This post has been brewing for awhile. In fact, I started it once, discarded it and now I’m starting it again. Richard and I are doing a weekly Bible study with two other couples using Charles F. Stanley’s How to Reach Your Full Potential for God. One of last week’s questions resulted in some serious self examination.
What influences your sense of self-worth?
The study guide offered the following list of possible responses:
- ___ entertainment
- ___ relationships
- ___ education
- ___ hobbies
- ___ goals
- ___ possessions
- ___ employment
- ___ appearance
- ___ service
- ___ God
- ___ other: ______________
I don’t have a problem with low self-esteem. In fact, I feel pretty darn good about myself. Many factors on this list contribute to that: healthy, affirming relationships; hobbies like writing and drama; and of course, my relationship with God, to name just a few.
At the bottom of the list, my “other” is my children. I am so proud of the fine young adults that they’ve become and it irks me when people say “You’re so lucky that your kids turned out so well”. I have news for you, folks! It isn’t luck! Parenting well is hard work. I know that there are no guarantees and even some of the best parents have troubled kids but I believe that I (we) did a great job and yes, knowing that definitely adds to my feelings of self-worth.
So why is it that something as superficial as appearance influences my sense of self-worth so strongly? The next question in the study guide asked “In what areas of life are you most likely to compare yourself to others?” and I had to admit to myself that for me it was appearance. I know that this is true of women in general but why? This question has led to a lot of soul searching on my part.
One of my favourite bloggers is figure competitor, Donloree Hoffman of Bikini or Bust. As I’ve followed her blog for the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I, too, am a figure competitor. Oh, I’ll never stand onstage in a spray tan and a bespangled bikini (too many stretch marks and scars from multiple abdominal surgeries make that an impossibility) but I compete with other women all the time. I’ve come to the realization that it’s not my hair, my make-up or my clothes that I look at when I’m comparing myself to others; it’s my body, my physique. I don’t look at a healthy, fit looking woman and think ‘I wish I looked like her’. In fact, I can truly appreciate and admire a well toned body. No, it’s the overweight, out of shape women that make me feel like a winner! How pathetic is that? I’m absolutely certain that this attitude doesn’t please my God, the one who created each one of us and who loves us just the way we are.
But why do I feel this way? I think there are many reasons. Our culture, of course, teaches young girls and women to value physical beauty above even good health. I grew up in the age of Twiggy, the emaciated looking fashion model of the 1960s. She became an instant sensation and suddenly, skinny was beautiful. In those days, my mom was overweight. She wasn’t obese but she definitely carried a few more pounds than she should have. “Just wait until you’ve had babies,” she’d tell me. “You’ll look like this too.” No, never, I vowed to myself! My father, who exercised regularly, often gave her a hard time about her weight. Is it any wonder that I grew up thinking that thin equalled beautiful? Then came marriage to a porn addict. Obviously I had to compete physically, or at least that’s what I told myself. Those are all things of the distant past now, but clearly they had a profound impact and helped shape who I am today.
So, what does all this soul searching and self-evaluation mean? Am I going to stop striving toward a better physical body? Absolutely not! There are many very good reasons to continue eating clean and exercising regularly. I believe that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). God has blessed me with a healthy body and I plan to do the best I can to keep it that way. I hope to live for another 30 years or more and I want them to be good years filled with action and adventure. Staying physically fit has so many benefits. No, that’s not something I’m about to change. I feel good and I like what I see in the mirror! What I do hope to change is my attitude. From now on, I want to look at other women, even those who are obese and those who haven’t taken care of themselves, with compassion. I want to see the beauty that God sees in them and I don’t want my sense of self-worth to depend on them any longer.
So, now that I’ve bared my soul, let me ask what influences your sense of self-worth?