Lately I have been thinking a lot about body image. Probably because I am watching my own body change and grow and I’m having to believe it is good while living in a culture that celebrates skinny. Pregnant ladies aren’t skinny. Pregnant ladies are pregnant. I think pregnant is beautiful but the trouble is this stage in between being my pre-pregnant self and my fully pregnant self, where I look more like I’ve been eating an extra helping of carbs at every meal instead of growing a full on human. Each morning I look in the mirror and the questions start brewing, “Is this normal?... Does this look pretty?... Do I look fat?... Is my weight gain healthy?... Will I look like a whale in a few months and wish I would have done things differently earlier in my pregnancy?... and....and...and...?” It’s no secret that trusting God with my body has been a struggle. I try to be open about that because as I’m learning how to love my own shape I hope I can somehow help others to love theirs as well. I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress over the last 5 years, embracing the way I look and accepting it as good, even if it looks different from what I see in magazines and media. But this whole pregnancy thing has brought me back to a type of insecurity that I haven’t felt since high school. It’s not fun. It’s not easy to talk about. And as much as I’d like to ignore it I am choosing instead to feel it with everything in me, because unlike the high school version of me, this Jessica knows God now, and I know He wouldn’t allow me to experience these feelings if He didn’t plan to use them for my good and for the good of those around me.
I find that much of my struggle is centered around deciding whether or not what I see in the mirror is “good” or “bad”. That’s the part that reminds me of high school. When we are children we are unaware that our body could be good or bad. To us, a body is just a body, and if anything, all bodies are good bodies because they are what we use to hug and play and run. As we get older we become aware of the possibility that a body can be “bad” based on its appearance and the opinions of others. So we quietly start to wonder where our own body falls. We look around to friends at school and girls on TV to see what is “good”. We learn things like... skinny is good.... tall is good... pimples are bad... boobs are good... and then based on what we find around us we start to compare our bodies to this template of “good” that has been created in our minds. As if this process isn’t painful enough, our bodies are actually still developing so we don’t even know what the grown up versions of ourselves will look like. One day we are shapeless toothpicks of girls and the next we wake up having hips and boobs and a complex about how we got so “big”. It’s hard to know whether the body we are wearing is good or bad when we aren’t even familiar with its curves and we are still learning how to dress in a way that is most flattering to our figure. I remember a time when I was going through this process, not that I realized it was happening, and how even meaningless comments from friends began to dictate how I viewed my body. One friend said in dance class, “I hate it when girls try to hide that their thighs touch.” I never knew girls hid the fact that their thighs touched. I never knew that thighs touching was a thing. But in that moment I learned that thighs touching was a problem, something that people want to hide and that’s when I realized how my own thighs touched, and that’s when I learned it was a problem. “Thighs that touch is bad.”
The same process is happening with me right now. I look in the mirror and I wonder if I am wearing my pregnancy in a good way or a bad way. I wonder if I’m gaining weight in a good way or a bad way. I wonder if I’m beautiful or if I’m just a vessel growing a child, which somehow makes me exempt from the whole needing to be beautiful thing.
But this week I had a thought. What if I got to decide what was good? What if I stopped waking up hoping that beauty would somehow happen to me, and I decided to define good before looking in the mirror. Because it seems like good and bad in beauty is mostly based on magazines and media, at least that’s how it is in my world, but I happen to be personal friends with a handful of girls who I am certain everyone one else in my life would call “good” for being absolutely perfect physically, and even those girls confess to me how inadequate and unattractive they feel. We all feel “bad”. We all feel like we have missed it and that beauty is a thing only attained by some other girl with some other body.
What if I stopped basing my definition of “good” or “bad” on what the world says about beauty and what if I chose to let God define it for me? What if I believed that I was “fearfully and wonderfully made” the way the Bible says I am? What if I chose to agree with the reality that the beautiful God who made me, the same beautiful God who made oceans and sunsets and twinkly stars, actually made me to resemble Him, which means that I am beautiful simply because He was beautiful first? What if I decided that my pregnancy was good, that my pregnant body looked good, because it was performing a miracle that it has never ever done before? What if we decided that all bodies were good? Perhaps if we stopped chasing skinny and stopped chasing beauty then we could start celebrating our bodies and rewarding them for all of the good they do. Even if we are overweight. Even if we are out of shape. Those don’t need to be reasons to punish our bodies. If we began to view our bodies as good, right now, exactly as they are, then we could start to treat them tenderly and nourish them accordingly. Good bodies deserve health. Bad bodies deserve to be strained, starved, and neglected. Bad bodies aren’t worth our best. Good bodies deserve to be loved.
Whether we are a 16 year old in a high school hallway, or a 26 year old in her first pair of maternity shorts, the desire to be beautiful is real and the way we think about our bodies is a choice. The more we develop patterns in our hearts of thanking God for forming us and pursuing health in these figures He has given us, the easier it will become to love the way we look. That process looks differently for each of us but for me it means guarding my heart from spending too much time online or in magazines, it means not weighing myself unless I’m at the doctor’s office, and it means not being critical of myself in my thoughts or in my speech. This body I am in is a gift. Your body is a gift. Good gifts from a good God. Let’s learn to trust His goodness and embrace the beauty that is already ours.
You have a good body. A really good one. I pray you see it.
Some Christmas time photos from Michigan. Just because I love them.