Call me crazy, but I believe we can be at peace with our physical bodies. That we really can feel comfortable in our own skin. I know I’m taking a huge leap by making that statement. After all, body image statistics reveal that most of us aren’t very thrilled with the way we look. It almost seems like hating your body (or at least various parts of it) goes hand in hand with being human.
Who can blame us, especially with all the messages being shouted out in the world today? I had to chuckle at Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's comment that, “One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us.” But in the end, this really isn’t a laughing matter. He continues:
Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded with movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, ‘If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.’ That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later [adulthood]. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard.
I think most of us would agree that today’s standard is fictional and superficial, but simply knowing that isn’t enough. Somehow we’ve got to realize that there’s a distinction between knowing we should feel differently about our body and actually feeling differently about it deep in our hearts. So how can we “awake, . . . shake [ourselves] from the dust,” and “loose [ourselves] from the bands” of a negative body image (2 Nephi 8:24-25)?
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One of the most important things we can do is examine the myths we believe about our physical body. A myth is “an invented story, idea, or concept,” one that keeps us from seeing and experiencing “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13). Eliminating these falsehoods is an essential step in changing the way we feel about our body. To that end, let’s take a closer look at five different myths we often buy into.
MYTH #1: My body image issues are just too hard to overcome.
Maybe, like me, you’ve struggled with body image for as long as you can remember. Maybe, like me, you’ve tried the latest diets, read self-help books, and mustered up all your willpower, but to no avail. Rather than simply giving up, have you ever considered turning your body image concerns over to the Lord? He really does have the power to break those stubborn chains, if only you’ll give Him a chance.
Now, I’m not talking about getting Him to help you with your plans (you know . . . “Please bless me to have a six pack or wear a size 2!”). I’m talking about turning the whole mess over to Him and asking Him to heal you both inside and out. Remember, that’s what He’s best at. Again and again, He’s reminded us, “my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, see also Ether 12:27), but perhaps we’ve never thought to apply that to our struggle with body image. I promise, if you’ll ask your Savior to help you with your body image issues, you’ll discover like I did that “in his strength [you] can do all things,” including rooting out your negative feelings about your physical body (Alma 26:12).
MYTH #2: To improve my body image, I just need to accept myself the way I am.
This is a tricky myth because sometimes it can be very true. For instance, one of my biggest hurdles was learning to accept my genetically size 12 body as the size and shape I was meant to be. But as much as that acceptance helped me, I found there were other things that didn’t need to be accepted at all—they needed to be changed.
A perfect example of this was my personal addiction to sugar. I’d spent years rationalizing my huge intake of sweets, but I finally had to face the fact that I wasn’t living the Word of Wisdom. Yes, I avoided coffee, tea, and alcohol, but I’d all but ignored the counsel on eating healthy food. My diet packed with processed carbs and chocolate was only compounding my body image problem, and I knew it was time for me to change. As I turned to the Lord for guidance, I was amazed to find the strength to conquer that raging addiction once and for all.
So yes, at times we must learn to embrace the unique body we’ve been given, but we must also remain open to the likelihood that what the Lord wants most is to help us make some much-needed changes.
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MYTH #3: It’s not what I look like on the outside that counts, but who I am on the inside.
This is another tricky myth because who we are on the inside is very significant. But sometimes we use that as an excuse to let ourselves go physically, perhaps by eating whatever we want or by neglecting our outward appearance.
If that’s the case, Elder David A. Bednar has some counsel that we desperately need to hear:
Our physical bodies indeed are temples of God. Consequently, you and I must carefully consider what we take into our temple, what we put on our temple, what we do to our temple, and what we do with our temple.
If we think we have more meaningful things to do than tend to our looks, just imagine what would happen if the temple groundskeepers adopted that same philosophy. Could this be one of those much-needed changes that the Lord wants to help us make?
MYTH #4: I’m consumed with healthy eating and exercising, so I don’t think there’s anything I need to change.
This myth takes us in the opposite direction from the last one, because as good as it is to focus on being healthy, it’s entirely possible that we’ve taken it too far. As former Young Women General President Susan W. Tanner points out,
[Satan] has filled the world with lies and deceptions about the body. . . . He seduces some to despise their bodies; others he tempts to worship their bodies. (emphasis added)
Before we dismiss the idea that we may worship our body, let’s remember that one definition of the word worship is “to be devoted to.” Perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves: “Has my attention to health become a full-blown obsession? Based on how I spend my time, am I more devoted to how I look than to the Lord?” Note how Elder Holland warns us:
In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness . . . in the modern world.
MYTH #5: I know I struggle with body image, but I’m sure my children won’t inherit those same insecurities.
A negative body image can be incredibly painful, so it’s the last thing we would wish for our vulnerable children. We may hope we can hide our personal anxieties from them, but the truth is that they study us very closely. As Elder Holland reminds us, “If you are obsessing over being a size 2, you won’t be very surprised when your daughter . . . does the same and makes herself physically ill trying to accomplish it.”
Like it or not, our children will learn about their body and their beauty by watching us. Only we can model the true and lasting “beauty of the Lord” (Psalms 27:4). Here’s how Elder M. Russell Ballard explains it:
Today our society is bombarded with messages. . . that are dangerously and wickedly wrong. Following these messages can put your [children] on the path to sin and self-destruction. Your [children] may not understand that unless you tell them or, better, unless you show them how to make good choices. (emphasis added.)
I know body image is an extremely difficult path to navigate. As a result, I believe the only way we can travel it safely is by “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19). As Christ teaches us of our beauty in Him, we can then pass on that same understanding to our precious children. So I say with the Psalmist, “let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalms 90:17), for only then will we be transformed into the virtuous and beautiful person we were always meant to become.
Lead image from Getty Images
Stop sacrificing to the idol of the perfect woman. Body Image Breakthrough cuts through the fad diets and pop psychology to find the root of women's body image issues. Free yourself from negative body image and live each day as Heavenly Father intended, wrapped in the soul-healing beauty of the Lord.