My Daughter, the Mirror, and Me: Healthy Body Image for Both of Us

My newest piece is up at Today’s Christian Woman today; I would love for you to read the entire article here!

Developing a Healthy Body image in my daughter. So important!

My daughter loves seeing herself in the mirror, drawn to her parallel image like a magnet. Ever since she has been old enough to recognize her reflection in the glass, she has smiled, giggled, and reached out for herself. It’s a beautiful sight. As one who has fought my own reflection in the mirror, I’m starting to understand these moments as what they truly are: sacred.

Ella is not yet two years old. Her belly is as round as a ball after each meal, and her legs still carry the remnants of baby pudge. She is stretching out, but she is still a little bit baby—a little bit soft. And she adores herself. Now that she’s walking, running, and trying to jump, she will run to the full-length mirror in our room and stand in front of it, watching herself as she moves. She usually dances and shakes her head, giggling at herself. More than once, I have caught myself with tears in my eyes and have prayed that she would always delight in her body like this.

It’s been many years since I have been able to do the same. That freedom, that lack of self-consciousness, that complete joy in her own reflection—that is an experience that I don’t want her to lose. But her growing-up years will take place in a culture that is trying to tell her she has nothing to delight in when she looks in the mirror.

A Lost Freedom

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I looked in the mirror with pure delight. I do like myself, and I think that I have a healthy self-image. I don’t loathe my body or avoid mirrors, but even when I’m feeling fit and my clothes enhance my figure, I tend to focus on the aspects of my body that I don’t love. I focus on my rounding tummy, the girth of my thighs, the shortness of my eyelashes. And I try to do the work of covering up so as to not draw attention to those parts of my body. I might like how I look, but I rarely completely love what I see.

It’s been this way, to various degrees, since elementary school, when one of my female classmates told me that I had “big thighs.” After that, life was never the same.

I’m not being dramatic. Up until that moment, I had never even considered the size of my thighs. I knew that I had a body and that other people had bodies, but I didn’t consider how my body looked compared to theirs. I just knew that my legs worked well and that they helped me jump when I played basketball—that was all I cared about.

But when my classmate told me that she thought my thighs were big, I started looking at the size of my legs in light of the size of other girls’ legs. I discovered the ugly game of comparison. I shot up quickly in junior high and had knobby knees, but I didn’t develop any discernable bustline until years after many of my peers had needed actual bras. And although I was a bit gangly, I always carried a little weight in my tummy. It seemed that I would never have the perfect body I saw in commercials and magazines.

Nearly two decades later, I know that our culture’s interpretation of the “perfect” body is impossible—at least for me. And I really am okay with that. I’m not always thrilled, but I’ve made peace with my body. It does many things nearly perfectly—I can walk, even run, in this body. I have been able to carry a child. I can talk, and learn, and eat, and smile. These are amazing, nearly-perfect things. And I’m grateful.

Would I be happy if my metabolism was a bit faster? Probably. Would I like it if I had naturally smaller thighs? Sure. But the peace that I’ve gained with my body over these years since elementary school has been hard-won. And that’s why seeing Ella dancing in front of the mirror has both inspired and challenged me.

What She’s Teaching Me

My daughter has no sense of culturally imposed standards of beauty. She rejoices in her own reflection because she has no reason to not like herself; everyone in her life delights in her, and tells her so. Why would she not smile at her own face when she receives smiles on every side?

And this is what I always want her to have: encouragement about her body and praise regarding her internal—and external—beauty. Because she is beautiful. She is beautiful because the Creator of the heavens and the earth knit her together and delights in her (Psalm 139). He wove her every cell together when she was inside me. And still, as the one who holds all things together, he is remaking her, cell by cell, every day (Colossians 1:17). She is a wonder. She should be thrilled when she looks in the mirror! She’s a miracle!

Ella’s wonder with herself is calling me to remember that I, too, am a wonder. My working cells, my breathing lungs, my functioning brain—what a wonder I am! My thighs, knit together by a loving God. My tummy, sustained by an awesome Creator. What a wonder I am!

What a wonder you are! What a miracle, really, that any of us are here, living, gasping, hoping, loving, and speaking. All is wonder, truly.

Read the rest of the article here, at Today’s Christian Woman!

Meeting My Hero: Elisabeth Elliot

After my freshman year in college, I went to England for seven weeks through a study abroad program. Our first week during the trip was spent in London, and on Sunday most of us went to a small church that one of our professors recommended. It was a church built out of grey stone, cool on the inside and airy.

Meeting Elisabeth Elliot-Grace Unfolded

During the service, the pastor announced that they had a guest speaker present, an American woman who would be sharing her testimony with the congregation. She had been a missionary for many years, he noted, and she had lost her first husband as a result of such missionary work. The woman he was introducing was Elisabeth Elliot.

I nearly fell out of the pew. During my first year in college, Elisabeth Elliot had become a literary mentor to me through her book Passion and Purity. I read about her life with fascination and awe, as well as with a sense of closeness—years before, she had been a student at the college I was attending, and while I read the book I sat in some of of the same places she described within her pages.

This book challenged and touched me for many reasons, one of which was that it is a book about Elisabeth’s love story with Jim Elliot, how the two fell in love and then surrendered this love to the Lord for five years until they were married. There were months when the two could not communicate, years when they only saw one another for a few days at a time. Their story of God’s provision and their commitment to purity is truly incredible; their love is the stuff of fairy tales.

Elisabeth’s life, however, has not been a fairy tale. Less that two and a half years after their marriage in 1953, Jim and four other men went to share the Gospel with the Auca people, a native tribe in Ecuador. All five men were speared to death, and Elisabeth was left as a single mother. Instead of folding into herself, however, Elisabeth soon took her young daughter and went back to the jungle, back to the same Auca tribe that had killed her husband. She went to share the Gospel with them, and through her strength, courage and faithfulness to the vision she believed God had given to her a Jim, many in the tribe of self-proclaimed killers came to faith in Christ and gave up their murderous ways.

Sitting in that church in England, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I heard her speak about her life and faith in Christ. I could not believe that it was actually Elisabeth Elliot standing 15 feet in front of me—this woman whose words has shaped me so deeply was in the same room! Later, I asked for her signature in one of her books and smiled at this living hero across from me. I still don’t know why she was at that small church in England on the one particular Sunday when I happened to be across the world in the same church. Whatever the reason, I know that morning was a gift.

Elisabeth has entered into glory, now. She is with Jesus, her greatest prize.

Although she wrote many books and spoke across the world, Elisabeth Elliot was not flashy, was not self-focused and she did not even have an “issue” that she campaigned for—hers was a message of a God who is faithful, regardless of the circumstances. In her own circumstances of losing Jim to Auca spears and her second husband to cancer, she stayed the course and lived as a testimony of Christ’s sufficiency in a world that increasingly tells us otherwise. In Passion and Purity, she asks herself:

“…The question to precede all others, which finally determines the course of our lives is, What do I really want? Was it to love what God commands…and to desire what He promises? Did I want what I wanted, or did I want what He wanted, no matter what it might cost?” (Passion and Purity, 41)

Elisabeth Elliot decided, again and again, that she wanted what God wanted, no matter what the cost. Her life is a deep witness to God’s ability to work in a woman completely surrendered to Him.

I am so thankful for her life, and for that brief moment in England when I heard her voice with my own ears. I look forward to seeing her again.

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