Dear Sister, A Talk About Self-Acceptance And Body Image
Living life in the body is sometimes a strange thing, isn't it? Our body image alone is influenced by a barrage of competing messages from without and within. We may have a growing public awareness of self-acceptance. We may no longer be silent about the media's unattainable beauty standards. But if we’ve been stewing in these messages for years, they are not easy to shake off, are they?
As if impossible standards aren’t enough, there’s also a message that tells us our bodies are dangerous and should be feared. As if one slip-up and our bodies are inviting danger. As if we somehow control others’ thoughts. As if other’s actions are our responsibility. As if others’ actions against our bodies somehow strip us of our value and dignity.
This second message is taught most often in the church, the very place we should be safe. While I grew up hearing and believing that God creates everyone in his image, what I’ve had to discard is the belief that our separation from God makes us lower than the dirt. It goes deeper than who has the better hair, skin, poise, etc. What I had to unlearn and reframe was the belief that our sin made us so ugly in every part of our being, including our bodies, that we have no inherent value at all. Bolstering that was the added danger of being a woman. Modesty was primarily geared toward warning women not to be too obviously women in their dress, so that men wouldn't stumble and think or do something wrong.
Yes, we need Jesus. Yes, we are imperfect and our sin affects every part of our lives and being. But even sin does not erase the beauty of being made in his image. We can carry ourselves with dignity. Let it not be in fear that men won't be able to control themselves if we are too obviously women. Yet growing up, in my experience the Imago Deo was thrown in as an afterthought to the prevalent, encompassing message of sin and less-than.
Many of us have been rejected, mocked, or ignored because of our bodies. Some of us bear the scars of others’ actions or words against us. Sister, I’ve been there too. I grieve with you. And yet there is one who was wounded for you and me and still bears the scars. There is one who suffered the whole range of the human, physical experience. Jesus knew everything from the fatigue of a long day's work to the excruciating pain of being stripped and beaten by a crowd of mocking soldiers. He knows well the physical sufferings and limitations that we bear. He is with us until the day we breathe our final breath, when the promise of a whole and healed body is closer to fulfillment.
We are beloved, and we are beautiful. Because of Jesus, no one can change that.
Stephanie Ascough is a follower of Jesus, wife, mother, and writer. You can connect with her at Stay Awake, where she writes about life on the hopeful journey. You can also chat with her about all things writerly at Stephanie Ascough or find her on Instagram.
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