So it's January. And that means that many of us out there are resolving ourselves to eating healthier and losing some weight through various diets, exercise programs, you name it. Gym memberships offer discounts. Treadmills are on sale. (Isn't it funny how many of our resolutions have to do with our body image??)
A friend of mine loaned me a Jillian Michaels workout video last week, and for fun, Caroline and I exercised together a few times. (It was quite entertaining at first for her... after the 3rd time? Not so much...) But as Jillian Michaels (a personal trainer on the show "Biggest Loser") was calling out her oh-so-"encouraging" comments across the television to me as I'm panting desperately for breath, I started listening to what she was perhaps really saying underneath it all.
Having a great body shape will make you happy...
You are only desirable if you look like this...
Kill yourself to look like a twig because beauty is worth it...
You need to look great in a swimsuit... of course...
Okay, that's probably WAAAY-overanalyzing Jillian's intents, and it's not like I'm anti-J.M. now or anything!, :) but as I'm watching the dead-panned look on my daughter's face as she is staring intently at the screen, telling me she wants hair like "that girl," she's receiving some kind of messages even now...
My sinful heart places way too much value on beauty. On wanting to be attractive and have others think I am. Alopecia was probably a blessing of the Lord to grow me in this area, because it has forced me to become extremely sensitive to matters of body image for my daughter's sake.
A few years ago I attended a training seminar for RUF Wives on eating disorders & body image from a professional counselor who works for an intake facility of people with these types of serious problems. And one thing he said to all of us wives & mothers really stood out to me. The greatest predictor and influence upon our children having future body issues is their parent's view and treatment of their own bodies.
Basically it's this--- if I'm deeply dissatisfied and insecure with my own body image, she is also most likely to carry it upon herself too.
When you have a daughter with alopecia totalis, this just can't be. I want my daughter's understanding of beauty to be shaped by the Lord's approval of her, not by the messages of our culture or of my own insecurity.
I find myself ever aware of what messages am I sending.
How do I talk about my hair as I have a bald daughter watching on? I don't want to complain about bad hair days anymore, because you know what?! At least I've GOT some! I must be careful to check my own heart about the value I am placing on appearance, because its tendency in me is to run amuck. I mean, what woman do you know who is completely & totally 100% satisfied with her body & beauty? (and the beauty/cosmetic industry would like to make sure that we don't ever get that way, right?) Read this incredible article "How to Talk to Little Girls" for practical ideas on how to come and talk to MY little girl! (please!)
The counselor/trainer offered us some tips about how to talk to our young kids about food even now. He encouraged us not to talk about the D-word ("diet") around our kids, and not to put food into such strong categories of GOOD and BAD. (but perhaps using terms like "treats" to be eaten only on occasion-- "we don't eat them everyday or they would make our body sick," etc.... one time our pediatrician told Caroline when she was 2 years old to eat lots of food that grows out of the ground, because THAT food is better for our bodies than food that comes in boxes. That has been SO helpful to talk about with her since then-- at times she gets excited to name the foods on her plate that came from the ground. But there doesn't need to be an overly negative focus on the other foods that didn't, you know?) He told us it is helpful to teach our kids how to realize their own hunger cues, and to only eat until their body tells them it is full.
Here's where it gets closer to home, though.
The Lord's providence is quite crazy sometimes. I say that because I have an extremely rare birthmark that runs up and down the entirety of the back of my right leg. It's so rare that dermatologists are legitimately amazed when I happen to show it to them, as they've usually "never seen one in person." (boy, that makes you feel REAL good, lemme tell ya...) It is not one of those cute "tea-stained" birthmarks, either. It probably looks more like the back of my leg was burned in a fire from top to bottom. It looks like it is painful. Thankfully it's not at all.
So though it's mostly only a cosmetic issue (similar to alopecia) I have carried (and still carry) immense insecurity about my birthmark throughout my life. (Ironically, it showed up when I was about the same age as Caroline when she started losing her hair...about 2 yrs old.) My mom took me to doctor after doctor, unsure of what it was and what was happening to me as it stretched farther and farther up and down my leg. (sound familiar with our story?) As a young kid, I remember painful treatments doctors tried on it, where they literally put something on each spot to "puff" the skin up high. I wanted to hit the ceiling-- it stung so bad. Nothing helped, and to ever think about having it removed would leave a far worse scar than the birthmark itself.
All my life I have carried the insecurity of it, and it probably shapes more of my body image and insecurity than I even realize. You will probably NOT see me in shorts or short skirts where my legs are exposed. (unless it's a setting like a beach where it's necessary... but I'll try to hide myself when able then, too...) Thankfully I can just wear pants and cover up.
Isn't that what I'm wanting to teach my daughter not to do?
More than anything, I want her to know there is NO shame, NO need to hide, NO need to cover up her head. (unless she feels at some point she wants to, and if that day ever comes, we'll have lots of good talks about beauty and our motivations for covering up, etc.)
So you see now why I must be careful with the messages I am sending to her. They are messages that I must begin to believe myself.
You are beautiful, just as you are.
You don't have to cover up to be beautiful.
Your approval doesn't come from people, but live in light of the fact you already have the complete approval of your heavenly Father.
The problem isn't with my birthmark. Or with alopecia. Or the fact that both my adopted daughter and I have extremely rare physical traits that cause stares and teasing from others. The problem is in my heart. My deep insecurities. My fear of rejection. My fear that you'll cringe if you see it, and you won't like me half as much. My inability to rest in my justification.
My spiritual journey has always involved struggle to rest in Jesus' approval of my body above peoples'.
And now the Lord is asking me to teach that very message to my precious little one.
May we all be a little more aware of the messages that we're sending....
"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4