My mom's crockpot corn (yum!). My granny's cranberry salad (yuck!). My Aunt Rhonda's pumpkin cake (double yum!). All of these will make an appearance at my family's Thanksgiving table this year. But those yummy dishes will be chased by a harder pill to swallow.
As the men move into the living room to catch the football game, the women will fall into a familiar pattern. We will bemoan all of the food we just ate. We'll promise to diet in earnest in the new year. We'll joke that we removed the calories from the pumpkin pie. But inside, no one will be laughing because in my family beauty can be one ugly subject.
The Ugly Legacy of Beauty
Several years ago, I wrote a book about true beauty for young women. It chronicled my struggles with an eating disorder and the freedom I found when I learned to see my beauty through the filter of God's Word. Six years later, I should see if anyone has a copy of that book so I can borrow it. After three babies and an ever-fluctuating number on the scale, I still struggle to see myself as I know God sees me.
When we fail to see our worth or strive to find value somewhere other than God, our hearts are revealing pockets of unbelief.
In some ways, embracing our God-given beauty and worth is a struggle for all women. When I read Eve's story way back in the Garden, I see a woman who was really asking "Am I enough?" when the serpent offered her a slice of fruit that would make her like God.
But for some of us, the struggle is more intense. I suppose there could be lots of reasons for that, but for me, lies about beauty and worth have wreaked havoc on my family for generations. Do you know where I learned to struggle with my beauty? From my momma. As I little girl, I watched her go on every diet imaginable. I heard her constant comments about her weight. I saw her make faces at herself in the mirror. Where did my momma learn to struggle with her beauty and worth? From her momma, of course. It's a part of our family folklore that long before the existence of the FDA, granny once took diet pills that turned out to be tapeworms (Ew!). I never met my great-grandma, but I have a hunch that she struggled to embrace her worth, too. Looking for value in a certain size or weight or style has the worst kind of trickle-down effect.
As I started to travel and speak about beauty to young women, I realized my mom and I needed to have a chat. I told her I wanted to honor her but felt compelled to open a dialogue about the often ugly legacy of beauty lies. She started to cry and said, "I thought telling you that you were beautiful was enough."
Sigh. I wish it was that simple.
I don't have any daughters (only a house full of rowdy boys!), but I've had to learn this hard parenting lesson: Do as I say not as I do, is hogwash. Our kiddos will never believe God's Truth if we don't.
Lord, Help my Unbelief
Make no mistake, when we get off track about the source of our value, it's not about numbers on the scale or how our pants fit. It's bigger than that. Ultimately, it's an issue of unbelief. Maybe it's not your outer beauty that makes you question your worth. Perhaps you gauge your value by:
- The number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends you have
- Who's reading your blog
- The size of your house
- Your ability to get the job done
- What others think of you
- What your family looks like
- How many plates you can keep spinning
Those are all symptoms of the same problem—we don't believe God's Word. He has declared we have great value that is not based on any of the things on that list. I know what you're thinking, Hold the phone! I love the Bible. I believe the Bible.
And yet . . .
- Genesis 1:27 says you bear the image of God.
- Psalm 139:14 says that you were fearfully and wonderfully made.
- 1 Corinthians 6:20 says you were bought with a price.
- Matthew 10:29–31 says God values you highly.
- Ephesians 2:10 says you are God's workmanship. You were created by the master Artisan!
When we fail to see our worth or strive to find value somewhere other than God, our hearts are revealing pockets of unbelief. We don't believe that God really meant what He said when He spoke so boldly about our significance. We don't believe He really intended for us to be this way. We don't believe that He could have made us with fear and wonder.
Why does that matter? Because when women fail to find their worth in Christ, there is always collateral damage. When we look to others to affirm our value, we saddle them with a weight they cannot bear. Even worse, our insecurity is contagious. The girls in your world are especially vulnerable to catching yours.
Why I Wrote This Post
I knew I needed to write this post after a recent women's event where I spoke. I was teaching out of 2 Corinthians 12:9, in which Paul declares that he would gladly boast in his weaknesses because they provided an opportunity for Christ's strength to be put on full display. I asked the women to write about their weaknesses in "brag books."
Overwhelmingly, the number one weakness women wrote about was their weight and inability to control their relationship with food. Lack of self-control with their children and discipline to read God's Word came in second and third, but it wasn't even a close race. When those women thought about weakness, they thought about food and weight.
I understand. I struggle to have self-control in this area too, but it is only a symptom, not the bigger problem. My weakness is sin. I desperately need Jesus' work in my life. Sure, that can look like jamming a box of cookies in my mouth to deal with emotional overload. But with so many women locked in a pattern of love to eat, hate to eat, and seeing food and weight (I'm not talking about women who have genuine physiological reasons for being overweight nor am I advocating that we all need to be stick-thin), not sin, as their primary weakness, it's no wonder our girls are struggling.
And believe me, they are struggling . . .
- 91% of women on college campuses diet—22% of them diet "often" or "always."
- Almost half of American children between 1st and 3rd grade want to be thinner, and half of nine- to ten-year-old girls are dieting.
- There has been a rise in incidences of anorexia in young women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen every decade since the 1930s.
- 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls fifteen–nineteen years old.
The Girls at Your Table
I spend a lot of time counseling young women. Girls who cut. Girls who skip meals. Girls who will date any guy who will make them feel beautiful. They all find their way into my world often. I do what I can to help them. I pray for them. I point them toward God's Word. But my reach is limited. You're the ones who need to do the hard work.
If you're a momma or grandma (or aunt, or sister, or cousin), you can be sure that the young women in your world are watching you between the eye rolls. They really are listening to what you say, but they have a laser-like focus on what you do. If you're looking for your worth anywhere other than Christ, they will pick up the scent in a heartbeat.
Even if there is a long history of rejecting God's truth about beauty in your family, you are free to stop the pattern.
The holiday season offers a unique opportunity to open up a dialogue about food since there's so much of it! Family gatherings have a strange way of exposing our insecurities, providing another opportunity for teachable moments. If the legacy of beauty is ugly in your family, this could be the year when you turn things around.
Practically, that means being very careful about how you talk about the food on your Thanksgiving table. It is not an enemy. It's a gift to be enjoyed with much gratitude and no guilt. It also means taking the time to speak life to the girls who will join you to celebrate this year. Tell them how much God loves them. Remind them that their worth comes from Him.
Because I love young women so much, I'm hoping you will join me in fighting for their hearts. But first, we must be brave and let the Lord change ours.
- What makes you feel insecure?
- Are there girls in your world vulnerable to "catching" those insecurities?
- What changes can you make to change the legacy of beauty in your family?
Even if there is a long history of rejecting God's truth about beauty in your family, you are free to stop the pattern. You can eat without guilt or shame. You can look in the mirror and appreciate what God has created in you. You can know that your value and worth are not affected by the number of helpings on your plate. When you truly believe what God says about you, it is guaranteed to send shock waves through your family.
Whatdya say? Will you join me in choosing to believe what God says about our value this Thanksgiving?
If you're willing to break the pattern of generational insecurity, leave me a comment to tell me about it. I will choose three of you to win a free copy of my book, Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves.