Obsession 28


No one sat on the metal bleachers. We huddled in small groups under blankets, jackets, umbrellas, under the canopy of low, grey clouds. Rain fell in spurts and gushes alternately. As soon as we thought we might be able to see something, the rain came again.

Our daughters ran on a vast green field striped with white lines, dotted with refs and flooded with feminine strength, confidence and competitive spirit. No matter the game outcome, the girls hugged, congratulated each other, strode with purpose to parents and cars.

Later, at lunch, they giggled. They teased. They took goofy photos and talked about books they’re reading. They played with each other’s hair and they slumped against each other with a natural kind of trust. Watching a Sporting Kansas City game, the girls identified the players in their positions, cheered with abandon, watched and understood the game they love.

***

A popular website, formerly my go-to for recipes and crafty ideas. A few minutes to kill before dinner. Instead of food porn, I got something else.

Barely clad women with incredible abs. Tiny t-shirts, fit, young bodies. The main “Everything” page was saturated with images of impossibly gorgeous female forms. Undeniably, the women—or their bodies, since a majority of the photos did not bother to show their heads—had amazing bodies. Six pack abs, perfectly round hineys. Slim waists, curvy hips. Barbies in real life.

Listen to the captions provided by pinterest users: “Beautiful girl. I have to follow this diet and workout plan.” Or another: “I would give anything to have these abs. I would never talk again if I looked like this.” Or, “I would never eat sugar again if I could have this body.”

***

What a striking juxtaposition. Unselfconscious girls playing soccer in the rain, using the gifts they’ve been given.  Women ashamed of the very skin that wraps their bodies, willing to surrender their souls to look a certain way.

I struggle with body image as much as the next gal. I still feel like a liar when I tell people I’m a runner, because I weigh more than 100 pounds. I can sometimes identify parts of me that are clear signs of my deficiency as a human. But to focus on the little dot on the end of my nose or the bumps that only I can see is to overlook the parts that shine or to negate the sum.

And so. How did we get from there to here? I’m troubled that my daughters (and son) will hear body shaming as an acceptable form of language, where the way one looks is to establish one’s worth. Fitness, exercise and healthy choices are all good things.

Where is the line between fitness and obsession? What can we do for our daughters and sons so they continue to trust the bodies and abilities they have? How do we begin to change our language so that our perceived imperfections are not the standard of value?

 

I promised to shout out my buddies who helped me remember the word “deficient” since my brain was clearly in that shape as I wrote this. Thanks to Miles, Ray, Margaret, Suzie, Sooki, Anthony, Pilar and Sheri.

 


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28 thoughts on “Obsession

  • Margaret

    ” I still feel like a liar when I tell people I’m a runner, because I weigh more than 100 pounds.”

    Yes. I feel exactly the same way and have never been able to say it that well. After eight half-marathons I still get sheepish when people call me a runner.

      • Cpalen

        Person first.  As an educator of special needs children, we are taught this.  I have “students with autism”- or “This is Michael, who happens to have autism”.  Call yourself “Jennifer”-who just happens to run!  🙂

  • Heather

    Love this post. Body image is such a struggle for so many women (and girls). Having a post-child body has made me struggle with this more than I used to (not to say I was ever completely immune). “7 days to a flat stomach” becomes tempting, but what do I want to teach my son and nieces about how God created us? And the truth of the matter is that I love that I have this extra flab, because it came from love.

  • rayhollenbach

    It seems like the drumbeat never ends: every form of mass media provides ample evidence of our shortcomings. Our only hope is that real life defeats electronic life over the long haul. We can (and should) love our kids day after day after day, and look for opportunities to provide true friendship (like soccer in the rain), and then PRAY that, in the silence of their private moments, our children remember real life more vividly than media life.

    This is a great post, Jennifer. Thanks for painting so vivid a picture! Blessings to you and yours.

  • Kelly Kinkaid

    You know I have the same thoughts when I look at my daughter. Just yesterday she came to my strength training class and knocked the workout out like it was nothing. And yet a couple of times this year, she asked me if I thought she was fat. She’s 10. It’s hard to know when it happens, that place where you diminish your beauty and capabilities because of some image you’ve created for yourself about what beauty is. Ultimately I guess each woman has to decide for herself what beauty is, but the fight within ourselves I’m not sure anyone ever stops having.

  • Idelette

    We are certainly walking this out with my girls who are 6 and 8. They are both beautiful and yet have both been called “fat” by boys at school. It makes me angry. #tigermama But I am thankful that we get to talk about it … I keep asking them what they know to be the truth about their bodies. I don’t want others to define them, but to help strengthen their inner sense of self and let that be strong.  

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      It just kills me. First, your daughters are too young to have to think about that. Then, this whole idea of FAT being an insult and thin/slender/skinny being some kind of elevated standard is just wrong. What does this say to people who are skinny because of disorder, people who WANT to gain weight? What about overweight people, a LARGE part of our society, being judged, dismissed for their weight alone? Kills. Me. 

