Monday, March 11, 2013
Say NO to body-hate!
In late June of last year, I was asked to teach and lead the 12 - 13-year-old girls in my church congregation. I LOVE working in my church's program for teenage girls (which is usually referred to as "Young Women"). Today's youth are so smart, strong and powerful. I enjoy associating with these brilliant and talented young women on a regular basis and feel like they often empower and uplift me more than I do them. It's quite a privilege.
I actively participated in this inspired program when I was a teenager as well. I remember fondly the Sunday lessons, the mid-week social activities, our annual summer retreat to the woods and the general spirit of learning and optimism I felt while I was a part of the program.
Today, I realize my leaders and friends during that crucial period of my life truly helped define who I am -- some for the better and some, not so much. Now that I have been entrusted with teaching and nurturing the young women in my own ward, I feel a constant need for vigilance in how I portray myself, specifically with regard to my self-image. Yes, teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to these girls is the most important thing I can do for them, but I feel it is also critical to remember that the truths of the gospel will not take root in these girls' hearts and minds if they have low self-worth and don't believe they deserve to have it.
You know I've wrestled with body image issues throughout my life. My quest to quash these erroneous feelings in myself and to stop the spread of body-hate began last summer. It began as the recognition of dark, unhealthy feelings when I would look at certain pins on Pinterest, read certain blog posts and see certain magazine covers. I soon realized these feelings were my soul recognizing them as body loathing, which runs rampant through our culture, perpetuated by the media, the Internet and all of us as we believe and spread these lies.
I then began to notice even the most subtle instances of body-hate. Little comments like, "SHRED those flabby love-handles!" "HAMMER your thighs!" "Pooch today, RIPPED abs tomorrow!" Laced with innuendos of violence and disgust. One of the saddest I've seen is this little gem:
You would hope people didn't really feel this way, but guess what? They do. Example: high-intensity workout sessions referred to as "bikini body bootcamp."
I have decided not to tolerate negative body-talk anymore. It rattles me to the core when my beautiful, talented, funny and smart female friends and family members disparage their various body parts, parts of them that have been changed by time, injury and childbirth. I refuse to support such adjectives as "disfigured," "neglected," "deflated" or any number of other negative terms people use to refer to the natural aging process of the human body. These are simply normal biological changes.
In reference to the changes the human body goes through, I have also considered the term "evolution." I believe we come to earth to change and grow. We experience things that season us and make us better humans in the end. I don't think this concept is limited to our spiritual state, either. I see wrinkling, bagging and the general physical break-down we experience as we get older not as a fault of the body, but as a divinely-intended function. And by "divine," I do in fact mean God-given.We aren't meant to live forever, folks. We are meant to eventually crumble and die, giving way to our eternal progression into the next realm. God gave us physical bodies to act as vessels for our spirits through mortality. If we let them, they can teach us many great lessons. If we become obsessed with our physical "imperfections" and try to control the way our bodies look and change, we miss out on those lessons.
All the things we have become conditioned to hate about ourselves -- the wrinkles, the bags, the sagginess, the scars -- are signs of life. They were encoded into your DNA before you were born! They prove you did something. You went places. You laughed, you cried, you smiled. You gave a human being or two life. You nourished them in their infancy. You worked hard. You played hard, too. You served others. And sometimes, you got sick and others got the opportunity to serve you.
You lived. That shouldn't be depressing. It should be empowering.
In everything I do, I hope to show the young women I teach and most importantly, my beautiful daughter, that I believe my body is amazing and wonderful. It needs nourishment and exercise, but it needs no fixing, "hammering" or "shredding." It is capable of so much as it is. It is a heavenly gift which deserves respect and kindness, not just in terms of physical exercise and a healthy diet, but also in the form of positive self-talk and affirmations. Because really ... why does it matter if we work out and eat right if our minds are clouded with degrading thoughts which prevent us from fully enjoying mortal life?
I challenge you to join me in the fight against body-hate. Let's end this unfortunate long-standing trend so the young women of today don't have to suffer with these poisonous thoughts the way we have. I've come up with some ideas about how we can abolish these negative thoughts, but I want to hear YOURS. How do you deal with degrading body thoughts and a low sense of self-image? How have you overcome it? What are some simple things we can do to turn these thoughts into positive ones? And how can we kindly encourage those whom we love to do the same?
Also: for further reading, check out one of my favorite blogs, Beauty Redefined. These girls know the truth and they're not afraid to show it. Preach it, sisters!