I began being concerned about my "body-image" at the ripe old age of seven. A friend had commented, with evident pride, about how skinny she was, and how flat her tummy was. These things were apparently very important! Studying my own shape in the mirror that night I discovered my tummy to be neither flat nor skinny. And so began a life-long habit of holding my tummy in. At seven!
What we hear and what we see has a big impact on how we think about ourselves. What have people said to you about your body shape? How has it affected you? What have they said about their own body shape, or about that of others? This also will affect us.
What we see will also has a huge impact. In fact I think it has an enormous impact. While I am in Vanuatu, I never see a full image of myself. We only have a mirror above the bathroom sink. I see my face and torso. That's it. There is not even pane glass in which to see a reflection. There is no television. There are no advertisements. Women rarely wear clothing that reveals one's figure. It is easy to escape the tyranny of image. I don't worry so much about how I look. Most of the time I don't even know. As soon as I return to Australia, images abound. There are windows everywhere. Mirrors everywhere. There's even a whole wall of them in our bedroom. I see myself everywhere. I see images of beautiful women everywhere. I am constantly worried whether I am OK. Am I beautiful?
What can help me with this obsession with self and beauty?
Here are some things that I think helped me in my childhood and youth. In the end, I think I had enough healthy input to tip the balance towards a concept of self that was not just about image.
- A loving family, both mother and father, who did not encourage dieting or losing weight (in fact they actively discouraged it). I did not have to change in order to be loved.
- I was given activity and purpose in life apart from "finding a boyfriend" and riding off into the sunset. (In this regard, let me say, hooray for feminism and down with the princess cult!)
- My father obviously loved and was attracted to my mother despite her (and I don't think she will mind my saying) not having the stereotypical skinny figure.
- I knew I was loved by God.
- I knew, and I think this is the key, that beauty in God's eyes was not about the way I looked. When you have such "sneaky-close-together-eyes" that you can't even use a binocular microscope (difficult when you are a biologist), bucked teeth, an inherited bump on one's nose (which comes through the "Blower" line, no joke) and knobbly knees, this is a comforting truth. It gave me the confidence and freedom I needed to thrive.