As today is Valentine’s Day, and many women in particular struggle with the idea that love is reserved only for the beautiful and the young, I thought it was an appropriate time to write about body image.

Body image is not just about how you look; it’s how you perceive how you look (often these are not the same), and how you react to and feel about what you perceive. Certainly some eating disorders can fall into this category, but I’ve also had patients preoccupied with thinning hair, acne, wrinkles, or any other number of perceived physical imperfections. (It’s interesting to me that the patients who come in concerned with hair loss are usually those who strike me immediately as having beautiful, thick hair, and many of the patients who are concerned with acne actually have very little. Perception is not always reality.)

Why Body Image Matters

How we see ourselves affects how we feel about ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves affects how we interact with others. If you’re looking for positive social interaction, from romance to friendship, you absolutely must start with being comfortable with who you are. Otherwise, you are are likely to push others away, or become so preoccupied with your perceived failings that you are unable to reach out to others. Feeling comfortable with and confident in who we are is a prerequisite to having healthy relationships.

Take Inventory

It’s no secret we live in a very image-oriented society, and a lot of us (men and women alike) are inundated with unrealistic expectations. Check out this video of four real women, who posed for professional photo shoots and then had the photos altered with Photoshop.

Feel better yet? 🙂

So stop and take inventory. What do you see when you look in the mirror, and how much of your mental energy is consumed with focus on and an effort to alter the appearance of those physical features?  It’s important to start by becoming aware of your thoughts, because only once you’re aware do you gain the power to change them.

Take Your Thoughts Captive

Now, for the next step – the Bible tells us that we are to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).  This means we are not powerless to control the thoughts we think. Like wild animals running through our yards, we can cage up our thoughts. Choose to accept or reject your thoughts, based on whether they are helpful or harmful to you. This is a conscious decision.

Who Are You, Really?

Once you have done this, though, you must rapidly replace the negative thought with something positive (and true) — otherwise, you will eventually be overcome, and “the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Matt 12:45). This is where a lot of positive thinking misses it — we also have to tell ourselves the truth.

Write down the things that you like about yourself, and ask some of the people who love you how they see you. What are you strengths, not just physically, but as a person? If you have a hard time accepting compliments, make up your mind in advance not to dismiss their words. It will take time to overwrite some of the harsh things you’ve been saying to yourself, but decide that you will do it. Typically it takes 21-30 days to create a new habit, so for at least that long, commit to reading these affirming words to yourself, out loud.

Remind yourself daily of who you really are: the King is enthralled with your beauty (Ps 45:11)!

Happy Valentine’s Day!