If We're Created in His Image, Why the Struggle with Body Image?
- Deborah Raney and Tobi Layton Contributing Writers
- 2007 2 Feb
A fresh perspective…
Like most women, I’ve spent many a morning making frequent trips to the mirror, which I find quite disagreeable. And, like most wives, I’ve enlisted the help of my husband as fashion consultant. If you can call it help. “It looks fine,” is hardly helpful when I know good and well that my pants do, indeed, make my rear end look big. And every once in a great while, when I find that rare outfit that actually succeeds in making me look skinny, “fine” is not reassurance. Instead the word turns to an insult in my mind, making me doubt the clothes I was so excited about minutes ago.
More than once I’ve questioned why Ryan can’t just tell me what he thinks: a wolf whistle when I look great and a gentle, “maybe something else” when I look like an elephant. A few months ago, I got my answer.
Ryan and I were dressing to go out with friends and he had on a polo shirt, not unlike the dozen others he owns. I walked into the bathroom and felt like I’d stepped onto the set of “Freaky Friday” and we’d switched places. There he was staring at the mirror, with a frown on his face, turning this way and that, checking out all the angles of his reflection. Let me just pause to say that Ryan is more than just “fine” looking. I know I’m a little biased, but countless other women have echoed what I already know – that he is “fi-ine.” He has huge blue eyes framed by dark eyelashes, a sculpted face, broad shoulders, tan complexion and a tall lean, athletic frame.
But his build, however attractive to me, has always been an insecurity of his. Someone, somewhere along the way, told Ryan he was skinny and he’s believed it ever since. “This shirt makes my arms look skinny,” he stated, sounding scarily like me (only I wish I could find a shirt that would make anything look skinny). I told him the truth. The shirt looked great on him. “No it doesn’t. It looks stupid,” he answered in a harsh tone.
I could hardly believe it. So, I took him through the positive points of the outfit from top to bottom, thinking surely that would boost his ego and his mood. I was wrong. Now I was mad. Not only was he griping about a totally nonexistent problem, but he was more or less calling me a liar and getting mad at me for telling him how sexy he was! Exasperated, I said, “Fine! Wear whatever you want to wear. I don’t know what to say to make you happy!”
Whoa! Where have I heard that before? And suddenly, I realized how annoying I was! In five years of marriage, this was the first mirror incident hosted by Ryan, but how many times had I staged a similar scene? And I realize now that when I gripe about my appearance, I put Ryan in a position where he can’t win. If he denies my self-accusations and compliments me, I dismiss him as just telling me what I want to hear. If he tells me what I think is the truth (and fortunately for him, he’s never been brave enough to do so!), I’d be crushed. There was nothing he could say to make me happy. So, he had developed the best answer he could think of, the infamous “fine.”
God has given us the gift of physical attraction. I believe we have a responsibility to take care of our bodies for health’s sake and to honor our spouse. But when I am overly critical of my appearance, I dishonor God’s creation, insult my husband’s taste in women, and make my spirit less attractive. Instead, I should remember that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and when Ryan tells me so, it will be just fine with me.
A seasoned perspective…
Athletics and physical fitness have always been high priorities for my husband. Even now, at 53, he plays basketball three days a week to keep in shape. I should have been clued in to this priority early in our dating life. This man had played four sports in high school and football in college. When he wasn’t playing sports, he was watching sports on TV. From the very beginning, our dates often involved some sort of athletic pursuit—baseball, swimming, bicycling, jogging, etc.
If it was a test, I should have failed miserably. I’ve been a klutz all my life. Women’s athletics weren’t in vogue until about the time I graduated high school. But because I knew it was important to this man I wanted to marry, I somehow managed to fake my way through our engagement, appearing somewhat athletic.
But after we were married, and especially after the kids came along, I was much relieved to become a spectator only. Unfortunately, adding that to the ravages of four pregnancies, my body soon began to testify to my inactivity. It’s been a struggle every day since to keep my weight down and stay active enough that my heart gets the aerobic workout it needs.
At times this has been an issue in our marriage. Because Ken has worked so hard to stay fit, it bothers him a great deal when I don’t make the same effort. I understood his attitude better after reading Shaunti Feldhahn’s excellent book For Women Only (Multnomah 2004). In her chapter titled “The Truth About the Way You Look” she cites a survey that indicated seven out of ten men would be emotionally bothered if the woman in their life “let herself go.”
The encouraging news for women is that, for most men—Ken included—the expectation isn’t perfection, or even necessarily keeping the status quo. Most men accept that childbirth and the passing years will take a toll on their wife’s body. As Christians, we know our earthly bodies are “wasting away,” and thankfully, there will come a day when we’ll receive new and glorious bodies. (Oh, how I long for that day!)
The truth is that most husbands are proud and grateful if they can simply see their wives making an effort to stay in shape and take care of themselves. Even if it proves to be somewhat of a losing struggle, our husbands appreciate when we do this—for them, as well as for our own health and wellbeing. I’m proud of my husband’s efforts to stay fit and I want him to feel similar pride in me.
One thing I’ve learned—and that Feldhahn’s book confirmed—is that Ken sees it as an expression of my love for him when I make an effort to look nice for him, when I make the best of the physical attributes I’ve been “dealt.” I’ve learned how to dress to hide a few of those extra pounds I carry. I rarely go without putting on a little makeup and fixing my hair—even if I’m not going anywhere. All the physical things we judge ourselves so harshly on—don’t matter nearly so much as the simple effort we make to look the best we can for our husband’s sake.
Sometimes, of course, husbands might need to be reminded that a woman’s beauty is not supposed to come only from outward appearances, but from the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that is so precious to God.”
Jesus used the metaphor of His body as a temple (John 2:18-22) and we see the analogy again in reference to us in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and as such we should take care of them. However, there is a fine balance between being obsessed with our body image, spending far too much time, money and effort on our physical appearance, and caring enough to honor our husbands by taking care of ourselves.
I think I’ll go for a nice, brisk walk while I pray about discovering that perfect balance.
Read 1 Peter 3:3-4 and 1 Corinthians 7:4
1. How do you and your spouse view each other’s bodies? On a scale from “appreciative” to “judgmental” where would each of you fall?
2. Have you struggled with your own body image? With your opinion of your spouse’s body? Has this changed from the beginning of your marriage until now? Why?
3. What are some ways you can find balance in this issue—not placing too much importance on the way you look, yet honoring your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit?
4. Read Psalm 139:13-14 aloud. Thank God for the marvel of the body he gave you. Thank him for the way your body works, even if it may not look as good as it could, or as you wish it did.
5. Read 1 Corinthians 7:4 aloud together as a couple. Thank God for your bodies, however flawed they might be, and rejoice that he intended us to enjoy one another’s bodies. Begin today to care for your body as though it belonged to your spouse—because it does!
Deborah Raney is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel for Excellence in Media, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her newest series, the Hanover Falls Novels, will release from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have been married for 35 years. They have four children, two little grandsons, and enjoy small- town life in Kansas. Visit Deborah's website at http://www.deborahraney.com.
Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.