Body Image: Finding Joy in the praise of others

Let’s face reality.  Those who are more attractive seem to have a lot better opportunities than those who are not.  We don’t have to like it; we don’t have to encourage it; but we do have to face it.  Consider the following evidence:

  • News shows occasionally run an experiment.  Make a car look broken down on the side of the road and put a girl who is not physically attractive by it and see how long it takes for her to get help.  Then do the same thing with an attractive girl.  We all know what happens.
  • Your high school year book.  Whose faces are in the pictures?  I know this.  The only time I was in the year book was for the obligatory pictures – sometimes I wonder how long it took the editorial team to decide whether I would even get that!
  • College and single groups at church.  The most attractive ones, both guy and girl, tend to get the most attention.

In fact, if we became a bit cynical about the whole subject we could argue that the only thing that does matter is the look of a person. That would be an overstatement, but those who would consider themselves on the “less is more” side of the attraction scale understand exactly what I am talking about.

So is it any surprise that for some, body image is about the praise of others?  Unlike the last article, which was more about how people thought about themselves, this post is geared toward those who struggle with body image precisely because they hope it will result in friendships, popularity, success, and feeling better about life.

What do you do?  How do you help?

First, recognize how deep this struggle really is for some people

Imagine a little girl being told by her mommy and daddy that she was ugly.  Can you feel the hurt, the pain, and the torment that this little girl went through?  What about telling you son that he is fat?  He would have a hard time believing his ears.  Little boys and little girls love their parents and they want to be accepted by their parents (even if their parents struggle being lovable!). Metaphorically speaking, mom and dad rip the heart right out of their little children.  So as these little boys and girls grow up they associate mom and dad’s love with the size of their clothes.  How sad.  What a burden that must be.  It is hard enough when one hears those kinds of words from classmates, but to hear them at home is devastating.

Even if home was supportive there is a pain that is associated with being considered the “ugly duckling.”  There is sometime painful about not having dates on Friday or Saturday.  There is something painful about going to activities alone while many others have dates.

So the first thing you could do is recognize the level of their pain.  This is not a joke and it is not a “little deal.”  Your counselee may have experienced a tsunami of criticism about their looks.  They are weak and in need of help (1 Thess 5:14).

Second, help them see that Christ made them a friend, a child, and an heir

It royally stinks to be always left out, especially when one suspects that the reason was appearance.  But Jesus saw beyond that.  He saw you for who you are … a sinner in need of grace.  When God graciously opened your heart and mind to see things as he sees them he was communicating that you could be his friend, his child, and his heir even if others were rejecting you.  You see, God in Christ chose us – not because we were smart, attractive, etc (1 Cor 6:9-11), but simply because he is gracious.  Truly, God does not play favorites based on the appearance.

Here is what that does for you —- it sets you free.  You don’t have to get dates, you don’t have to be the most popular, you don’t have to be the center of attention at youth group, or in the singles’ class.  You are free to serve your King Jesus who has gladly accepted you and has given you eternal life.  He will also give to you the things that he wants to give you … and you can trust that those will be good things.

Third, remember that praise of men is not really that great anyway

I know this is a hard truth to really believe.  I always wanted to be the best athlete in my school – much to my chagrin I was not even a decent athlete.  I wanted people to like men and look up to me – much to my chagrin I could count the total number of people who wanted to hang out with me on one hand.  So I get that it is easy to want the praise of men and there is something satisfying in having it.  But there is something so much better.  The Pharisees wanted the praise of men too.  So that is what they got … and nothing more.  Friends, the praise of men is enjoyable for a moment, but nothing like the praise that results from a heart meditating on the Lord.

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Rob GreenRob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.