“Suck your belly in and stand up straight.”
“Because that’s how you put on dresses. Come on. Stand taller.”
Once she was all zipped up I stood behind her and looked in the dressing room mirror. She was looking straight into my eyes, with the betrayal and wounding of someone who was just slapped in the face. I paused, but then chalked up her sourness to tween melodrama.
I looked her up and down in the form-fitting black dress.
“Wow. You look beautiful, honey! Like a woman!”
“What? You don’t want it? You look fantastic!”
“I don’t know, Mom! Okay? I don’t know what I like, or what I’m supposed to like, or what I’m supposed to look like. Just get the dress if you think that’s what I’m supposed to get. I don’t care. Can we be done?”
She pulled her school uniform back on and left the dressing room. I held the black dress up over my tired outfit and turned side-to-side. I wished my body was as good as hers.
Brushing my teeth that night it hit me how gross that whole scene was: I told my 12 year old to suck it in. I implied she better get used to it. I maybe bought her a dress too old for her. I envied the body of a 12 year old. I envied my daughter’s body.
So wrong in so many ways.
But that’s life, right? You become a woman, you better dress and stress like a woman. It’s inevitable. Thoughts of my girl in sparkly pink t-shirts, muddy playground pants, and gap-toothed smiles whisked by. Those were sweet days. But they were over. It was time for her to get in the game. I spit out my toothpaste.
Months later I got an advanced copy of Compared to Who? A Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image I knew exactly what it would say:
- God loves you.
- God created you.
- Remember this and you’ll always feel beautiful, never think of food in an unhealthy way, always know how to dress, love being a woman, dating will be easy, marriage will come, and sex will be wonderful.
- If you struggle with any of those things it’s because you don’t have enough faith to believe that God is who He says is.
Every Christian book on women, health, and body image says these same things. Some include recipes, workout plans, BMI charts. Lots talk about princesses. All talk about our bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit, and how diligent we should be in keeping God’s house neat and tidy. And pretty.
So I opened the book up and wasn’t surprised: Page one of the Introduction: already talking about weight loss. Page one of Chapter One: already talking about cellulite. Yep. No surprises here.
But I kept reading, because receiving an advanced copy is like a book report assignment — I needed to finish it.
Creekmore uses all of Part 1 to say that she gets it. She’s not going to sugar coat it: we all check each other out, we all wish we looked better, we all try everything at some point to feel better about ourselves, we are all tired of not looking and feeling better. I nodded along.
Then Part 2 came, the “Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image” section. If she mentioned praying before workouts or trips to the grocery store, I was going to put the book down with a resentful huff. But instead, because she’s built a lot of trust to say she totally gets us, she goes where Christian-Lady-Body-Health-Diet people don’t go:
She talks about sin.
But not about “fatness” or “being out of shape” or “unhealthiness” as a sin.
She specifically talks about the sin of idolatry, which is a pretty dusty, old school, King James topic. That makes us think of a golden thing Indiana Jones might steal, snippets of the 10 Commandments, or world religions far away where they pray to a lot of little gods.
Creekmore defines idolatry as when you want something more than you want Jesus. That doesn’t feel like a bomb drop to me, because I hear stuff like that all the time. But read and consider her questions:
- What can’t I live without?
- What makes me crazy?
- What do I think about when I’m alone and all is quiet?
- What does my heart really, really long for?
- Who am I following other than Jesus?
- Whose opinion matters most to me? (p. 130)
I can answer all these questions with A+ Sunday School answers, but I have a strong, real, honest, undercurrent of less holy answers. I want to be pretty, comfortable, healthy, happy, well-liked and successful. Don’t we all? Isn’t that normal?
“Do you envy that person’s size, shape, look, or life? Then, my friend, call it a sin and realize that it needs to be brought to the light and confessed.” (p. 132)
Creekmore pushes further later saying the we wouldn’t leave Playboy magazines around the house if we thought it would make our husband’s fall into porn, lust, and crazy thinking. Makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t read magazines and watch certain TV shows with women that make me hate myself in comparison, not want to be naked with my husband, or not go to the pool with my kids the next day?
“How many times a day do you look at images of other women that trigger thoughts for you that are neither healthy or holy?” (p. 164)
Oh my gosh. Maybe 50? 100? I’ve gotten good at admitting and confessing when I’m envying other women’s purses and other families’ luxury vacations, but I don’t apply that practice to how I feel when I close the very tame Athleta and Soma bathing suit catalogs.
But aren’t I supposed to care about my body? Isn’t it wise to be healthy and strong? Can’t I do whatever I want with food and exercise? Where is the line? Creekmore addresses the tension:
“The trickiest part of battling beauty and body image idolatry? Seeking a better physique may actually be a good thing. It may feel like you aren’t doing anything wrong. For example, losing weight may be exactly what you need to get healthier, live longer, or fight disease. Similarly, exercising can be really good for you and have a postive effect on your overall well-being. But when diet, exercise, or any other avenue we pursue to change our outward appearace becomes of the utmost importance, we are trapped in worldliness, and it shifts to idolatry.” (p. 113)
Again, those old school words of “worldliness” and “idolatry” feel as stiff and irrelevant today as a starched high-collared prairie dress. I could play dumb, but I know what Creekmore is talking about. I know when I’m running to look better in a date night tight dress vs. running to be healthy. I know when I walk into a restaurant and hope to be looked at, maybe even envied. I know when I hope my gluten- and dairy-free life will also make me lose weight.
But we pray about it, so that makes it okay, right? We might think we’ve got our body image and faith under control, because we’re praying for wisdom about what to eat, self-control when we shouldn’t eat, discipline to exercise, perseverance to be a healthy example – but that just might be asking God “to help me serve my idol of beauty so I could finally be happy and free.” Instead of praying “help me apply your gospel to my weight and my body image.” (p. 112)
If we admit that we idolize beauty, then everything can change.
That’s the first of the five steps in Creekmore’s proven path to improve your body image. I need to admit I idolize beauty. That almost feels impossible. That’s a whole lifestyle change, a completely different way to look at myself, all other women, and how I fit in the world.
That’s major. Could it be possible?
Creekmore gives practical action items including the right kind of confession and repentance and the need for honest community, along with nowhere-to-run Bible study and heart questions at the end of each chapter.
I’m going to go back through Compared to Who? and write some notes in my journal. There were a few verses I thought of in new ways, and some key questions I want to ask when I buy clothes and look at pictures of myself. I think I’m going to write out my confession of beauty idolatry and read it aloud to my best friend. I’ve got some soul searching and praying to do. I think I want this freedom.
Not just for me. But for my daughter, too.
To purchase the book: Amazon
To learn more about the author: Compared to Who?
[Note: I received a copy of Compared to Who? from Leafwood Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
@Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2017.