Do you struggle to see yourself as good, beautiful, and worthy of love? Sister, you're not alone.
Dissatisfaction with the way we look as women starts young. 53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with the way they look - and that number jumps to 78% by the time they celebrate their 17th birthday. As we get older, our body image doesn't get better. 8 in 10 women in the United States don't like how they look, while 7 in 10 healthy-weight women want to be thinner.
Viewing our bodies as good and holy is challenging in today's world. But in addition to viewing our bodies as good, the Catholic Church invites women and men to view their bodies as sacramental. A sacramental view of the body means that we see our bodies as ways to express our love of God and neighbor.
In fact, Saint Pope John Paul II devoted 129 Wednesday audiences to defining what he called the "Theology of the Body". In those lectures he said that "the body, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus be a sign of it."
If you struggle with healthy body image, or even the concept of seeing the body as sacramental, here are seven things you can do this week to grow in a sacramental view of your body:
1. Surround yourself with friends who recognize your beauty
I've never liked my legs - they didn't look like this idealized image I'd seen in commercials and magazines growing up. But I didn't tell anyone about that until I was in college. When I shared that insecurity with friends who I trusted, I was met with empathy, affirmation, and encouragement. The women who I was vulnerable with didn't let me wallow in self-deprecation. They stopped me in the middle of my critical monologue. Gently, my friends encouraged me to see my body as beautiful.
If you're struggling to see your body as good, surround yourself with women who are striving to see their bodies as good and holy. Making friends as an adult can be hard though. It's for sure a lot harder than it was when we were in preschool and became friends with someone because they had the same shoes! Check out this episode of Letters to Women where Katrina Even and I talk about wholesome friendships.
2. Get rid of negative inspiration
In college, I struggled with self-care and unhealthy eating habits. My shrinking weight wasn't due to healthy eating and an exercise plan. Instead, stress numbed my desire for food and I slowly bought into the lie that I wasn't worthy of grabbing dinner when my schedule was busy. But the social media I consumed wasn't helping me reject those unhealthy habits. My Pinterest board and Instagram feed preached to me about unrealistic expectations for my body.
Part of realizing my worthiness and the importance of self-care involved un-following some accounts and unpinning images that were encouraging my unhealthy habits.
Today, do an audit on your social media. Is it full of negative talk about bodies, or photo-shopped images of beauty that are impossible to attain? Replace them with accounts that have a no photo-shop policy (like this one!) and be surrounded by healthy, wholesome inspiration.
3. Stop criticizing your body
"This workout is great, but what I really want to do is something that will get rid of this," I told myself as I looked in the gym mirror. But my negative self-talk wasn't restricted to just the gym. When I did take time to eat or pause for a minute, my self-talk showed up at the table, too. "It's great that you're enjoying this latte today, but keep track of the calories so that you can run them off tonight after work," I would think to myself as I sat down at my favorite coffee shop during college.
We can be our own worst enemies sometimes when it comes to body image. Self-criticism just encourages you to highlight your insecurities. Instead of rejoicing in your strengths and gifts, you get bogged down in what you see as your worst possible characteristics. Stop that. "Be nice to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time," Christine Arylo writes.
4. Call out truths about yourself
It's easy to listen to the lies that the devil sows in your heart when it comes to body image. It's a lot harder to recognize and call out the truths that the Father sings over us. What are truths about yourself?
It could be something as simple as your height or your hair color. Maybe it's your contagious laughter, your quick wit, or love of puns. These are all things that make you unique and unrepeatable.
Tonight, write down ten truths about who God has created you to be. You could even take a journal to adoration and write down your truths while in the gaze of Christ in the Eucharist. If you ever doubt your beauty and your worth, you can find it in the eyes of Christ.
5. Make a plan
What is standing in between you and a healthier body image? Is it your eating habits? Sit down tonight and write down a meal plan for the next week. Then go to the grocery store, fill up your fridge with foods that will help you take care of yourself, and do some meal prep so you won't have an excuse to not make yourself lunch.
Is comparing your body to women around you hurting how you think of yourself? Break the cycle of insecurity and envy by reflecting on the unique set of gifts and talents God has given you. What would the world look like if Mother Teresa wanted to be just like Saint Teresa of Avila? What if you couldn't get your teeth cleaned because all the dentists wanted to be professional soccer players? Diversity in appearances, vocations, and talents is a good thing. But you can't start appreciating your own gifts and talents until you stop holding them up in comparison to everyone else's.
Don't get stuck just thinking about what it would be like to have a healthier body image. Take concrete steps today to accomplish your goal of seeing yourself as good and worthy.
6. Be patient with yourself
Just like you didn't get to where you are today with body image, you won't be able to do a complete lifestyle change in a single day.
During my journey to healthier body image, I've been greatly comforted by the advice of the saints. One of my favorite quotes has been one written by Saint Francis de Sales:
"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew."
7. Check your closet
When I was in college, I bought a maxi skirt that didn't fit me the way I thought it would. I didn't realize it didn't fit (because why would I do the normal thing and try things on at the store?), but I also didn't return it. Instead, I folded it up and decided I would keep it.
So it sat in my closet. The skirt was a reminder that my body wasn't what I expected it to be. But instead of donating the skirt, I kept it.
Before long, I begin to resent that skirt - and in doing so, I began to resent my body. Instead of being grateful for the temple of the Holy Spirit that God has given me, I beat myself up and I blamed my body. It didn't take too long before my body image took a turn for the worst. It was only after I donated that skirt to the local thrift store that I was able to look at the dresser drawer without mentally beating myself up.
There is no point to keeping clothes in your closet that make you feel like you're less-than. So whether it's something you thought you would be wearing by now, or that pair of jeans that you'd thought would look different on you now, don't keep those. If your clothes don't help you confidently appreciate the woman that God's created you to be, toss 'em.