When I was growing up, the Miss America Pageant was a big TV night. While my mother shampooed and pin-curled my hair for church the next day, the whole family watched the pageant. It was our chance to see the faraway (at least from South Alabama) glamorous Atlantic City and 50 of the country’s most beautiful girls. By the time TV coverage started, the preliminaries had already happened and the competition was down to the top ten. We got to see evening gown competition, swimsuit competition (which has since been eliminated in the event), the talent competition and the impromptu question and answer for each of the finalists. Naturally our family pulled for the Southern girls and we all had opinions on who would win. Of course, Bert Parks was the emcee and one year, 1959, our favorite, a Mississippi girl won. It was Mary Ann Mobley, and I thought she was the most wonderful creature on earth. She could sing and dance and had a perfect body and straight teeth and I wanted to be just like her one day. But as I got older and stopped growing in height at 5’1” I was told that I’d never be a Miss America (or a Rockette) because beauty queens (and Rockettes) are tall. I was limited not by ability or even looks, but by something I could do nothing about. The conclusion here was that my body limited me as to what I could accomplish, what path I took in life, and maybe how valuable I was to the world.
My friend, Bonnie is almost six feet tall, which is above average for a woman. I am several inches under the average. We each have dealt occasionally with inferiority because of our heights. Yet there is absolutely nothing that either of us can do about it. Oh, I can wear 3-inch heels and gain some altitude, but you will never see me in 3-inch heels. Bonnie, however, doesn’t have any tricks to reduce her elevation. She could, then, try to appear “normal height” by slouching or slinking about trying to minimize it. Instead she proudly stands straight, wears high heels, performs on stage, and seems to celebrate the gift of vertical real estate. When I asked Bonnie what image struggles she faced, she said,
The summer before I entered 8th grade, I grew three inches from a normal height to almost six feet tall. Classmates would literally walk up and say “What happened to you?” as if I had three eyes. I was taller than every guy in school, their fathers and the faculty at large. My journal from this year is in a safe place, rich with drama and not a little comedy. Those years are life-branding for many of us and unkind remarks could have taken me down. Thankfully, years of studying classical piano required correct posture. It was tough being tall and skinny and feeling geeky and different. I credit immersion in the performance arts and a healthy fascination with Twiggy for a dose of courage. High heels have always been an option. I embraced the advantages of being tall but don’t we all wonder at what we haven’t experienced? I’ll always be fascinated with what it feels like to look up into a man’s eyes, to buy clothes without having to check insanely long inseams, to be the cheerleader, tiny and tossed into the air. (personal interview)
I’ve learned a lot about my own body image by watching Bonnie (and secretly praying that when I get to heaven, I’ll be tall and can look Bonnie in the eye.)
A woman can ask herself, “What about my body can I change?” If the answers are lose weight, tone-up, change my hair or makeup, then the solutions are obvious and positive. However, if the answers call for severe measures like risky and expensive surgery, then further prayer and soul-searching needs to be applied before a drastic decision is made—especially if the goal is to create the “perfect body.”
On a website called Mirror, Mirror.org experts who address eating disorders publish great insights about body types. Here is one about the perfect body:
“If we consider society’s idea of the perfect body image for women based on the average fashion model, we would think that the perfect woman was about 5’10” and weighed only 120 pounds. However, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the average American woman is only about 5’4” and weighs about 169 pounds. There is a big discrepancy there.”
Mirror, Mirror, also emphasizes, “Among our many societal misconceptions about weight is the belief that being thin equals being healthy, and being overweight equals being unhealthy. The movement known as Health at Every Size, or HAES, challenges this premise by arguing that health and wellbeing are infinitely more important than a number on a scale.”
This organization launched a subgroup that includes health care personnel who proclaim a theory called “set point,” which is essentially a range occurring naturally in every body that makes it fight to maintain itself. The organization stresses that this does not mean that there aren’t unhealthy weights, but that the number on the scale should not be the only determiner for healthy weight. Coming to terms with what we cannot change is a step forward toward feeling worthy.
Dr. James Dobson stresses in one of his podcasts on Family Talk that the most destructive activity in which to engage is comparing ourselves to others. Dobson says, “When you look at another person’s strengths and compare them to your own weaknesses, there’s just no way to come out feeling good about yourself. Even at a young age, our self-images are shaped by how we stack up against our peers.” His advice to the listener is “to make the most of the strengths and talents you’ve been given. When that is achieved, then comparison with others is no longer a relevant issue.” But how do we achieve that balance in a world filled with communication that bombards us with the messages of imperfections in our bodies?
STOP: Do you obsess about your weight or body tone? Would you go to any lengths to create the prefect body? Exercise? Diet medications? Surgery?
LIE: No one can love me because of my body type. I can never be attractive.
TRUTH: 1 Peter 3:3-6 “What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.”