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Body Image

The following is taken from my critique of The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment by Clifford and Joyce Penner.

The Physical Dimension

Summary

The physical dimension of sexuality describes the human bodies, their sexual functions, and body image.  According to the Penners (2003), many people do not spend time exploring their bodies and getting to know what makes them tick, so to speak.  God created our bodies with an intricate, perfect design, as explained in the Old Testament: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it” (Psalm 139:13-14, NLT).  In order to better relate sexually, one must understand and explore this workmanship of the Creator, and then share those findings between spouses.

Furthermore, bringing up children to understand their bodies without shame gives those children a greater chance of developing healthy sexuality when they are adults.  Parents teach their children to respect and love their bodies – including the genitals – or to think of them as dirty, naughty, or simply bad.  There is a difference between innocent touching and exploration of their bodies and sexual perversion.  Although it is a personal, private matter, parents can nurture a healthy sexual attitude within their children by guiding them rather than condemning them for their curiosity.

A healthy sexual attitude includes body image.  The Penners (2003) write, “How we feel about ourselves affects how we relate to another person, particularly sexually” (p. 35).  Body image is the attitude toward the body, notably regarding appearance.  Body size, shape, and weight, as well as specifics regarding the breasts for women and the penis for men are all under one’s own personal scrutiny.  These items can been viewed with too much negativity or too much positivity; if an individual’s self-esteem is based solely on having the apparent perfect body, this is just as unhealthy as being too critical.  Body image is developed via three factors: the sensory experiences from childhood, the feedback received from others during maturity to adulthood, and the models with which people compare themselves (Penner, 2003).  Moreover, there are also three steps that can be applied in order to resolve challenges with body image.  First, a person must examine his or her view of self and gain helpful feedback from trusted others.  Second, cultivate ways to perhaps change things about one’s body.  Lastly, an individual should evaluate those models of comparison and realize that actors, models, and others in the media spotlight are not always what they seem.  The model for our lives should always be Jesus.  The bible clearly states that, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b, NLT).

Critique

Once again, Clifford and Joyce Penner provide expert guidance on the technical aspects of anatomy and functionality, as well as beneficial knowledge on body image.  In exploring the aspect of body image, Cohen and Blaszczynski (2015) take a specific look at topic of using others to determine a positive or negative self-image.  The Penners (2003) mention the distorted images from the media; one must understand that cameras, airbrushing, and other techniques are used to create so-called perfect faces and bodies.  In fact, body image distortion (BID) is nothing new, especially among women of all ages.  BID is “the negative evaluations of one’s physical body, shape and weight” (Cohen & Blaszczynski, 2015, p. 1).  There is a direct correlation between exposure to the media’s physical appearance ideal and BID.

According to recent studies, college-aged individuals are utilizing social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram as their social resource more so than traditional means such as television or magazines (Cohen & Blaszczynski, 2015).  Not only are people turning more to social networking sites, but growing sources reveal the addictive properties of these sites.  Whereas it is believed that most people do understand that images on the television and magazine are altered to create a certain ideal, the perception that people on Facebook or other sites are genuine, since most of them are peers.  Therefore, the relationship between appearance comparison and BID becomes a greater battle; women believe they do not measure up to other real women, rather than professional models.  Interestingly enough, studies of social networking sites have steadily revealed that users “strategically manipulate their profiles in accordance with societal ideals of attractiveness” (Cohen & Blaszczynski, 2015, p. 2).  Nobody posts an unflattering photo of oneself on Facebook.

Along with the physical images on social networking sites, BID is associated with the conversations that take place.  Unlike conventional media, there is feedback on sites like Facebook; this includes posts regarding food, exercise, health habits, weight, and optimal body size (Cohen & Blaszczynski, 2015).  According to Cohen & Blaszczynski (2015), a recent study indicated the following:

70.2% of profiles of American undergraduate students referenced exercise and 12.3%, eating habits … Of 600 Facebook users aged 16 to 40, 50% reported that Facebook content made them more body-conscious; 31% feeling “sad” as a result of comparing photos of themselves to those of Facebook friends, and 44% reported desiring the same body or weight as Facebook friends (p. 2).

The conclusion is that as society becomes more addicted to social networking sites, the relationship between appearance comparison and BID will continue to grow.  Sites such as Facebook are at a minimum on the same level as traditional media regarding negative effects on body image.

Body image from a biblical point of view points to very beginning, where it is written, “So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NLT).  Granted, what people do with their bodies can be physically damaging.  However, to be created in the image of the Creator reveals a deeper beauty than could ever be portrayed on any movie screen, in any magazine, or on any social networking “selfie”.  Because of sin in this world, there will be wounds that alter an individual’s self-perception, including body image.  Yet God promises to heal the broken, as in Isaiah 61:3: “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (NLT).  God is able to take pain and produce glory in every aspect of human life, including body image.

