A Photograph Doesn’t Lie

At 7am bright and early this morning, my family had our pictures taken by a local photography company here in Abilene. The last time we had professional pictures taken was for Calvin’s newborn session (he just turned 2 a few weeks ago) so it has been a while!

While I am super excited to get some new family pictures,  I am also a bit anxious about them. Three of my recent posts have been about body image and the struggle I have had with feeling beautiful enough. Well, pictures are not the funnest thing for a person who doesn’t like their appearance much of the time!

I was trying to explain to my husband what it’s like to get my picture taken. I explained it as follows:

“It’s kind of a mixture of fear and dread. I have no idea what I’m going to see when I look at the screen (referring to having my photo taken on a phone). Sometimes I might see this cute person that I recognize from looking at myself in the mirror, but sometimes I see this completely different person, a horribly disfigured version of myself that I didn’t know existed. So there’s always a fear of looking at a photo of myself, because I never know which person I’m going to see.” 

Does anyone else sympathize with that? I know it’s not just me. Even in the past few days I have heard from others the negative experience that comes from having their picture taken:

“I think the problem is that the picture always ends up looking like me.” (said jokingly…)

“I hate getting that done, but I guess we’ll have to.” (referring to getting pictures taken for an ‘About Me’ page on a professional blog)

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Body Image: My Story – The Good, the Bad, and, of course, the Ugly (pt. 1)

Can you remember when you first realized that what you looked like mattered? Or when you first became aware that people are quick to judge someone based on how they look? How old were you? When was the first time you ever felt self-conscious about your physical appearance?

I say “when” and not “if” because I think this is something everyone has gone through or struggles with at one time or another. Or perhaps all the time.

I would say it happened for me around 6th or 7th grade, you know, the junior high years. Weren’t those just the best?

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Here’s an awkward junior high picture of me when I was in 7th grade and visited Japan.

One of my first memories of starting to question if I was pretty enough happened while I was with my best friend from school at the time. We were in my room and I told her that I thought I could be considered attractive – and she burst out laughing, like, fall over on the floor laughing. This was my BEST friend mind you…

Another time at school, we had taken school pictures and our photos were getting passed back to us. I got mine in the envelope that has the clear plastic on it so you can see the photo underneath. And the girl sitting behind me yelled, “oh my gosh, RETAKE!,” while pointing at my picture. And you know what, I did get retakes. All because one person had made fun of how I looked.

I’m sure you all have stories from your childhood like this that you could share. It’s so sad for me to think about because I know how much it hurt at the time. And I was so young, maybe 10 or 11. My son is almost 2 years old, so how many more years does he have before he experiences something like this? How long can I protect him from the false idea that appearance matters? And not only that it matters, but that it’s what gives a person value?

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Body Image…”Image Is Everything”

Last Sunday on Mother’s Day, our preacher gave a sermon entitled, “Holy Beauty.” We read some of the verses like 1 Peter 3:3, which talks about beauty not coming from “outward adornments such as the braiding of hair, gold jewelry, and fine clothes…” If you’re a person who grew up going to church, you probably know the types of verses I’m talking about.

But what I really appreciated about the sermon was that it included some honest thoughts about body image and perception, and about how much importance we give to how we physically look.

We talked about how everything around us, what we read, see and hear, can try to convince us that this is true – that how you look is the ultimate indicator of your worth. Our preacher mentioned Andre Agassi’s 1989 “Image is Everything” ad for the Canon Rebel camera – a clever slogan for a camera, but one that hits a little closer to home than maybe most of us would like to admit.

So, I’m here on my blog admitting that, yes, I am a person who is way too wrapped up in my physical appearance.

And I have read the bible verses hundreds, even thousands, of times that say that outward appearance doesn’t matter, and that God cares about your heart. A few years ago when I taught 6th grade reading, I assigned one of my classes to read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio – (a great book by the way if you haven’t read it!) The whole story is about a 10-year old boy with facial deformities (or differences if you want a nicer word) and how he deals with feeling different and trying to fit in at his school.

There are tons of other stories out there with the moral of “what matters most is on the inside,” and yet here we are, still struggling with wanting to keep up appearances, wanting to be praised for our physical beauty.

I do believe that what matters most is what is on the inside, like your heart and your attitude. But I don’t think that physical appearance doesn’t matter at all… it matters at least a little bit, and therein lies my struggle.

Where is the line? How much does the outward appearance matter? How much can I allow myself to care about how I look before I have a problem? I have gone back and forth with this issue many times. Does this mean that I should forgo all makeup and hair products, because in using them I’m trying to (falsely) enhance my beauty? What does God think about makeup? What does God think about how much time I spend staring at myself in the mirror? What about if I avoid looking at myself in the mirror because I’m scared of what I’ll see?

I know that being a Christian means we are supposed to be (and look) different – we are supposed to be “lights” in the world. So how much of a light am I being these days? Or have I completely burned out?

I don’t think wearing makeup is wrong, I don’t think wanting to look nice is wrong. But I have been mulling it over this past week and trying to take an honest look at myself and decide if I need to make any changes. It’s hard to see things about yourself that you don’t want to, and I don’t mean in a mirror.

I know that I have an unhealthy obsession with physical appearance… if I’m honest. So that’s not really the question. The question for me is, “what now?” What do I do about that? Maybe for me, it could mean giving up makeup… Maybe it means staying away from social media because I can’t stop comparing myself to other people when I’m on it.

I think the biggest temptation for me will be to do nothing at all, despite knowing I should. It’s a lot easier to talk about making changes than to actually make them. I think a lot of us in churches are guilty of this – we like to talk about how we should change, but sometimes we don’t actually do it. We can easily convince ourselves that it’s not a big deal and go on with our lives.

For me, a lot of this issue is connected to my spirituality, and feeling a moral obligation to be beautiful not by human standards, but by God’s standards – but I’m interested to know what others might think about the issue of body image; especially others who either don’t believe in God or who belong to a different religion. Is this an issue you think about or struggle with?

Even if there’s not a spiritual component tied up in the issue for you, I think most people would still agree that it is an issue and a problem for a lot of people.

I’d like to write another post on my specific struggles with body image, though the idea of sharing that is very scary and brings up a lot of emotions for me, but I’m kind of on an honesty kick right now … so hopefully I’ll have that up soon!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a podcast recommendation: The Liturgists have a very well done episode on body image that I hope you might take time to listen to:  http://www.theliturgists.com/podcast/2018/3/21/body-image 

Thanks for reading.