When I was 10 I loved wearing tracky bums, had bad hair, read comics and spent my evenings after school hanging out in our road, cycling up and down and playing ‘king can copper’ with the other kids in the road. Of course some of my mates were into the latest ‘dash’ tracksuits and body shop lip balms, but most of us were content to be 10 year olds.
It’s 2016, and I’m way beyond tracksuits and have a dresser full of ‘products’ and make up awaiting me each morning. I am a strong, independent woman, sometimes too confident and often too gobby, but this summer I wrote this, thinking about a possible blog post:
As the weather has got warmer (and colder again) there has been sudden rush of tweets to get your ‘bikini body’ ready. Part of me feels a surge of panic as I’ve not been able to properly exercise for a year now since back surgery, at the thought that I shall be going on holiday with friends and will not be at my best in my fave red 2 piece. Another part of me wants to scream and swear at those tweets and statuses that imply you must be perfect before baring all. And just to make matters worse as I googled ‘baring all’ to spellcheck it, up came 2 ads for ‘secret slimming tummy control’ swim wear. Arghhhhh!! there is no escape…
I’m not really that different to many women I know – we get cross with the media telling us how we should look but still secretly berating the extra inches on our waists. I’ve had 3 kids, have masses of stretch marks and no amount of running will make me look perfect in my bikini, or in my case spending too much money on straightening my teeth. As people have gradually noticed my recently acquired braces, usually the question is: ‘why?’. The honest answer to that is: vanity. Pure and simple. Yeah I know I’m 42 and I also really shouldn’t care but I do. Just like when I think about putting on my bikini.
So, the question is: why?
Why do I care about my wonky teeth, why do I care what I look like on the beach? Is it really just vanity? I mean as my Dad once said, ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…’ but, and I love this response,: ‘you can roll a turd in glitter…’. Not that I am saying I am either a sow or a turd (hahahaha!!) but I mean I know I’m not going to look like I’m 21 and and I don’t want to. I actually love being in my 40s. But I think this goes a lot deeper, perhaps it’s more about being honest, comfortable and completely ok with who I am.
I wonder if any of us can truly say that we are?
You know it’s taken me 10 years to get braces (and to be able to afford it) but one of the biggest things that has stopped me is the question of vanity. Is it ok as a Christian to want to change her appearance? Shouldn’t I be happy with what God gave me? Isn’t this a slippery slope to bottox or plastic surgery? (hey, we’re not that flush) and I have battled with that over and over.
Last month, the bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, talked about highlighting the issue of body image in kids, something that is hugely important in our society.
I want to challenge the subconscious messages we’re giving,” she said. “We need to look at the language we use as adults and how it shapes our culture. For example, when adults engage with girls, nearly always the first thing we say is a comment on appearance. We need to find out who they are, what they enjoy, what they’re good at, what makes their souls sing…
We need to start encouraging young women to discover who they are as a whole person and to delight in that.
And I would suggest, not just our children, all of us! We are all, whether we like it or not, swayed by the message fed to us daily through the media, TV, the internet. When actually none of what they offer really helps us to be happy with who we are. If we bow to the messages of society, we might feel short term gain but in the end aren’t we always going to be assessing ourselves against others, against an impossible standard?
Last night at the Alpha course we are running, we discussed what following Jesus brings to our lives, for me it was the power of knowing that God loves me as I am, no matter what, that my identity is really as his child. He loves my stretch marks, the few extra inches, even the wonky teeth and even though I might not have completely 100% accepted that, it brings amazing freedom. I’ve always been a bit of a misfit, rebel even, and perhaps that’s how I’m supposed to be? Either way, nothing can take away from the fact that God loves me as I am. When I’m slapping on my mascara in the morning, or sitting in the orthodontist chair checking out my teeth, that’s what I am reminding myself. I am ok, more than ok, I am a child of the king. That’s what we need to be teaching our kids, that’s the message we need to be telling people.
God loves me as I am.
God loves you as you are.