|Annabelle S., 16, Utah|
I am very short.
I have been short my whole life, so it’s nothing new, but a recent trip to the doctor’s office gave me some very unwelcome news: I’m done growing. To give some perspective, I’m not even 5 foot yet- I’m barely 4’10”.
I’ve battled with body image issues for years. It’s not really something I like to talk about, because I consider myself a confident person. I like to think that I know my worth. But, although I’m going to sound like a broken record at sixteen when I say this, social media makes this a lot harder. Despite all the body positivity stuff out there, I often find myself comparing my body to girls who have “perfect” “model” bodies.
It’s not just social media, either- it’s just life. I often see girls wearing things that I remind myself will probably never look good on me, because of my height and body type.
If one of my friends ever says anything even remotely self-deprecating, I freak out. I need them to know that they’re the best of the best, and nothing is wrong with them and God loves them. I think a lot of girls are like this.
The Way We Think About our Bodies
But what about talking to ourselves the way we talk to our friends? Empowering our own minds and bodies the way we do with people we love?
If we look at our bodies with an eternal perspective, they are these gifts from our Heavenly Parents that act as vessels for our spirits so that we can help to build the kingdom and experience life here on earth.
We are also told that one day when we are resurrected, our bodies will be made perfect. I find myself constantly wondering if I’ll be taller in my perfected body.
But I think this is the wrong way to look at it. There are two perspectives at which I like to look at my body and the way I’m built when I start feeling down about it. Our bodies are gifts from our Heavenly Parents, right? Although our bodies are not perfect and are often victim to worldly problems, we are blessed to be able to experience life in them. Satan is jealous of us because we have bodies. How crazy is that? If you put appearances aside, if you put our bodily shortcomings aside, we have the best tool- the tool that God made for us- to experience life on earth.
I also like to think of my body from a third-person perspective. I am taking care of this person in this body. I should be kind to her and keep her healthy and positive as much as I am able. Thinking of myself in this way makes me feel almost guilty for the times I find myself picking apart my body in my mind. I am, like all my friends and family and everyone I love, a child of God. He loves me. How is pointing out my bodily imperfections- specifically the ones out of my control- any different than critiquing someone else’s body?
Our Inner Dialogue
I don’t think anything ever makes bullying or body-shaming okay. That includes doing it to yourself. It would be so hypocritical of me to tell other people to love their bodies, or to tell people off for being unkind to others because of how they’re made, then do that very thing to myself.
I reached out to my followers on Instagram for their thoughts on body image issues. My good friend Poppy Felin said, “I am slowly realizing that this is just how my body was made and I can’t change that. What I can change is how I take care of it and how I treat it.” I think this leads really nicely to the idea of making changes for health reasons.
In the first episode of a podcast that I love, Bold New Mom (now renamed Better Than Happy), host Jody Moore goes in-depth about training your inner voice. “You have to train your inner voice to be kind” she continues to talk about how as you begin to reassure yourself and be kind, your inner dialogue will change to a more confident one. “When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, what do you say to yourself? What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you see yourself in the mirror? Is that something you would say to anyone else? Many of us have these mean, critical voices that say things we would never say to another person because it’s so mean.”
She goes on to suggest a way to change our inner dialogue. “If you go to the mirror and think ‘I’m so ugly’, and then you try to change it to ‘look how pretty I am’, I find that your mind will probably reject that. You probably don’t believe it yet and that’s kind of a big leap. Now, some people find that that does work. They do daily affirmations and they’ll repeat things every morning- ‘I’m beautiful, I’m beautiful’- until they start to believe it. So if that works for you, by all means, do it. It doesn’t really work for me because as soon as I say the extreme opposite, then I reject it, because I just don’t believe it yet and I can find a lot of proof why it’s not true.
“So I’d like to encourage you to take baby steps… there are two different thoughts that work for me that I default to. One of them is just ‘there I am’. So when I see myself in the mirror rather than ‘look at the stretch marks and the lumps and whatever’ I just say, ‘there I am’. Another one that’s even a little bit more positive than I’ve recently adopted is ‘my body knows exactly what to do’.”
I like this idea of gradually changing the way we think about our bodies. It can be difficult to try and develop a love for your body when you spend so much time critiquing it and comparing it to other bodies. Changing our thoughts little by little every day to become more positive can help us to become more confident and our own bodies, and by doing that let other people know that it’s okay to love and accept your body.
Changing Your Body
Something else that I think about often is intentionally changing my body. I have to ask myself one of the hardest questions: “why am I doing this?”
Another one of my good friends Madeline shared a quote that I think goes with this: “Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” This is something else that I often struggle with when I see my tummy or my arms in the mirror and find myself critiquing them.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to feel more beautiful. But why? Do we want to change the way we look to feel more confident in ourselves? Or because we want other people to like the way we look? Are we trying to mold our bodies to be better vessels for our spirits? Or are we trying to fit impossible beauty standards set by others?
Another part of this is changing ourselves to be healthier. Developing an eating disorder is different than going on a mediated diet. Eating little or no food in order to lose weight is not the same as eating healthy. If you find yourself developing unhealthy habits with your body, don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody you trust for help.
I’m working every day to love and appreciate my body for what it is. It is so easy to lose sight about what our bodies are, and what they are for. At the end of the day, they are gifts from God to help us experience this life. Life is an opportunity for us to progress ad learn, and our bodies, above all, help us to do that.
We are all children our Heavenly Mother and Father. God made us in His image. There is nothing Satan would love more than to convince us that our bodies are less than beautiful works of heavenly art. Let’s learn to love and appreciate our bodies, and help lift up our fellow children of God to love their bodies too. Let’s learn to take care of our bodies and treat them with respect. As we do this, we can give ourselves and others permission to accept and appreciate the way we are made.
Here are some body-positive sources that you might like:
@beauty_redefined on Instagram
Rethinking Beauty: A Gospel Perspective on Body Image by Hannah DeTavis (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2019/08/young-adults/rethinking-beauty-a-gospel-perspective-on-body-image?lang=eng)
I Thank Thee for This Body by Starla Awerkamp Butler (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2016/01/i-thank-thee-for-this-body?lang=eng)