Before I had kids, I told myself that if I had a girl I would turn things around. I wouldn’t beat myself up when I looked in the mirror. I wouldn’t frown when I saw the size label on my jeans. I would never let her hear me say that I was fat or hated my body.
Instead, I would be her rock. I would teach her to love herself and to focus on her inward beauty. I would show her what it means to walk the fine line between confidence and humility – knowing what she is capable of, yet keeping the perseverance that is required of hard work. We would talk of societal standards of beauty versus God’s standards of beauty. If I had a girl, she would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is perfection in my eyes.
As of yet, I do not have a daughter – I have two handsome sons. Somewhere along the line, I forgot all of these promises that I made to myself. I thought that they only applied to girls and that whether or not I had a positive body image wouldn’t impact my boys. I was wrong.
Call it an epiphany, an “Ah-Ha” moment, the light bulb went off – whatever it was, I realized that my boys needed me to be their rock too. They need to see me happy in my own skin. They need to see me live with confidence and humility. They need to know the difference between societal standards of beauty and God’s standards of beauty.
Right now, I am the woman in my sons’ world. Yep, it’s all about me. My attitude is shaping their opinions of women and how a woman ought to appear and behave. In fact, they don’t even know it yet, but their expectations of what their future wife will be like and all that she will be capable of is being formed by how they see me. My words of encouragement and affirmation are also building the framework for how they see themselves. A daunting task, to say the least.
Obviously, as a mother I know I am to be a positive example in the lives of my children. But it’s easy to forget that body image needs to be part of that positive example. I don’t want my sons to see me fear the beach (a place I love) because my body just ‘ain’t what she used to be.’ Frankly, even if I didn’t have kids, I would be willing to bet that my body wouldn’t look the way that I wanted it to either; gravity is a real, and ever-present danger. So, during the summer, I will stuff myself into a bathing suit and run all over the sand, plop myself down and dig holes and build castles, and jump the waves all while trying not to think about how many rolls may be showing or whether or not anyone can see a thigh dimple as I walk hand-in-hand with my son to the water’s edge. I can tell you right now that my sons do not care if I have rolls or dimples showing while I’m in my bathing suit. Not once have they made a comment about anything like that. All they care about is that I am right there doing these things with them, which means that is all I need to care about as well.
Hey, Mom, you weren’t expecting us both to jump into the pool to you at the same time!? Well we did and your trusty one-piece suit had a wardrobe malfunction. But you caught us and that’s all we noticed because that’s what we expected of you.
Speaking of wardrobe malfunctions, I am also responsible for teaching my sons about the concept of modesty as it relates to body image. This is quite the uphill battle given our culture, but I still have to try. I want my sons to see me as a woman who carries herself with grace and dignity. While I believe that all women (and all people) should be shown respect, I think the way we clothe ourselves can have just as much of an impact on the respect we receive as the person we are on the inside. Yes, you should never judge a book by its cover, but that’s not really the way we operate, is it? If you had never met me and I had never spoken a word to you, but you saw that I was wearing an outfit that allowed my chest to hang out and my legs to barely be covered, what would you think of me? Would you think I was a good mother? Would you think I was an accomplished professional? As a result, I need to make wise choices when I dress myself. Being modest does not mean that I need to be frumpy or out-of-touch with fashion. (Side note: I think many women try to be modest, especially when they become mothers, and what may be modest for one might not be for another, so let’s give each other a touch of grace in this area.)
Again, my goal is to show my boys what a woman is capable of on the inside and out, just as I would show my daughter. They need to see that I can roll up my sleeves and am not afraid to get dirty or work hard. They also need to see that I can dress up and look and feel beautiful when I go out for dinner with their father. These things don’t just do wonders for my sons, they do wonders for me as well. When I am showing my sons what a woman is able to do, I am also showing myself the same things. In fact, I don’t know if I have had a more positive body image in my life than I have in recent months. I haven’t lost any weight or changed my hairstyle, but I have started to shift my attitude.
Proverbs 31 is a popular passage of scripture. I really began to study it a few months ago and decided that I wanted it to be the blueprint for my roles both in and out of the home.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: ‘There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised.”
Proverbs 31: 25-30
I felt like I was doing pretty well with the ‘watching everything in my household’ part, but other than that I knew I needed a lot of work. This passage of scripture is exactly what I would want to teach my daughter about her gifts and abilities as a woman, so why wouldn’t it be exactly what I want to teach my sons about women? How amazing would it be if my husband could look at all of my accomplishments as a woman and say that I ‘surpass them all’!? In striving to embody the Proverbs 31 Woman, I have begun to feel beautiful in ways that I never had before. Nope, I’m not a size 2, but I’m healthy and able to work, take care of my home, and chase my children around. Body image is about so much more than the outward reflection we see of ourselves; it’s the combination of so many things about us. I know for a fact that my husband and children do not look at me and see physical flaws first, so I’m not going to look at myself that way either. Just like everyone else, I have so much more than physical aspects to offer.
The other evening, after some hardcore playtime outside, I came into the house and went into the bathroom to wash my hands. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror – I was filthy from playing in the dirt, my hair was falling out of my ponytail, and I had a smudge of who-knows-what on my flushed cheeks. I took a seat in the living room and the boys immediately crawled up on my lap. My oldest said, “I love you, Mommy. You are just the snuggliest!” I sat there, dirty, sweaty, and grinning from ear-to-ear because I had never felt more beautiful in my entire life.