Envy. . .it’s a four letter word that rears its ugly head when we compare ourselves to others and then find ourselves lacking in that area. It tends to stir up feelings of discontent and wishing that we were blessed in the same way as the other person.
Body envy is just another form of envy. We walk in to the gym or store, or see a selfie posted on Facebook or Twitter and the comparison game is on. It’s something many people struggle with. And those feelings of discontent don’t do us any favors. When we feel bad about ourselves or feel that we don’t measure up, it can be even harder to motivate ourselves to stick with healthy choices and habits. It can even lead to detrimental and disordered eating or exercise behaviors. Yup, wishing you had someone else’s thighs or arms or waist is not motivating; it’s discouraging.
Liberty* is a beautiful young woman who I know in her twenties. She tries to eat healthy and work out regularly. But she struggles with her weight and doesn’t like the body she’s been dealt. When she sees other young women who appear to have a better body than her, it makes her feel bad about herself and actually discourages her from taking care of herself. She’d rather have another person’s body. While the name has been changed, it is a true story, and one that plays out in the lives of girls and women all around us.
Media plays a huge role in this. Take a look around you today and everywhere you turn you will see images of what society perceives as the perfect body. Tall, thin, muscular, perfect hair and eyes, with not a smidgen of extra fat anywhere. No imperfections. You can do a lot with Photoshop or Lightroom – erase a wrinkle, make the waist a little smaller, the smile a little brighter, the arms more toned. Yet images like that give the clear message to anyone who sees it that this is the standard and if we don’t measure up to it, we’re somehow lacking. But how can anyone attain this unrealistic standard and still be healthy – all around healthy? It’s discouraging! Do you ever feel that way?
This has become such an important issue that there’s currently a bill in Congress called the “Truth in Advertising Act” that calls for the FTC to investigate the use of altered images in advertising. Also, in 2011, the American Medical Association put out a statement about body image and advertising to youth. Even without intervention by the government or other organizations, we can each work on our own attitudes toward ourselves.
Body envy can cloud our vision of ourselves, our self perception. Why can’t we just be happy with the body God gave us? Is there anything Liberty* or you or me can do to overcome body envy and its deleterious effects?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Stop comparing – Comparing your body to someone else’s just leads to dissatisfaction with yourself. Instead of focusing on leading a healthy lifestyle we’re now focused on obtaining something that isn’t ours. Comparison is a joy-killer.
2. Focus on health – Weight is only one component of health. Just because someone is thin doesn’t mean they’re healthy. There are plenty of thin people who practice unhealthy behaviors. Appearance doesn’t tell all. Remember, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side!
3. Delete or ignore media – Social media, TV, magazines, and movies all portray a skewed image of what a healthy body should look like. Don’t let that be your standard. Set your own goals and let that be your standard.
4. Try to hone in on your strengths, not your perceived weaknesses. Maybe your thighs are bigger or legs longer, or arms skinnier than the girl at the gym. But they’re muscular and you can walk and run and bike, or use them to lift your kids and give them a hug, or help your neighbor with a project. Think on the positive.
5. Have an attitude of gratitude. Instead of wishing for something you don’t have or bemoaning what you do have, look in the mirror and find something positive to say about your body and say a quick prayer of thankfulness for that. Do that every day and keep adding things for which to be thankful. It’s amazing what a heart of thankfulness can do for our health.
6. Focus on your inner beauty and walk with confidence in the body God gave you. Our bodies are wonderfully made, and if we respect ourselves we’ll want to take care of ourselves more. Our beauty from the inside will shine on the outside. That is way more attractive than what any altered image on the screen can offer.
Important: If you are in the grips of disordered eating don’t fight it alone. Seek help from a physician, dietitian, or therapist trained in treating eating disorders.
Don’t let body envy creep up on you by getting caught in the comparison trap. Take steps to avoid it. Be happy with the body God gave you and take care of what you have.
Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Do you or anyone you know struggle with body envy? How has it affected you and what have you done to curb it? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below. If you have daughters, this affects them too. See my post on Fostering a Healthy Body Image in Your Daughter.
The image for today’s post was crafted by my daughter, who signs all her artwork as KazenoShun. I think she did a great job with it, don’t you! You can find more of her work in her DeviantArt gallery, where she focuses more on manga and anime.