By Jordan Lee
There are three parts of my body I always find myself wishing looked different: my thighs, the back of my arms, and my hands.
I do this weird, awful, sickening thing and I want to share it with you because maybe, just maybe, you ride the same dang struggle bus that I tend to board each morning.
Last week, I looked over at the dainty hands of a woman sitting next to me on the plane and legitimately thought to myself, “If I had hands like that, I would never have to hide these little sausages in pictures ever again.”
Weird, right?! Hold on, it gets weirder. I looked at my own hands, started tugging at the ‘fat’ on my fingers, envisioning what it would be like to have more slender fingers. I even began to imagine her hands on my wrists. I looked at her long, slender fingers and then squinted one eye, cocked my head to the side, attempting to visualize my hands with those same dainty fingers.
Unfortunately, I hate to admit that that’s only one out of a million times this month I’ve thought and done something like that.
On Saturday, I grabbed my towel and made my way down to the pool at our apartment. I had been working at my desk all morning while my husband was out of town and needed a little bit of a breather. Sadly, I didn’t breathe at all. I didn’t expect to see so many people. The pool typically isn’t busy but on a Saturday afternoon at 92 degrees in Arizona, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
I looked around, flexed my abs, sucked in my gut, and covered the tiny stretch marks on the top of my thighs with my soft cotton towel as I analyzed the innocent women in the pool. It went something like this, “Ugh, her legs are thinner than mine… Oh, and so are hers!” and “I think her legs are thicker than mine. Phew. At least I don’t have the biggest legs here.” (Thanks to ComparedtoWho for the inspiration here.)
I know, it’s awful. But I have to be honest and say that I do it, too. I catch myself doing it at church (shame on me, right?), on the stinking internet as I scroll (aka creep), at the grocery store, and it’s even happened when I’m about to take the stage and speak to hundreds of girls.
Ick. Ew. Ugh. Pathetic.
I have so many girls email me about their struggle with body image asking for advice. Recently, I received a message that read, “How can I learn to see myself as God sees me?”
Most of the time I just want to reply, “Girl, me too. I don’t have a solution.”
Like you, I fail to see myself as God sees me sometimes (okay, real talk: most times). Either I think far too highly of myself or far too little of myself and honestly, both are wrong.
It’s as if I’m trying to find a solution to just how I measure up.
The math just doesn’t work. But Even when I have all intentions to build community and to let myself breathe in God’s grace, comparison creeps up at the most inconvenient moments and then I divide and suffocate myself into a space of complete isolation, feeling trapped in my own head.
Maybe you don’t struggle with body image but maybe you isolate yourself by comparing your work to other women, or your family, or your style, or a combination of all of the above. Maybe you look at others and think…
“More Successful/Less Successful”, “Prettier Instagram Feed/Uglier Instagram Feed”, or maybe even, “Better Christian/Worse Christian.”
We all do it in some capacity. We know that. I think I’ve actually done all three of those, multiple times, on multiple occasions.
Maybe you’ve heard phrases like, “Jesus loves your hot mess” or “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Maybe you’ve been told that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139) and really love the idea but have a really stinking hard time believing it.
So if you’re one of my many sister-friends out there that struggles with seeing yourself as God sees you, I don’t have a perfect solution for the problem but I am learning something important and I want to pass it on to you:
1. We know that it’s normal to compare. It’s normal to dislike something about our bodies or lives. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean that it’s good.
You know, a few weeks ago, I grabbed a cotton ball and rubbed off my old toenail polish. As the paint faded to a light pink, I noticed something weird peeking through. I scrubbed harder, wearing away the last of the polish, and gasped.
What in the world?!
Do you want to know what I discovered beneath that chipped layer of red paint?
To be honest, you probably don’t but I’m going to tell you anyway because I don’t believe in hiding real life and it’s important.
Hiding beneath that nail polish was an absolutely disgusting infection. My toenail had turned a greenish color (and so did my face when I saw it!).
I sat on my bathroom floor and just stared at my green big toe for ten minutes contemplating how to fix it. I reached for the Google machine (aka my iPhone) on my countertop and searched all the remedies in the book…or internet—same thing. Anyway, I learned that my toenail infection was pretty normal and that I could treat it at home.
However, I needed to treat it quickly or it could destroy the entire nail bed, leaving me without a toenail for the rest of my life. I had to cut back the nail as short as possible and then drop the liquid medicine beneath the surface of the nail into the nail bed so that it could work it’s magic on the infection. I’ll spare you the details but I’m happy to say that my toe’s treatment is going strong and we’re on the fast track to recovery.
I know it’s gross but I think it so accurately illustrates the way my heart looks—pretty and painted on the outside but so often infected with comparison and jealousy on the inside.
When I think about what others may see on the outside, it would be safe to assume they see a girl who exercises regularly, speaks on stages, travels to cool places, and managed to get married in her twenties.
Great. That stuff’s about as good as chipped nail polish.
It covers up the rotten stuff inside of me…the heart that secretly celebrates when I feel like I look better than someone else but immediately grows sour when it sees someone with a better posture and prettier hands. The paint that covers my life does a nice job of hiding an infection…the infection that’s normal but definitely not good. An infection that’s normal but needs to be tended to and treated properly—before it damages the whole heart from the inside out.
2. We won’t ever see ourselves as God sees us by throwing inspiring quotes, feel good messages, or diet plans on the problem. We see ourselves as God sees us when we stop looking so dang hard at ourselves and start looking at Jesus more.
One study done in the UK found that on average, women look in the mirror eight times each day. If that’s true, then how much more do we need to be looking at Jesus. I’d say at LEAST nine times a day, right? But do we?
Because beneath the surface, on our own, we are full of jealousy and all sorts of other icky things that infects our heart (Jeremiah 17:9)—just like my toenail was. So then, we have to get beneath the surface and treat not just the feelings the infection brings with feel good remedies but actually give our heart what it needs: it needs to look at who God is in us, not who we are on our own.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 tells us that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation.
The old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This isn’t something that will happen when we finally stop comparing or read enough Bible verses to get through one day without tugging at our cellulite or envisioning someone else’s traits as our own. It’s something that has happened the moment we step into life with Christ and it’s not something that can be undone because through the One who was without sin or flaw, God was able to make us the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). From God’s perspective, when He sees us, He sees the perfection of Jesus. So then, we’ve gotta spend less time gawking over how much over God loves our mess but instead how much He loves us BECAUSE He sees Jesus’ perfect righteousness in place of our mess. He doesn’t love the mess. He loves the redeemed girl beneath that mess because He loves the Messiah who we have access to that same love through.
So, no, I haven’t defeated my struggle with body image or comparison or all that ugly stuff. I’m not sure you ever fully do on this side of heaven because sin and selfishness are real things. But maybe that’s not what it’s about. Maybe it’s not about winning or defeating anything because that’s already been done on the cross. Maybe instead, we just need to believe that we don’t have to live there, we don’t have to set up camp in the struggle. We can’t always avoid or prefect comparison but we can choose to change our focus.
Because tight abs, perfect legs (that don’t actually exist), and soft skin are simply a perceived reality of perfection that doesn’t actually exist. They are not the standard.