      And the truth is, I have to tell myself the truth, as much as I think I’ve beaten that beast, I haven’t. The truth: I am a unique and unrepeated gift made by a loving God to serve Him. That’s the truth. 

  • Maile Smucker

    Jen, looking forward to having a discussion with you about this very topic face-to-face in about 3 days time.  This issue is so close to my heart (having two daughters of my own and struggling so much with it myself).  Love the way you pose the questions here.  See you soon!

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Thanks, Maile. I’m looking forward to it, as well. I wonder sometimes if it’s making a mountain out of a molehill, looking for problems where there are none. Still, I think we must pay attention to the messages being streamed at us and our kids.

  • Gabriella Harrison

    Jen – I struggle with that idea myself with my 5 year old Goddaughter and the children I hope to have. What makes me proud is when she says she wants Subway instead of Pizza Hut because it’s healthier…or when she says she loves running. She sees this as things that make her FEEL good…not about LOOKing good. I hope I can raise my own children in that same light. 

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      There is so much power in making choices that reflect our goals. When we know we want somemthing and recognize our own ability to make it happen, what an amazing feeling. How proud you must be of her! Must have good role models around her!

  • Cpalen

    Daughters go through things-(sons too I suppose!) I threw out the scale when she was taking ballet.  The kids were never thin enough in the instructor’s eyes-but she loved dancing.  I modeled healthy eating-provided nutritional snacks, did all that a mom was “supposed” to do.  As a triathlete myself I have always tried to tell her that being fit and strong is where it’s at.  Remember how you feel “right now” as you turn and leap and dance.  College is a challenge-so many influences (not good) and so much alcohol at parties.  Luckily she came through unscathed-is into hiking, rock climbing, and yoga.   Strong core.  Loves what her body can do.  We can only lay the foundation-and pray it’s enough.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      I’ve heard the same from gymnastics. Of course, boys struggle, too. Wrestling and boxing comes to mind. So, even athletic adventures can cause us to focus on weight and body image. I suppose finding our value in who we are rather than what we do or how we look is key. But how do we teach that in the face of so much pushback?

  • Angie Merrick

    When I became a mother, my body took a backseat to the monumental job it had been given. Wasn’t really a choice :). Though I will say that it’s interesting how God balloons our bellies, and, in the process, deflates our obsession with the size of our waists. B/c at that point, really, what can ya do? I think any woman would be hard-pressed to say that, given the choice, they’d pick their weight over the health of their baby. While we don’t exactly want to jump on the “16 and Pregnant” wagon…crap, I can see it now….”Get rich AND a cure for anorexia – it’s two for one!”….I think there’s something HUGE to be said about simply shifting our focus from ourselves elsewhere. For me, the best place for my eyes to be is on God…He’s the only thing enthralling enough to divert my attention from things like, oh, how big my butt is in these jeans ;-). 

  • Shawn Smucker

    This reminds me of an article I read some time ago regarding the way that parents try to encourage their children. The writer argued that parents should be careful about always telling their children how nice they look (emphasizing outward beauty) because this tends to elevate a child’s desire to be complimented on their physical appearance. Once children make their way into the world, they continue seeking compliments on their outward appearance and will begin conforming to what the rest of the world considers beautiful in order to continue receiving compliments on their physical appearance.

    Rather, parents should compliment their children regarding their character. The writer argued that when parents complimented their child on things like honesty, perseverance and kindness, children would then strive to be those things throughout their life.

    I’m not sure how I felt about this article. Part of me agrees. Part of me not so sure. What say you, Luitwieler?

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Well, first, when people tell me I should do something, I’m like a rebellious teenager. I don’t like the word should. But, I think, like with most things, a balance must be struck. For instance, I have one child who cares very little about appearance. I would do almost anything to convince this child that caring about appearance is not wrong or vain. In fact, how we present oursevles makes thal all important first impression.

      By the same token, first impressions are often wrong. Or at least skewed. Children probably need to hear both that they are lovely and kind, and have it modeled before them. Because in the end, I want a strong charactered child rather than a beauty queen.

      I have seen too many times women who were complimented on their appearance so much as children that this is the only way they think they have value. So if they “lose” their beauty, they are nothing. And that is straight up wrong.

      What about boys or men? Do they struggle the same way?

  • Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    You sure know how to paint a picture and nail it to the wall, loud and clear:

    “What a striking juxtaposition. Unselfconscious girls playing soccer in
    the rain, using the gifts they’ve been given.  Women ashamed of the very
    skin that wraps their bodies, willing to surrender their souls to look a
    certain way.”

    You also ask really important questions. And if they’re important that also means they’re difficult, so I (the mother of three daughters—yikes!) will have to ponder them for a while…