now if you’d like.” then at another point say, “Now we’ve got to wear the one pieces.”
I settled my tension in knowing through my work with teenagers, I have a huge responsibility to teach them to love and respect themselves, bodies included. With that responsibility, I have the opportunity to set some guidelines, which hopefully lead to beautiful conversations. In fact, one of my favorite moments was at the beach after a week of serving and the girls were taking off their t-shirts, revealing their one pieces. I heard, “Girl, you look so pretty in that suit!” and “You’re rocking that one piece! You really are!” At the end of the day, it was not about them covering up, it was about them seeing beauty in the person.
One of the paths to a healthy, positive body image for myself, was through learning healthy eating habits. Understanding food, as in how much to consume, what types are of best for us and do the most good for our bodies, and how to cook so that eating healthy can taste great, has helped me lose weight, insecurities, and bad habits! In the process, I gained a healthy body image, healthy habits and a healthy mind. I learned by giving my body what it needs through nutrition, exercise becomes more about maintaining heart health, building muscle, and keeping my mind straight. Did you know it is a proven fact that working out is great for your mental health!? Now, exercise is something I want to do; and, as a result, I feel good in all aspects: body, mind, and soul! Dressing in a way that respects and compliments my body allows me to feel and look good, helping me have a healthy, positive attitude. Learning to eat healthy and exercise right created a path to assist me in learning to embrace the body God gave me, and on a side note, opened the door for some fun shopping trips with my sister! Last but not least, practicing self-care allows me to take time for myself, focus on what I need to do to recover or re-energize, and treat myself sometimes! All of these things helped me find my way to a positive, healthy body image. Like every journey, there are still tough days where it is a struggle.
The reality is, the world we live in has a specific view of beauty – skinny, skimpy, and covered up with makeup. How ironic is it that we want less clothes on our bodies and more coverage on our faces? What if instead we viewed beauty as healthy, any color, and complimentary to our body? I’m not saying get rid of beauty products, diets, or makeup, but what if we set out to use these tools differently, with healthy in mind? What if we encouraged one another (boys included) that each one of us in beautiful and unique in our own ways and we do not need to cover those qualities? What if we held at the forefront of all of our discussions on beauty and body image that we are created in God’s image, first and foremost?
Friend, if you are struggling with your body image, I encourage you to talk with some trusted friends or family members who can help and encourage you. If you struggle with an eating disorder, tell someone and get some help. Your life is too precious. Do not let what the world defines as “beautiful” overshadow what God, the creator of the universe and the very one who knitted you together in your mother’s womb, has created and called “very good!” Embrace healthy as beauty. Take a break from social media if it is defining your view of beauty. Take a break from selfies if you are constantly looking for other’s approval. Know that you are created in the image of God, and seek the confidence that can be found in you through Him! ~ Kristi
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Kristi Moore is a student at Campbell University Divinity School finishing up her final year of the Masters of Divinity program. She has worked with middle school and high school students for 11 years in the church and school system. She has combined her love of writing with her desire to see human beings understand who they are in Christ, along with her own life experiences to write these blogs. Her greatest hope for this blog is that the readers learn something about God, about themselves, and may be able to smile at some point while reading! Be blessed!!