I’ve struggled with body image issues for as long as I can remember. I fully believe that God loves me and that my husband loves me, but most days that is not enough. Today my friend Shannon Baker shares how she found healing from a broken body image. I pray you enjoy her beautiful words of authenticity and wisdom.
My friend kept pulling books out of her locker as if she hadn’t just crumpled up my body image. She had told me about her English essay. The assignment was to pick a friend and write about one of their prominent characteristics. She picked me, but she didn’t write about my blond hair, sharp mind, or trustworthiness as a friend. She wrote about my nose.
She kept talking, but I couldn’t breath. I knew my nose was large, but now realized that in my friend’s eyes it must be gargantuan. Why else would she write an essay about it? I shifted my backpack to the other shoulder and tried to look normal. I was too absorbed with the crashing realization about my nose to question whether a real friend would write such an essay and then tell me about it. Or, to question whether our shared crush on the same tall, track athlete had anything to do with it.
But that’s how a body image is often shattered—by people close to us. Moms, boyfriends, or neighborhood kids. People with their own issues who hurt us as our lives collide.
I moved through track meets, college, and a master’s degree all with a clear sense that my nose kept me from being truly beautiful. I got a job and tossed a stethoscope around my neck each day. At night I cooked Rachel Ray meals and typed Bible studies for the teen girls at my church. I was growing in my relationship with God and beginning to take his commands seriously when the Bible collided with my broken body image.
One day, as I was praying, God’s words came into my mind about “giving thanks always and for everything” (Eph 5:20, ESV). I felt the Holy Spirit prodding me. He wanted me to thank him for my nose, and “giving thanks…for everything” left me no escape. But how could I be grateful for the very feature that I believed robbed me of beauty?
Another verse came to mind. “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). Apparently the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me off the hook. But my nose did not feel wonderful. It felt horribly large. He kept pressing me towards a decision—would I believe God that I was fearfully and wonderfully made? Or would I call him a liar and keep grasping at my shattered dreams of beauty? I only had two options: side with God and thank him for nose, or dig in my heels and accuse him of lying.
It can be hard to believe God about our bodies, because his voice is just one of many. The mirror can scream that we are ugly or fat or worthless, that we are only good for more abuse. Manipulative boyfriends and abusive family members can scar our psyche and our bodies. But God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. He claims that your body and mine are among his best creations. We chose whose voice to listen to, who to believe.
I knew I couldn’t call God a liar, but I wanted there to be a grey zone in between, where I could be on God’s side but keep hating my nose. But God doesn’t give us that option.
I got on my knees, using my body to harness my will into submission. “Thank you for my nose, God…” I had to fight off the voices surging up. I knew that for my prayer to be sincere I needed to be actually thankful for my nose and I could only come up with one thing. “…it’s a really good sniffer.”
Sniffer? It was a stupid prayer, but an honest and obedient one–a prayer that honored God. As I released my death grip how much I disliked my nose and picked up thankfulness instead, I began to see other things I appreciated about it. For starters, I was glad to have one. I’d worked as a nurse on the burn unit and taken care of people caught in house fires. At least I had a nose. Also, I wondered if a smaller one would look out of place on my long, oval face. Maybe a small nose wouldn’t make me more beautiful after all.
My sheer-obedient thankfulness morphed into spontaneous gratefulness. I loved to cook and eat, and my olfactory nerves–nestled up there past my nostrils–worked as well as anyone’s I knew. And I loved to smell a campfire during summer nights, the first daffodils in May, and the earthy richness after it rained. My nose alerted me when I left something in the oven too long and warned me to stop spraying wasp killer inside my apartment.
Despite wishing I had a smaller nose, I began to realize how much of a gift it was. I kept choosing to be thankful and, before long, I made peace with it. My nose didn’t change, but I did. I know it’s not the most beautiful one out there, but I’ve learned to be truly glad for it.
