Becoming Like my 9-Year-Old Son

My 9 year old son looks at himself in the mirror every morning and smiles.

He winks at himself, smiles at himself, points the shooter fingers at his reflection and literally says out loud, “Looking good, bro.”

He means it too.

He doesn’t know I can see him doing this from where I stand in the kitchen packing his lunch.

When is the last time you genuinely thought or verbally complimented yourself when you viewed your own reflection?

You are imperfect. Permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.

I have been thinking about self-image lately. There is so much media regarding body image these days. I have been training for a half marathon coming up in May, and I pinned a bunch of training plans and running articles on Pinterest to a board I labeled “Fitness”. Because of this interest in fitness, lots of fitness related pins show up in my Pinterest feed.

I log on, and there are pages of motivational quotes atop photographs of women with amazingly thin, tan and strong bodies. Quotes like,

“You are not hungry. You are bored. Drink some water and learn the difference.” Or, “Losing weight is hard, being fat is hard. Pick your hard.” Or this one, “How do you want to feel this summer? Fit or jealous?”

Do you see these?

I dig motivational quotes just like anyone, but some of these messages don’t sit right with me. Also, I don’t trust the photographs to be real and unaltered.

What ideal are these messages telling me to pursue? Is it even attainable?

I love the pursuit of health and fitness, but there seems to be this underlying message everywhere that there is something wrong with us that needs fixing. Whether that be the size/shape of your body, the length of your eyelashes, or appearance of your skin.

I was sick a few months ago, so I watched an entire day of daytime TV. We don’t have cable television, so this means I watched a ton of infomercials. (can I confess that I actually kinda like watching them?)

This day in particular, nearly all of these commercials were for products to fix what’s wrong with your body. I’m not joking, there was an infomercial about shape-wear that squeezed in your body fat to make you look thinner. There was one about body hair removal, one for a diet program. This isn’t so unusual, is it? In fact, it seemed so normal that I didn’t even register the theme of “fix yourself!” until the last infomercial about a skin care product came on and it was informing me that unless I pay better attention to the skin on my neck, I am going to look like a wrinkled, old lady regardless of how I care for my face. I remember thinking, Wow, I don’t do anything for my neck. Like, I don’t even think about the skin on my neck.

But, guess what? The next morning in the shower, as I used my facial cleanser, that infomercial popped in my head and I found myself washing my neck in gentle, upward circular motions. When I realized what I was doing, I felt angry. Seriously, I was mad that this stupid message on tv was giving me one more thing that I am meant to obsess about and hate about myself.

I was giving a lesson in church to the 14–15 year old girls about loving yourself, and during my preparation I found an interesting article. It said that in a recent survey, out of 5000 women asked, only 50 were happy with their appearance. For some, it was body image, for some it was their facial features. But only that tiny number of 50 liked what they saw in the mirror.

There was a writing exercise included that we did together about changing (or beginning to change) our self image, and, I have to say, it has really changed the way I view certain things about myself.

So I wanted to share it here. Wanna play?

Try this exercise:

Think about your positive attributes, the things about yourself you do not want to change. Make a list and label it “Good”.

Think about what you don’t like and wish to change about yourself. Make a separate list and call it “Change”.

For each item in your “Change” list, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is it possible to change this?

2. Is it a reasonable goal to change this?

3. How long would it take?

4. How much would it cost? In time? In money? In social discomfort? Is it worth these costs?

Now ask yourself these questions:

1. Why do I want to change this?

2. What pressure do I feel to change this?

3. What benefit do I expect if I change this?

4. If I change these things about myself, will it affect the things on my list of qualities I like about myself?

If you could change your appearance to the “ideal” Will you-

Like yourself better?

Be more talented?

Be more capable?

Be more loving?

Be more accepting?

Be more honest?

Have better relationships?

Be more successful?

What did you learn about your own body image from these questions?

Is your body holding you back in life or your attitude about your body?

What is actually keeping you from doing the things you want to do?

I found this list of questions to be very revealing. Many of the things I thought I wanted to change actually won’t improve my life or my ability to enjoy it in any way. I was being held back by attitude about my appearance.

Your body is the instrument with which you experience your life. It is the amazing gift that enables you to see, feel, hear, smell and taste the world around you. Take care of it so that it will serve you well. Show it love. Appreciate it, and use it for what it was intended for.

It was intended to house your spirit and your spirit is beautiful. Just as it is.

Originally published at findmeaning.net on April 3, 2015.