Body Image: Why Are We So Hard on Ourselves?

A number of wives reading right now have made promises to themselves for the new year: lose weight, get in shape, change hairstyle, get plastic surgery, etc.

None of those is a terrible goal in and of itself, but I’m always struck by how hard we woman are on ourselves. When it comes to appearance, we can be our own worst critic, looking in the mirror and giving ourselves a one-star review.

We have to stop being so hard on ourselves! But I agree that it’s a struggle. Here are some common messages we tell ourselves, along with reality checks.

“I can’t compete with those women!”

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, and notice when they have physical characteristics we wish we had. Maybe another women you know has smoother skin or a flatter stomach or lovelier eyes or sleeker hair or perkier breasts.

Maybe that woman just has the whole package. And standing next to her makes one feel like a garbage heap next to the Taj Mahal. How can we compete with that?

Reality Check: If we think we’re competing, we all lose.

We don’t like being judged solely on our appearance, so why do we do it to others? That woman who is gorgeous-times-ten may not have your singing voice or your cooking talent or your math skills or your wit. Maybe she had terrible parents or went through a bad divorce. Or perhaps she’s just spent the majority of her life having everyone size her up based on her looks or batting away ongoing harassment.

God created us as total beings, and appearance is just one part of our appeal. Stop comparing yourself on one aspect of the total and finding yourself wanting. For all you know, that woman is doing the same thing, comparing herself to you in another area and believing she doesn’t measure up. Isn’t it time we gals instead encourage one another to own our unique worth?

“But I used to look so much better.”

Another option is comparing to our own selves, to those days when we looked and felt better about ourselves. Maybe you used to have that flat tummy, when you were a ripe 20 years old; or your skin was smooth, before a murder of crows’ feet clawed all around your eyes; or your breasts once stood at attention, and now they’re fully at-ease.

(Moreover, 2020 was not kind to many of us as we couldn’t engage in our usual exercise program or ate through the Ben & Jerry’s flavor options as a coping mechanism.)

It aches not to have the beauty you once possessed.

Reality Check: We can only go forward.

Time only goes one way. Not even Hermoine’s time-turner can take you back a single hour. Now that you know that, what’s your plan? How about looking ahead to what you can do?

If you looked better before because you were in better shape before, prioritize health and exercise. If you just want to be your best, study up on how to look and feel better at your age. (I have actually watched YouTube videos with makeup and style advice tailored to ladies over 50.) If you’re simply stuck on how the past was kinder to you than today, shift your thinking.

Remind yourself of all the great aspects of getting older! Seriously, I’m wiser, calmer, more confident, and closer to being a grandmother than ever before. These are all good things! Make your own list.

Many women also report being better off sexually as they get older—more aware of their body, able to speak up for their desires, capable of orgasm or even multiples, and more. All good reasons to embrace the body you have!

“My husband notices other women!”

Your husband notices pretty women. Because God—what was He thinking?gave your man eyes. And you notice your husband noticing. Which makes you feel like his taste is, well, not you. Because otherwise, wouldn’t he only have eyes for you?

So we wallow in feeling inadequate, even to the guy who swore at the altar that you were his one and only. Maybe you should have gotten that in writing…in blood.

Reality Check: Noticing isn’t wanting.

Can you name a male celebrity you think is attractive? You can?! Oh my, that means you noticed him. That doesn’t mean you want that guy. And your husband noticing some other woman, and her beauty, doesn’t mean he’s lusting or wanting her either.

(Now, he may be lusting, in which case you have every reason to object! See What Is Lusting? and Does Your Husband Look at Other Women?)

If you have noticed him noticing, tell him it bothers you. Not in an accusatory, how-could-you way, but rather letting him that his actions are sending a hurtful message. It’s reasonable to ask your beloved to change a little something about their habits or behaviors to help you feel more secure and loved in your marriage.

“I can’t get away from the negative messages.”

The messaging about what women are “supposed” to look like can feel relentless. Impossible standards of beauty are held up everywhere from Photoshopped magazine covers to fashion runways to social media attacks on those who don’t fall in line (just ask celebrities who’ve been “fat-shamed”).

Reality Check: The messages won’t stop.

While we could make a pastime railing against the purveyors of ridiculous beauty criteria—and we should speak up routinely—it probably won’t stop. Because if they can convince us we’re not good enough, we’ll buy their beauty product, clothing line, plastic surgery, or fashion magazine.

The ease of promoting such messages and the economic incentives to do so are much too high to expect they’ll cease. It’s up to us, as individuals, couples, and communities, to believe in the beauty of the individual woman, whoever she is.

We as Christians, in particular, must hearken back to a Creator who created us to feel beautiful and strong and confident when we rest in Him.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
 the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
 and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
 and crowned him with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:3-5

Summary: heavens awesome, but wait—we’re even more awesome, made in God’s image!

