As we walked the aisles of the grocery store, my friend and I chatted. My daughter slept in the basket and her son smiled and waved at passing shoppers. “Hey, hi!” he’d bark, hoping for a response. Most ladies smiled and nodded, and continued their shopping.
We rounded the corner and strolled down the aisle, each stopping to grab a frozen vegetable from behind the icy doors. My friend’s son seemed mesmerized by something or someone. Following his gaze, I realized he was staring at a woman browsing through glass a few feet down. As she turned in his direction, he caught her eye and broke his silence.
“Wow! You’re fat!”
The poor woman he’d insulted looked quickly to the ground, her cheeks burned red. The boy’s mother apologized to the back of the woman who walked briskly down the aisle. Then my friend turned to her son and issued a half-hearted rebuke, “That’s not nice. Don’t say that again.”
As tacky and hurtful as his words were, I wasn’t surprised to hear them coming from his mouth. He heard them frequently spill from the mouth of his own mother:
“I’m so fat. I need to lose weight. I’m so tired of not being able to fit in my clothes. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I drop these last few pounds? I’m going on a diet.”
If his mom talked about her own body image all the time, why would he think it would be inappropriate to discuss anyone else’s physical appearance? It seemed only natural, like discussing hair color or prominently displayed tattoos.
I looked down at my daughter sleeping peacefully in the cart. Words like “fat” and “skinny” weren’t even in her vocabulary. She knew nothing of culture’s twisted standards of beauty. I couldn’t remember a time in my life where I’d been unaware of my weight, image, and inadequacies.
I grew up in a culture obsessed with weight-loss and learned early the importance of being skinny. As a middle-schooler, I cried the day I hit one-hundred pounds. I gained guilt and shame with every pound I put on; healthy or not.
I acted as though being fat was the ultimate sin, an unforgivable disgrace in the eyes of God. Whenever the numbers on the scale increased or I feared my waist size was bigger than those of my friends’, than my friends, or my own shame taunted me, I ran further and further away from God’s grace.
I want my daughter to be more aware of God’s grace than she is of her weight.
Culture’s message to young girls is loud and clear: all you have is your looks so you’d better look good. Teaching my daughter to view her body as a temple of the Lord, for His service, His purpose, and His glory won’t be easy. I must fight for her and with her, standing against the enemy’s lies and temptations.
The fight begins with me. I need God’s grace to model a healthy heart, one that’s more concerned about God’s Kingdom and His righteousness than my own physical appearance. I, like Paul, haven’t reached this perfection, but I press on towards the goal of knowing Christ more through the struggle.
My husband and I are very cautious about what and how I communicate to our daughter. We don’t want to over-emphasize or under-emphasize food, body image, weight, calorie intake, and dieting. The more we dwell on, speak of, and exalt their importance, the more we convey their supreme value and teach her to obsess. Instead, we want her to learn to make wise and healthy food choices and understand the value of exercise.
What does this tangibly look like in our home?
-We don’t talk about weight at all in regard to people.
We don’t casually discuss people’s weight. Off-hand comments like, “Wow, she’s really put on some weight” or “Wow! She looks great. Did you see how much weight she’s lost?” aren’t part of our vocabulary.
-We talk about how to love people instead of how we’re looking at people.
We try to keep our words heart-based. We teach our kids to look for needs and how they can fill them. We ask questions like “How were your friends today?” or “How’s she struggling? Can we pray for her relationship with the Lord?”
-We don’t talk about our own weight or speak negatively about ourselves.
Comments like, “I look so gross,” “Does this make me look fat?”, “If I could just get rid of this little jiggle...”, “I’ve only got ten more pounds to go!” are outlawed. My husband begged me to stop using self-deprecating comments like this when we were first married and I was shocked to see how much eliminating them helped my own heart! My husband is also great with regularly telling me and my daughter we’re beautiful.
-We are quick to point out internal beauty and ways the Lord’s grace is evident.
We strive to compliment behavior that reflects God’s character and demonstrates the fruits of the spirit. We want to point out and praise spiritual growth and godliness. Aristotle said, “What is celebrated in a city, is cultivated there.”
-We don’t go on crash diets or talk about what we’re eating, not eating, and how we’re cooking everything.
We want our children to have a healthy relationship with food. Focusing too much on weighing, measuring, avoiding, and counting can demonstrate an unhealthy fixation on dieting. While we may be eating more healthy foods, we are still focusing all of our time and affections on food.
-We don’t label foods “good” and “bad.”
Sweets and treats aren’t forbidden. We teach our kids healthy habits, keep fruits and veggies around, and try to model moderation.
-We see my husband’s role as equally important as my role.
Ask your husband to partner with you. Daughters look to their daddy for approval, love, and acceptance. Showing them their value and worth isn’t determined by their body shape, through words and actions, reflects the character and nature of God; who accepts and loves us unconditionally through the sacrifice of Jesus.
I can never guard my daughter completely from the world. Sin starts on the inside. But, through God’s grace I strive to remove the stumbling blocks of body image and weight obsession, that will distract her from the gospel. While she’s in our home, we do what we can to point her to Jesus.
We trust Him with the results.
Over Christmas we were given a little peak into the ways God is working on our behalf and rewarding our labors.
While watching an episode of Charlie Brown, Lucy asks Charlie if she’s pretty. Instantly, our eight-year-old daughter turned and looked over her shoulder with a confused look aimed in our direction. “Pretty?!” She questioned. “Why does she care if she’s pretty?! That’s silly.”
We shrugged and giggled and she went back to watching the movie. I looked happily at my husband. “It’s working” I said to him quietly. Pleased, he nodded in agreement.
If God looks at the heart of man, why are we teaching our daughters to look at the the weight of our flesh? Teach your daughters to treasure Jesus instead of a smaller waistline.
I want my daughter to be more concerned about the good news of the gospel than about the implications of gaining weight. I want her to be more focused on loving God and others than she is about getting to the gym. I want her to be kingdom minded instead of calorie minded.
I want her to fear God, not numbers on a scale.
Lindsey Carlson lives in Houston, Texas with her winsome-worship-pastor-husband and their four young and busy children. She enjoys giggling with her littles, dating her husband, deep talks with sweet friends, and laughing really loud. Lindsey loves to challenge believers to define their worship as more than songs on Sunday morning. She writes on living the new song of the gospel at Worship Rejoices.