Recent studies show some 91 percent of women struggle with their body image. As a pastor’s wife, fitness instructor and mommy blogger, I can assure you: These women are a part of your women’s ministry, MOPS groups, Bible studies and your congregation at large. This issue is very real to women who fill our churches every week.
Sure, it would be wonderful to think that Christian women were not engaged in the same battle to be beautiful that envelops the rest of our culture. But, it just wouldn’t be true. It’s clear that Christian females keep pace consuming just as many diet products, following just as many fitness fads, and using just as many cosmetics and miracle creams as the rest of the population.
Christian women struggle right alongside our unbelieving friends to not believe the enemy’s lie that lures us with this promise: Physical beauty will make your life better.
The challenge is: The church (generally) isn’t giving us compelling enough answers on this topic. In fact, for too long we’ve only heard messages that made us feel foolish for worrying about such silly, temporal things or shame for even thinking about how our physical bodies look. We’ve been told that God made us all beautiful, so, “Get over it.”
The root of the issue goes unaddressed. Our beauty addiction is dismissed with trite Christian cliché. We never get to the heart of the issue.
I spent 35 years in church before I finally heard sweet words of biblical truth that offered real hope for my battle with body image. I think other women need to hear these words, too. It’s time for the church to be the one place that women can find real answers for their body insecurity.
For most, this will require a change of both strategy and semantics. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Stop telling women that “God made every woman beautiful.”
The biggest problem with the “God made every woman beautiful” argument is that it’s not biblically true. You don’t have to leave the first book of the Bible to discover that Leah and Rachel were in two different leagues in the physical beauty game. We are all different. Some of us fit the mold of culture’s current (and ever-changing) standard of beauty. Others do not.
Where we get off-track is in our assumption that physical appearance is where our value is derived. This is the lie that ties our hands and binds us to our struggle. Our freedom comes not through shallow validation that God has already made us beautiful, but from understanding that when we are saved, we are freed from the world’s measurement system. We are on a new set of scales: God’s.
2. Stop telling women that “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
I dare you to find a woman at your church who has never before heard this phrase. She doesn’t even have to go to church to hear it. In fact, I caught it on the Today show just this morning. Oprah and every self-help guru around now offers the same nugget of wisdom that the church has relied on for decades.
Yes, it’s true. Yes, it’s a nice reminder to get our focus off the temporal. But, it’s not the best answer.
Our struggle isn’t that we don’t know that our inside is more important than our out. We have the beauty-is-fleeting verse (Proverbs 31:30) memorized. Our struggle is that we fail to believe it.
Instead, we accept a lie that says if the outside were prettier, the inside would feel happier, more peaceful … different in a good way. We wrestle with our flesh because it tries to convince us that lasting joy comes from a single-digit jeans size and thighs that don’t touch, instead of Jesus. We need someone to remind us—in our navel-gazing—not to look through our post-baby abs to find what’s underneath but rather to stop being so self-focused. Tim Keller says it best: Freedom is found in self-forgetfulness.
3. Start telling women there is great hope!
I recently spoke to a MOPS group on this very topic. Right before my talk, an older mom shared with the group the details of her 40-year-long battle as a Christian in a body-image war. Defeated in demeanor, she reminded the young moms of the two clichés above and then sorrowfully expressed that we would probably always struggle. That was just “part of being a woman,” she lamented.
She’s right. There is no hope when we treat our body-image issues as “normal girl issues.” But, when we confront the roots of our body-image issues as idolatry, and bravely name and turn from the sin … when we then confess it our Heavenly Father … there is great hope for freedom through Christ.
Sure, we may always be prone to struggle. We know our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). The tempter of our soul will likely not give up his efforts to convince us that beauty would be more satisfying than the life Jesus gives. But, the good news is still the Good News. The Gospel gives us what we need to fight and overcome.