You have finally learned to accept, maybe even love, your body…
For years you hated your body and what you looked like but finally, you have made peace with how you look. You tell yourself that it doesn’t matter anymore what others think. You value other, more important, things in life now. You feel comfortable going without makeup most of the time and have learned to see the white/gray hairs as glitter in your hair (or as your “crowning glory” if you have more than just a splattering of white/gray) or you see it as visible proof of the wisdom that only comes with age. You see your wrinkles as adding character and you fondly refer to your age spots as “sun freckles”. You laugh about the visible effect gravity has had on your body with friends and jokingly refer to fatty deposits on your hips as “love handles” and your belly as a “sugar belly”, “stress belly” or a “baby belly”.
Honestly, you say…outward appearance is over-rated!!
Yet…somehow you feel an emptiness accompanied with a pang of longing. Deep inside you silently mourn over what now feels hopelessly lost. As much as you try to shake off that nagging empty feeling, you long for days gone by and wish you could turn back time to look the way you used to look. The times you catch your reflection in the glass windows of your favorite store or in the glass door to the local coffee shop as you run to meet a friend or in the mirrors that seem to be everywhere you turn, you are reminded yet again that you are not the way you once were and you are not what you wanted to be.
Secretly, you fear how time will further ravage you in the future. You even begin to doubt your value and what you have to offer to others. I can relate because I’ve been there and frankly, still return to this desolate and mournful place every now and then.
What exactly is a positive body image? Does anyone really truly love and accept their body and/or the aging process? Many like to have you think that they do while they continue living in their own private mental torment. There has been a lot of blame placed on our culture for this and I agree. I mean, no one has ever told me that I look beautiful, or even nice, when I haven’t had at least some makeup on. (And how can we forget the idea that it is unprofessional to not wear makeup in some circumstances?) Sure I have been told, “That color of blouse looks really good on you.” That, my friend, is a compliment to the color or possibly a compliment to my ability to choose colors but it is definitely not a compliment about what I look like.
So often, we only hear compliments on our looks when we are all dressed up, decked out with makeup, sporting fun jewelry and stylish hair. We women tend to spend a lot of money on things to make us feel beautiful and good about ourselves. Manicures, pedicures, hair colors, perms, straightening, teeth whitening, loads and loads of clothes selected carefully to hide all the parts of us we do not like while highlighting the parts we feel might be acceptable. For me that was always my trim, toned back which had a flawless, even complexion and my long shapely legs – both of which I inherited from my mother. I laugh now because over the years my back has developed slight rolls, is peppered with those “sun freckles” and has been scarred by a few surgeries to remove cysts. And my legs?...Well they never got shorter and they are still shapely but you won’t be seeing me in shorts or a bathing suit too often (if at all) because now they are dimpled with cellulite and the skin is dry, flaky and has a slight crepe-like texture. And those were my good parts! And the bad parts just got worse.
We turn our focus to other things.
When I was a teen, I won the Miss Wisconsin Teen beauty pageant and for a short time, I was a teen model for a local department store. I promise, I’m not fibbing. I got the ribbons and trophies to prove it! I was so proud of those ‘things’ that valued me for my looks that I kept them as souvenirs and later as proof that I had indeed looked good once upon a time. These objects made me feel valuable as did the many compliments I received (and oh yes, all the hoot calls from guys) on my looks and my body. Funny now as I remember back to those days…I never FELT pretty even with all the hoopla about my looks. And…I certainly never felt I had any value. As I noticed wrinkles and age spots appearing and weight creeping on and stubbornly refusing to leave my body no matter how much I exercised nor how little I ate or what I chose to ate (yep, it some of it always stuck like a permanent fixture), I inwardly felt a deep sense of loss. I realized that I had come to find my identity in my looks and my body, or rather, what others said about those things. With all that fading, changing and shifting, I began to think I had absolutely no value anymore. I chose, at that time, to redefine my value. I began feeling that my value rested now in my work – what I was capable of doing and performing. After all, I always received good grades with little effort on my part and I was frequently promoted at work without my ever having to ask for it. I began to note all the praise for and all the compliments for the work that I did so I figured that this was the real me – this was where my value really was.
I was wrong – dead wrong!
After years of a successful career, one choice (albeit a good choice at the time) set off a chain of events that left me without a job. Since I had placed my identity and value in my career, my work and my abilities, and now that was seemingly all gone, I felt devastated! Words cannot even begin to describe my feelings of complete and utter failure as a person just because I didn’t have a job anymore. I failed to keep the best looking body and my looks had faded and now I failed at life because I didn’t have a job. I was washed up, useless, a Loser with a capital ‘L’. Yep, that was how I felt and I wallowed in that place for a few years. Then I turned my focus on getting healthier. Now that, so I thought, seemed a worthy endeavor, right?
Not when you wrap your value and who you are around it!
When you are determined to get healthy so that you will look good or that you feel that being healthier will be the magic that makes you feel worthy or will somehow restore something you once lost, you are heading down the right track but for all the wrong reasons. You are setting yourself up for a huge, inevitable disappointment. You see, our bodies were designed only to last a few years. They will eventually age and deteriorate no matter what we do. It is a rule. Everyone will eventually die. I don’t mean to be morbid nor do I wish to discourage you from working hard at getting and maintaining good health. The steps you take now to pursue good healthy choices will have great physical benefits as well as determine a great deal of the quality of your life as you age – of that, I have no doubt. What I am saying here is that we need to be careful that we do not worship health and find our value, our purpose and meaning, in our health.
So where do we find value for ourselves?
Everyone talks about having a positive body image. In my opinion, we need to take value away from what our bodies look like as well as refuse to place our value in other things as I once did. Don’t get me wrong…I am not saying that we should hate or loathe our bodies or what we look like. Rather, I am saying that we should learn to find our value in our existence – in the totality of our spirit! Who we were designed to be and how we have value is not in external things such as our bodies, our looks, our personalities, our work, our abilities, our emotions or even our intellectual thoughts. We need to view these things as tools that we use to do that which we were designed and created to do. Seeking out that which stirs our spirit is where I think we will find the beginning of where we should place our value – our identity – in! For me personally, this is looking at me the way God sees me rather than how I see myself. So what can we do to help each other find value in what really matters? How about complimenting someone on how their eyes sparkle with enthusiasm when they talk about things they love instead of how pretty they look today? Try telling someone how sweet and kind they are when they sacrificially do something for you – when they give of themselves for others. Why not just say, “I love you for who you are”? These are just a couple of ideas to jumpstart your creative thinking. Can you think of others? Please share them here in the comments so we all can learn how best to support and encourage each other!