Monday, November 7, 2011

in the eye of the beholder . . .

I remember once, as a little kid, being snuggled up in bed next to my mum. I listened to the long, slow, even breaths in & out as she slept. I moved away from her a little, propped myself up on my elbows and watched her with curiosity.  I studied her face – the line of her eyebrows, her round, jubey nose, her lips slightly parted, the shape of her cheeks, her chin.  I remember squinting my eyes, trying to view her, not as my mum who i had known my whole life, but as a stranger would see her, just some random lady.  I had always seen her as beautiful but i found myself asking, ‘what does she really LOOK like?’ and ‘is she really pretty?’

Earlier this year i started gaining weight rapidly & in an effort to counter that, i joined a weight loss program.  I had checked with the doctor what my healthy weight range was, & set myself a realistic weight-loss goal.  I was sharing my progress with my mother-in-law when she asked me, ‘so, why are you trying to lose weight anyway?’  I thought about it for a few seconds & then replied that i wanted to be fit and healthy for my kids, & that i wanted to make an effort to look attractive for my husband.  That was the truth. Partly.  What i didn’t share with her was the other part.  The part about my life-long desire to be slim. Deliciously slim. Maybe even a little bit skinny. 

As long as i can remember i have struggled with my appearance – feeling overweight & unattractive.  I have spent a considerable amount of time either trying to lose weight or feeling guilty because i wasn’t trying to lose weight.  I have at times, loathed my appearance & felt angry at God for making all these beautiful people . . . & then making me. At best, i have tried to accept that i am just not that attractive, & tried  to get on with the more important aspects of life.  I would worry that the readers of this blog might think i’m a tad self-obsessed or slightly neurotic  (i don’t completely disagree) except that, i have a sneaking suspicion i’m not the only female to feel this way. And don’t get me wrong. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with trying to maintain a healthy body weight, or making an effort to look attractive. 

But i believe that this is more than that. There is this sick, distorted perspective of beauty which finds me gazing at the underweight models in magazines, & the tiny, toned, bronzed bodies of singers on t.v. & longing to look like them.  Where i stand on the scales & in dismay, exclaim to my husband that i have only lost 200 grams instead of a kilogram.  Or looking at old photos & instead of thinking ‘i was having such a great time there’ or ‘what a wonderful memory’ i find myself thinking ‘yuck, look how fat I was there’ or ‘what was I thinking, wearing those unflattering shorts?’.  And from the discussions i have had with many girl friends, i know i’m not unique in holding this unbalanced perspective.  It is rampant among we women.  Bred into us from an early age.  And yes, we are bombarded with messages from the media that tell us if we just diet a little more, try this treatment or buy that product maybe we can be beautiful too.  But i don’t believe the worst culprits in all of this are the media.

Research is revealing an alarming rate of girls with an unhealthy perception of body image. I recently watched a documentary where a random group of girls between the age of about 8-9 to 12 years were shown three photos of themselves. Two had been distorted so that the girl looked thinner or heavier than the third, accurate picture.  They were asked to identify which photo was the ‘real’ them & which they felt they should look like.  An overwhelming amount of girls felt the photo that showed them as larger was the genuine thing, & almost all of them said that they most preferred the underweight version of themselves.  The researchers expected media & peers to be the most significant influences in the way girls viewed themselves.  However, during conversation, after the ‘experiment’, the subject of how their mothers’ viewed themselves, arose.   One girl after another shared how their mother would stand in front of the mirror & make remarks like, ‘I’m just a fat pig’. . . ‘I need to lose some weight – my bum is huge’.  . . ‘I hate my big stomach’.  At the conclusion of the experiment, the findings were shared with the mothers.  Firstly they were alarmed to think that their young girls felt that way about themselves, and secondly they admitted that they had indeed made those negative comments in front of their daughters, on a regular basis.  This in turn, was having a significant impact on the girls' self-image.

I am ashamed to admit the amount of time I have spent discussing my weight & desire to be thinner with friends, my sisters & mother & my husband, in my daughter’s hearing.  I began writing this blog in February this year, but abandoned it because of my ongoing struggle & because I wasn’t in a position where I had overcome my own shortcomings in this area.  I do know that if there is anything I can do to avoid my daughter having these same struggles I have had – the constant guilt, self-loathing, dissatisfaction then I will do my best to change but I really believe it requires an overhaul in my thinking. I love Bugsy so much.  I know that she is beautiful & that she will always be beautiful.  But I also know that in coming years she is going to be assailed with messages from the media & sadly, from her peers that will seek to tell her otherwise.  To impart in her a healthy view of self, I believe,  is my duty to her.  So, I have a lot of work to do. 

I have a few ideas about where to start.  And i know i can't do it in my own strength.

Romans 12 v 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 . . . and i would so value the imput of others who have been here & experienced transformation in this area.  Be gentle with me.  
I studied my mum’s face as she slept & asked myself, ‘is she really beautiful?’.  I don’t know how long i stared at her but finally i gave up, slumped down & snuggled in next to her.  She was my mum, she loved me & i loved her.  Of course she was beautiful. 
I know in all of this i have only really talked about physical beauty. In my head, i know that real beauty is much more than that.  Maybe choosing to focus on true beauty is a good place to start. 

I read this story once as a little girl.   

The villagers had worked hard preparing the ground, sowing the seeds, tending the crops.  Finally it was harvest time.  Every able bodied adult, men & women, helped with the harvest.  The children played in the fields nearby.  As the long day of toiling under the hot sun drew to a close, the villagers wearily began to make their way back to their homes to rest before another day out in the fields. Hearing a small child’s wail, one of the village women rushed to the little girl, upset at becoming separated from her mother. 
‘What is your mother’s name?’ she asked. But the little girl could not tell her. No one nearby knew who the girl belonged to. When asked to describe her mother, the child only replied, ‘She is the most beautiful woman in the whole village’.  The most beautiful woman in the village was called but when she saw the lady, the little girl shook her head.  So another beautiful woman was called but again, she was not the child’s mother.  Yet another attractive woman was called, and another, and another but none knew the little girl.  Only the most plain women were left.  Each was brought before the child but still she shook her head.  The village elders were puzzled and by now the child was very distressed.  ‘Is there any other mother here in the village?’  they inquired.  Some of the villagers looked at one another, uncomfortably.  Yes, there was one but . . .  suddenly they heard frantic calls & looked to see a woman running towards the little girl.  ‘My baby, my baby,’ she cried.  ‘Mama,’ the child wailed.  As they embraced, the village elders stared in confusion.  This woman was overweight and old, toothless, with a large nose & bushy eyebrows.  The little girl turned & beaming joyously, announced, ‘Thank you for finding my mama, the most beautiful woman in the village’.

Proverbs 31 v 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Psalm 45 v 11 Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.


  1. Thanks Meg for your amazing writing and honesty!

  2. Great post - that last story is a good one!!
    I read in Next Magazine last week that after interviewing 8000 women in New Zealand, 75% of us are unhappy with our weight. 75%!!!! Crazy. I try to imagine a world where I am happy to just be the me I am, and it seems like heaven. Scary.

    Hey Mrs Kiwimama {meg?} I think you might have missed my Friday Post where I announced the winners of the Bakers Delight vouchers???
    Yeah... you might want to check it out...