On this relaxing Sunday, enjoying what is usually my only day off each week, I’ve found myself contemplating the sad messages women and young girls are inundated with daily in our culture. This realization is not new for me, it’s something I’ve previously thought about many times, and something that was once included in therapy years ago when I was in treatment for an eating disorder.
I consider myself lucky, for being able to gain a perspective on these messages that many other women don’t see. I’ve learned to see beneath the false veil that distorts reality, leading young girls and women to compare themselves to ideals that don’t actually exist, or to get wrapped up in obsession over a health craze or diet, because in their minds, this is the one way they have found where they can strive to measure up, to be good enough, to be thin enough.
Women are raised in today’s America to see food as bad, whether we realize it or not, whether it’s blatant or more subtle.
We learn this from our mothers, who tell us fat is bad, and critique their appearance in the mirror, lamenting over their love handles and scowling at the scale. We don’t get it. As young girls, we look at our mothers and see beauty, see perfection, see life. Our mothers teach us what it means to be women, and so we come to understand that to be a woman is to find an enemy in your body, to not be able to trust yourself, your hunger, your cravings. To be a woman is to learn to suppress those things. And unfortunately now we have little girls as young as 5 years old refusing ice cream at birthday parties because they don’t want to be “fat.” This makes my heart break.
We learn this from society, from the inundation of diet ads and commercials and billboards. We see ice cream commercials with a sexy woman dressed in lingerie is sneaking around a quiet, dark kitchen, leaning against the fridge while seductively sucking ice cream off a spoon, licking her lips in sinful satisfaction. Somewhere along the line it became a marketing scheme to equate food with sex, but as young women, deep down we begin to become ashamed of them both. As a server, I can’t tell you how many guests I have throughout the week that respond to my description of the dessert options with a comment like, “Ooh that sounds sinful.” And if it’s a woman, this remark is usually followed with, “No, thank you, I’ll pass, though it sounds wonderful.” I smile, because it’s all I can do, it’s my job, but it makes me sad. Sad, because “sinful” is hardly a reasonable response for food. Yes, the abuse of food can be turned into sin, can be used for gluttony, but one dessert after dinner on a night out hardly makes the cut.
My take is everything in moderation. I think anything taken out of moderation becomes unhealthy. Even eating healthy, eating wholesome food, becomes unhealthy when our minds obsess over it and we can’t allow ourselves a single “unhealthy” bite EVER, even if it means a whole lot of inconvenience to avoid it, or not eating at all, or if we can only allow ourselves a few bites of “junk food” if we justify it by making it sugar-free, fat-free, all-natural, then we deem it “safe.”
I get eating healthy, it’s something I’m currently striving to do more of in my own life. But when you go from making food choices to feel good about yourself and honor the instrument of your body that God gave you and owning that, to those food choices ruling you, your mind is no longer free.
I came across an article the other day that I really enjoyed. I got a chuckle out of it but also felt it was very insightful:
The blog is titled “Why ‘Clean Eating’ is a Myth.” The writer argues that yes, while foods can impact your health and performance, your body doesn’t see certain foods as “good” and others as “bad.” It’s all about calories in versus calories out, and the nutrients your body breaks your food down into. Yes certain things, like sugar, can lead to problems like diabetes, but back to my comment on moderation, this is when overconsumption comes into play. Even sugar, in moderation, is okay. You just have to eat a little here and there, not overdo it.
One thing I really liked is how it showed that different people have different ideas of what “bad” food is. Vegetarians think animal meat is bad. Vegans feel that way about all animal products. Bodybuilders stay away from milk, fruit, and white bread. The USDA cringes from saturated fat, cholesteral, red meat, etc. There were a few others listed, but you get my point, to read the full article, click on the link above. Labeling certain foods as “good” and others as “bad” rather than seeing them for their composition and taking things in moderation, is unscientific and unhealthy. I guarantee you, if you go eat a doughnut right now, you will NOT blow up into 1000 lbs., ruin your entire future, or drop dead. None of those things will happen. Now, if you went and ate 17 doughnuts, then yeah you probably just gained a pound, because you will have reached the caloric content of one pound. Again, I’m talking about moderation here. Moderate exercise can be looked at through the same lens, but that’s for another discussion.
Our media continuously throws false pictures at us, whether it’s a thoroughly photoshopped magazine cover so that the celebrity staring at us is nothing of what that individual looks like in real life, or a perfect face of a model gazing at us through the pages who doesn’t even exist. Yes, it’s been done, a selection of a set of eyebrows, a nose, a pair of eyes, all put together to grace a cover with perfection, so that women everywhere can hope they look as good as this magazine model who was just created by a man sitting at a computer.
Here’s another I just read this morning that shows one way diet products keep their industry booming, giving us skewed promises and false promises:
I am not saying that people don’t have incredible transformations by working out and eating healthy, because yes, those stories are out there. But this DOES show, that with professional lighting, a different stance, some professional tan, a smile….those before and after pictures that get us hooked on a workout plan, diet pill, or other weight-loss product, can be concocted in as little as 5 minutes if you know what you’re doing. And the people that do have transformations, often other things can be involved, such as starvation diets, or cutting out entire food groups, or intense exercise other than what is pushed for whatever the product may be. Believe me, I’ve taken diet pills. I’m not proud of it. All they did was make me sick. They didn’t work because I didn’t change all these other things about what I was doing. They are a waste of money, yet I chased that ever elusive end goal. There is no miracle pill, because weight loss and gain is simply calories in and calories out. Yes, there can be foods that can help our metabolism work more efficiently, but it is never going to be some miracle, too-good-to-be-true ploy.
It saddens me that weight and how we view ourselves, our self-image is such a struggle for women, and increasingly men too. As a woman though, and a Christian woman, I’m not the least bit surprised. There is a reason the most common issue women have with themselves is their weight and their appearance. Satan knows this is our biggest weakness and he takes full advantage. It’s kind of ironic, yet not purely circumstantial, that the one thing he used to tempt Eve with in Eden was food. An apple. Food. She fell, humanity fell, because of a woman being tempted with food.
Satan hates beauty and life and his mission is to destroy it. Satan was beautiful, gorgeous, when he was the angel Lucifer. He was the most beautiful angel. And it was his downfall, he fell from grace because he became arrogant and self-centered, and he lost his beauty. So he hates women, especially, because we were created as the “beauty” of the two genders, and the life-givers. If he can keep us down, insecure, wrapped up within ourselves and focused on our bodies, then we are a lot less apt to be able to look up and look around and make a difference in this world. It’s how he keeps us in chains, in bondage. By telling us we are fat, or ugly, or not good enough. That we don’t measure up. If we don’t think we are good enough, and we don’t measure up, then we are going to hide our light, not let it shine.
So my prayer for you reading this is that you may discover your worth, your beauty, from the inside not the outside. That you may eat healthy and take care of your body, not to measure up to Hollywood’s standards, but to respect the one body God gave you to care for and enable yourself to better live your life because of it. May you stop relying on the scale to weigh the immensity of your heart, or your jeans size to determine the width of your smile.
May you find purpose and identity because of who you are, not what you look like, for this is where true beauty is held. Know you are worth it, you are enough, you are irreplaceable, you are loved. Let your light shine, the world is a little darker without it.