Our body image issues can go much deeper than noses. A parent calling us fat can leave us feeling that our bodies are bad. A cheating ex-boyfriend can convince us that we are ugly. A habit of pornography can make us believe we are dirty. An abortion can weave shame into our psyche. Childhood abuse can make us loathe our sexual organs. But no matter how deep the hurt goes, no matter whether we took the first steps toward shattering our body image or someone else did, the road to healing starts in the same place–turning away from all other voices and letting God’s truth in.
God says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are not a mistake. God formed your body and wove it together (Ps 139:15), stitch by stitch, feature by feature. Like a fashion designer at her desk, God picked the color, size, and shape of your body parts. He made your teeth that crooked or straight. He gave you skinny genes or curvy ones. He made your butt that big or small, your breasts that perky or saggy, your pubic hair that dark or light. Every single feature of yours was lovingly placed by him. Your body, as he made it, brings him glory.
It wasn’t until God had created both Adam and Eve–the first humans–that God declared creation “very good” (Gen 1:31). Black stallions, roses, and mangos. Mount Everest, sunsets, and the Milky Way. They were just good. But when God pulled a rib out of Adam, shaped it into a woman, and then he stood back and looked at his two humans, he said they were very good.
God’s declaration still stands. Regardless of what happened to us. Regardless of the memories that still burn on certain nerves. Regardless of the physical scars. God says that our bodies are very good. The first step toward healing is to turn down the other voices and let God’s declaration fill our hearts.
The second step to healing our broken body image is to see our bodies as gifts. As Caroline Heldman discussed in a TEDxYouth Talk, our culture trains boys and girls to see their physical form differently. It teaches boys to see their bodies as tools for mastering the world, but girls to treat theirs as projects to be improved upon. For many of us, we remember the exact moment–like standing at my friend’s blue locker–when someone crumpled up our project. And that’s what we believe our bodies to be: projects that are never good enough. But our bodies aren’t projects, or even–fundamentally–tools. They are gifts from God.
Without our bodies we’d lack the rods and cones that make up our retinas, that allow us read the Bible and learn about the truth that can set us free (John 8:32). We’d be without the neurons that make it possible for us to pray. We wouldn’t have taste buds for enjoying all the million flavors God hid inside this world. We wouldn’t have skin to feel the warmth of a hug from a friend. We wouldn’t have feet to walk into the hospital to visit the coworker who just lost her baby. We wouldn’t have fingers to type at our jobs and earn an income that we can share with the single mom who just lost hers.
Our bodies are gifts because they allow us to love God, other people, and his world. And through our bodies, we receive love from others.
If Satan can convince us that our bodies are projects to be improved upon, then he can steal our joy. On good days we’ll feel like peacocks and on bad days like earthworms–either way obsessed with how our bodies measure up. That kind of obsession used to be called vanity, and God still calls it a sin.
Vanity is exactly where Satan wants us–obsessed with how our bodies measure up. Jesus said that Satan, “comes only to kill and steal and destroy. I came that you might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). When we’re struggling with body image, we can be confident that Satan and his minions are working to steal the abundant life that Jesus became a human for. He dressed himself in a bruising, scarring body just like ours so that he could tackle Satan’s work at the cross and disable it in his resurrection.
If we don’t see our bodies as gifts and feel genuinely thankful for them, then the enemy has robbed us of what Jesus promises. Feeling worthless, feeling dirty, or feeling shame is not part of the abundant life Jesus offers. If we’ve sinned, then let’s confess it and hold to the verse that says “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor 7:10, italics added). And if after truly repenting, we still find ourselves sinking in the quick sand of self-loathing, then let’s recognize the enemy of our souls at work.
A birth defect may never go away. The scar from past abuse might never fade. The memories might sting until Jesus gives us our resurrected bodies. My nose will never get smaller. But the Holy Spirit wants to help us find joy and abundant life when it comes to our bodies. Discovering this freedom will require turning down the other voices, letting God’s words fill our hearts, and using our bodies as gifts for carrying his love into the world. Then we’ll find God weaving a different and deeper beauty into our lives–a beauty to outshine America’s Next Top Model and the latest celebrity on the cover of People’s “Most Beautiful.”