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.

1 thought 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.

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