References

Cohen, R., & Blaszczynski, A. (2015). Comparative effects of Facebook and conventional media on body image dissatisfaction. Journal of Eating Disorders, 3(23), 1-11. DOI:

10.1186/s40337-015-0061-3

Penner, C., & Penner, J. (2003). The gift of sex: A guide to sexual fulfillment. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson

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Struggle

I look back at the old me:

The thinner me,

The filthy-on-the-inside me,

And I don’t want to be her (do I want to be her?).

I don’t miss the way she was (oh, how I miss the way she looked!).

So I keep running away from her,

Protecting myself from her with food and fat.

I see my picture and ugh, I look like that?!

I can’t bear to see what I’ve become!

Different now?  Yes.

Better now? Yes.

All on the inside, all on the inside.

Yet I am unhealthy, inside and out.

Eating my emotions. Sabotaging my health.

Not afraid to die, except for the pain.

Not wanting to die … but is this not a slow form of suicide?

Take another bite.  (Not worth the fight.)

Feeling disgusted.  Feeling defeated.

How ridiculous this must seem, in a world of pain.

No one to blame but myself.

Why can’t I just get this right?

Why do I care so much (but you ARE beautiful … lies, lies!)?

He thinks I’m beautiful (how? why?).

God beautifully wove me, right?

So tired of the struggle.

So tired of the fight.

Not giving up … but can’t seem to find …

Victory tonight.

I Can Relate

You never know what you will see on social media.

If I’ve learned anything about Facebook, it’s that you will find the good, the bad, and the dramatic.  Some people only portray the positive, making others envious of their perfect lives.  Others air out more dirty laundry than a country clothes line.  But every once in a while, something grabs your attention and really speaks to your heart.  That happened today.

About 8 years ago, I “met” my friend Cheryl online on a weight loss support website.  Like most women who struggle with the ups and downs of that battle with the bulge, I had tried everything on God’s green earth – but that’s for later.  When I met Cheryl, she shared her continuous journey with losing weight, and over time, I watched her shrink.  She was a workout powerhouse and one disciplined, determined woman! In fact, I recall feeling pretty jealous of her weight loss – she started out weighing more than me, and she wound up weighing much, much less.  But she deserved it.  She worked hard, she ate clean, and purged sugar and flour from her diet.  Awesome.

When Facebook become all the craze, we stayed connected, and the topic of weight didn’t come up so much.  She shared her life, her good times, her bad … and occasionally, she would share fitness goals and stories.  Today, however, she posted that her “secret was out” and that she had gained back all the weight she lost all those years ago.  My heart FELT her pain, because I walked in her shoes. I felt the tears sting my eyes as I contemplated my own past.

Starting in 2001 and into 2002, at 5″1′, I went from 165 pounds to 125 pounds.  I looked lean and fit.  The problem is that I did not follow a healthy program to get there.  I took diet pills that have since been pulled from the market because they caused heart attacks and strokes in some users.  I can’t say that I counted calories because there were barely any to count.  I worked out like crazy – exercise at first was challenging, then addicting.  The pills and exercise weren’t the only things that were addictive – the attention and praise went straight to my head.  The more attention I got, the harder I worked to lose even more.  Now seriously, 125 pounds is quite healthy for a short chick like me.  Even more seriously, screw up your metabolism the way I did, and it will take a very long time to get things right again.

So yay me, I lost the weight.  Then I left the company where I worked, left the fitness center that was free for its employees, and left the constant support to keep my weight off.  I went to work in a small office full of women who liked to eat.  No fitness center.  No excuse – but I sure made those excuses my new best buds.  Within months I gained about half of the weight back; within just a few years, I gained it all back.  And then I gained even more.  Depression set in.  Rejection replaced attention.  I withdrew from old friends; in fact, if I’d been given the chance to see old coworkers, I would have run the other way.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.

That was 10 years ago.  Since then, I’ve been through a divorce, learned to be independent all over again, struggled financially, and discovered two best friends and biggest supporters in my (grown) daughters. My spirit was broken, my heart was shattered, and I was brought to my knees.  Jesus met me there.  I had long strayed in my walk with God, but He never left me.  He reached out to me in all my pain, and I thank Him every day for restoring me as His daughter.

Which brings me to now.  2014.  I’ve remarried, watched both of my daughters grow as amazingly strong women, am going to college part time, and this year, I committed my health to Jesus.  I began this year with a Daniel Fast and an online Bible study through the book “Made to Crave” by Lysa TerKeurst.  I’m not perfect; not every day is victorious.  But there are more strong days than not, and I am losing weight again.  I’m not going to give up.  My word for 2014 is “Victory” – 1 Corinthians 15:57: But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (NASB).

Evidently, I am not the only one who is back on track and doing something to become healthy once again. Remember that good Facebook moment I had today?  Check it out:

Cheryl, if you see this, I am SO STINKING PROUD OF YOU!  Don’t give up, don’t give in – you’ve got this, girl.

“Success is not measured by the position one has reached in life, rather by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed.”  Booker T. Washington