This morning I find myself burdened and frustrated.
If you work with middle school or high school students you know that teen aged girls struggle with body image at a deep level. The reality of this struggle hit me in a fresh way yesterday.
Our girls just returned from a retreat over the weekend. Shelley, our associate pastor, led them through a discussion of how God made them beautiful and valuable. For the most part our girls buy into truth when they're discussing it, but when their gaurd is down and boys aren't around it's easy to see what they're really feeling.
They play the comparison game, they talk about what they hate about themselves, from their hair to their toes. It seems there's a deep perversion of the truth that God made them beautiful and valuable on the inside and out. In reality 80% of American women say they're dissatisfied with the way they look.
What feeds this perversion? Where does it come from? After discussing this with Shelley yesterday it seems there are primarily 2 sources; media and words.
Our media sets a standard of beauty that's ridiculous and untrue. Our culture applauds the outward and rarely focuses on what's on the inside. Most girls fall victim to the lie that beauty is what you see on the front of cosmo. Take some time and watch some television. From Glee, to Dancing with the Stars to The Bachelor; these shows set a standard of beauty that's really just skin deep.
This is a great video article on media and gender issues. Warning: It's PG 13 stuff.
The second cause for unhealthy thinking about appearance is words. Words from parents and friends. A mom says, "you need to lose 5 pounds" or a boyfriend says, "why are your calves so fat". When a person already feels insecure these "innocent" comments can send a girl to a very dark place.
So my question is this, how do we change the culture? How do we help young women see themselves the way God sees them?
I hope you have some good answers because I'm not sure I do. Here's a couple of thoughts...
Let's look for ways to compliment that have nothing to do with how one looks or what a person wears. We should go out of our way to share with our girls positive things that have nothing to do with appearance.
What about challenging the culture? I'm not sure the best way to do this, but somehow we have to open the eyes of our girls and all our students about the lies of media and culture.
I'm also thinking about ways to help the high school guys I'm around think differently about what makes a girl (and themselves) valuable.
Finally, make sure you have "Shelleys" around. If you're a man in ministry do whatever it takes to get women around to love girls well and see the body image issue clearly.
Do you have any input? I hope you do. This is a big deal for those of us who long to see students embrace Jesus and follow him well.