Okay, don’t be a jerk about it. (I can find plenty of Bible verses against that idea.) But own the idea that you are enough.

Beauty isn’t the only thing or the most important or even that big a thing when you’re talking about the value of your body. Your body was made to do things, and it does them pretty well!

Stop comparing to others, your past self, what you think someone else is thinking, and the ads meant to make you buy things. Let’s go easier on ourselves and our view of our bodies.

4 thoughts on “Body Image: Why Are We So Hard on Ourselves?”

  1. Interesting serendipity, for Barb and I are having an ongoing body-image discussion. In my “cancer will not win” paradigm, I’ve decided to train for the Highland Games, and have thus bulked up considerably. It’s been hard and very painful (I have to eat three training-table meals to keep one down), but it’s led to some interesting conversations.

    Barb: “I can’t get you t-shirts at Walmart any more. You’re past their sizes.”
    Me: “Well, How about Big ‘n Tall?”
    Barb (exasperated tone): “You’re not that tall (I’m 5-9), and you’re too darned big!” (She used a word other than ‘darned’)
    She thought for a moment. “If you don’t back off the ironwork, I’m just going to get you a muu-muu, and have done with it.” (Yes, they make muu-muus for men)

    And yes, I am entitled to participate, because Barb’s mom was a Patterson, an offshoot of Clan Maclaren, and I can wear a Maclaren tartan!

    In training for the Highland Games,
    one will not look as other men,
    but God did not make all the same,
    and, my friend, d’you nae ken
    the grace in massive-muscled shoulders,
    too big for even Big and Tall,
    but rightly made for tossing boulders
    and hurling weights beyond a wall?
    And legs fit for a Titan’s labours,
    have ye never found they have appealed?
    The make light work of tossing cabers
    far on yon athletic field,
    and ham-like hands do make a mess
    of he who calls my kilt a dress.

  2. Great article. I’ve been blessed with a husband who truly has eyes only for me – something I was taught growing up just doesn’t happen, so expect your husband to lust since all men do – so I know the pressure I put on myself doesn’t come from him at all. I don’t even think it comes from our culture completely, at least not for me. I’d say culture is probably 25-75% of it, depending on the woman. I think women are just more self-critical naturally. I tend to be a perfectionist, and found myself allowing that to effect my mood and how sexy I felt when my husband and I were having sex. For me, exercising regularly at home during this quarantine year and getting stronger has really helped my body image, even if I’m not a couple dress sizes smaller like I’d like to be. I feel better physically, which makes me feel better about myself mentally.

    Now, the plastic surgery comment did hit home for me. I miss my pre-babies boobs. Now whenever I’m naked in the shower or something (thankfully not usually during sex since I have other things to think about), the song “Do Your Ears Hang Low” comes to mind, but replace “ears” with “boobs”. I’ve been considering getting a reasonable breast augmentation and possible lift once I’m through the pregnancy/breastfeeding life stage so they can return to their youthful perkiness and be fun again. But then I feel guilty for wanting that, since breast augmentations aren’t cheap, and think of all the better uses for my money there are out there. “If you’re simply stuck on how the past was kinder to you than today, shift your thinking” is where I’m at and what I’m going through now. Getting older sucks! Youth really is wasted on the young.

  3. Really great article. As a guy it hurts to see women struggle so much with body image issues. Sometimes I just want to yell, “you’re beautiful just the way God made you” to the collective female population.

    “Reality Check: Noticing isn’t wanting.”

    Exactly. Humans can’t help but notice things. We are observational creatures. Men are perfectly capable of noticing that women are attractive and just leaving it at that (i.e. not lusting or wanting a woman other than our wives).

    Let me tell you what I notice that is truly attractive. The smile of a young mother holding her baby. A playful and joyful attitude among friends and family. A woman’s confidence that even though her body may not match what’s on the cover of a magazine they are beautiful just the way they are. It’s really the person that makes the body attractive and its important to remember that men are attracted to a wide variety of female body types.

    Before I was married I had more feelings of sexual attraction for a lady wearing size 16 than the “hottest supermodel”. First of all it was because I knew who she was as a person and secondly I thought she was hot. It was the same way when I eventually met my wife, who had a completely different body type.

    I have heard from many husbands how much they adore their wife’s bodies after aging and pregnancy have occurred.

    The world says the effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body is unattractive. To me it is a sign of the sexual union she and her husband enjoyed to produce new life. The world says you have to have big boobs and a big butt to be attractive. Yet I walked down the aisle to marry a beauty who had neither.

    Now by all means be healthy and treat your body well. That goes for us guys too. But if you are married to a godly loving husband don’t think you are in some kind of competition with anybody else. You won that battle when he asked you to marry him.

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