Mothers, Children, and Body Image

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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.

Linked to these great blogs: Holly Gerth, Serving Joyfully, Equipping Godly Women

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12 thoughts on “Mothers, Children, and Body Image

  1. Great message! I also have 2 boys and I have never thought about showing them that I am confident with my body. It’s also a great characteristic for them to look for in a future wife when the time comes 🙂

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    • Thanks, Teresa! Until recently, i have always thought of body image in terms of how it effects girls and women, but I realized that it has a profound impact on boys too! Hopefully I can show them the appropriate confidence!

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  2. I love this. As the mom of three girls, I try hard not to criticize myself in front of them. I also try hard to not make a huge deal out of clothes or styles in regards to their own clothing. I do have to say, it is a huge boost in confidence when I am getting ready for work or slip on a dress, and their little three-and-five-year-old mouths shower me with compliments. I have worked hard with them to make sure that not only do they know they are beautiful, but also smart, caring, funny, etc. Great post!

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    • Thank you! Our words and our actions are truly a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to body image. Little things are always reminding me that I have the power of positivity in my kids’ lives!

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  3. Visiting from Fellowship Friday!

    Thanks for this! I’m a mom to 3 boys and 1 girl. What you said is very spot on! We are shaping our sons view of modesty, self worth and valuing ourselves because we are made in the image of God. Yes, yes, and yes! It’s important the message we send to them about this because they see us after we get dressed, how we look at ourselves in the mirror and the faces we make when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the window reflection. Thanks for speaking honestly and for the reality check for me!

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    • Thanks, Karissa! Keeping a positive body image has been a struggle for me over the years but I had to recognize how important it is for my children for me to be their example.

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  4. You are so right-all children need to learn this! I love that you are starting when they are young. It gives you more of a chance to learn as they grow, before they remember everything! 🙂

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    • There is certainly a learning curve involved and thay goes for everything parenting-related! Its taken me baby steps to get here and I still have a long way to go!

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  5. Yeah, I thought the same thing! That body image was more of an “if I have girls” and yet I was blessed with two boys! Thankfully, things are going well so far. Everyone is comfortable in their own skin with every indication that things are headed that way! Thanks for sharing on Equipping Godly Women Fellowship Fridays 🙂

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