Reflections, Distortions and Beauty
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12
We recently bought a full-length mirror to put in the corner of our bedroom. It is not a high-end mirror, but has metallic details that will complement the décor in my bedroom with a price tag that fit my budget. It will also serve a purpose, making sure I have a clear reflection of myself before I leave the bedroom. I will let you in on a little secret, I am not the most observant or organized person, often putting away my laundry inside out. To make matters worse, I frequently leave my house with my shirt inside out. To be fair, this usually happens when I am heading to the gym at 4:00AM, keeping the lights dim in order not to awaken my husband. But on occasion, it happens in the middle of the day indicating that I’m a bit scattered. Yet, this is not the only observation that I am making while gazing in the mirror: it goes much deeper. I want to be able to clearly look at myself and be grateful for where I am right now on my weight loss journey!
In the last few weeks, as I get closer to reaching a major milestone in my weight loss journey for the first time in my adult life, I have been really struggling. It seems as I get closer and closer to my goal, I battle more and more with my self-image. I have spent a lot of time praying and analyzing my emotions and thoughts. I have poured my heart out to God and my husband. I can’t say that I have all the answers, or that I have won the battle, but I have learned some things that I hope will help.
First, I honestly believe that, as women, we are created with the innate desire to be beautiful and create beauty around us. I am not talking about being the perfect Barbie doll or Hollywood’s ideal of beauty. Staci Eldredge says it best in her book “Captivating”. “We desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil.” This desire manifests itself in how we dress, how we decorate our homes, and the food we serve. This sense of beauty expresses itself in the words we write, the music we create, and the parties we throw. It permeates everything we do!
I am confident that this desire for beauty, in ourselves and in our surroundings, is given to us by God because He is the ultimate creator of beauty. Pay attention to the beautiful sunrises He designs, the vivid, jewel-toned plumage of the peacock he fashioned, and the shimmering reflection of moonlight on the water he envisioned. He designed beauty all around us, not only for us to enjoy, but to help us discover the depths of His love for us. We are created in His image, so it stands to reason that He would design us to love beauty and have a desire to create it our lives.
Recently, I was showing some paintings to a little girl I babysit. We first looked at some modern paintings, where the faces were distorted, colors were sharp and lines were angular. She noted that the pictures were odd and said, “I don’t like this, it looks scary.” We then looked at some impressionist paintings where the color was enhanced by natural light; the lines were fluid and objects clearer. She articulated that these pictures were beautiful. I know that modern art has its place, but I have never heard someone say that the artwork was beautiful; instead words like “transforming” or “thought-provoking” often accompanied people’s opinions of modern art.
In many ways, our fallen world has distorted our concept of beauty, like modern art. It distorts how God defines beauty and causes us to be dissatisfied with ourselves, especially as women. We feel we need to measure up to a certain concept to be considered beautiful and are rarely satisfied with where we are at. I recently was talking about weight loss with a beautiful, articulate woman who has greatly influenced my life. She said some words that struck me. “I have struggled with weight my whole life. It has affected me and my confidence for years. For years, I have defined myself by whether or not I had my weight under control. A lot of wasted time!”
“A lot of wasted time!” How many of us can be honest with ourselves about the time and energy we have focused on making sure we measure up: whether it relates to weight, skin care, preventing aging, hair maintenance and so much more? It doesn’t seem to matter what size we are or how much time we spend taking care of our skin, it’s never enough. We rarely look into a mirror and see ourselves as beautiful. Instead, our flaws jump out at us resulting in negative critiques of ourselves. We rarely take compliments well and often offer a caveat to the compliment by saying words like “but” and “if only” and “except”. And this wasted time distorts our perception and robs us of our self-confidence, marring the beautiful picture we really are and replacing it with ugliness.
As I lose weight, there are some consequences to years of obesity that can’t be fixed by the weight loss alone. I can only do so much toning, and in some places I will hit a wall. As I get closer to my goal, these walls seem insurmountable and appear as prominent defects in my inner reflection. If I could put this thought into a word picture, it is like looking into the mirror and hearing a voice that sounds like a foghorn blaring, “You have some major defects that prevent you from being truly beautiful. You will never attain true beauty. You will never look thin!” This foghorn voice makes me feel defeated, condemned and guilt-ridden for years of living in obesity.
Defeated, condemned and guilt-ridden are places where many of us live concerning about our outward appearance. This place often leaves us desperately looking for approval from others, fuels addictions, and covers our pillows with tear stains as we silently grieve what we think we lack. This place cripples our attempts to achieve what God desires for our lives by consuming our energy with wasted effort.
I decided to look up some scriptures about how God defines beauty. Song of Solomon, a book that mirrors the relationship between a husband and wife in addition to being allegorical of the relationship between God and us, declares, “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” If you look at the original Hebrew, the word “flaw” is translated as “defect”. God sees us as beautiful and doesn’t see any defects in us!! In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the writer declares, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Everything includes me and you!! Peter addresses women in particular in the passage found in 1 Peter 3:3-4 by admonishing us that our beauty should not come from outward adornment,…instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Our “inner self” is what is in our heart: it’s our belief about who we are in God. Often, how we feel about ourselves is reflected in our posture, our facial expressions and our countenance. If we are confident in God’s definition of our unfading beauty, then we will see our value through His eyes.
If God sees us as beautiful, but our fallen world has bombarded us with messages with negativity, how do we replace the messages of negativity with the messages of God? It’s easy to know on an intellectual level that our weight or are our aging skin shouldn’t define us. Yet, most of us truly don’t believe it in our hearts. We have no problems telling our daughters, sisters, and friends that they are beautiful when they express negative self-image statements, but we reinforce our own negativity by over-analyzing ourselves when looking in the mirror. How many of our husbands have told us we looked beautiful and we respond with statements like “Really, are you sure this looks good on me?”
I don’t have a magical solution that is going to fix years of negative self-reflection, but I am going to work on doing three tangible things in my life, believing that, with God’s help, I can start to chip away at the negativity.
1. I am going to learn to take a compliment well. I am not going to offer reasons, excuses, caveats, or any other additional information. I am going to respond with the simple words “Thank you!”
2. I am going to memorize scriptures that help me recognize beauty as God defines it. I have written down the three scriptures I referred to earlier and put them on my new mirror as a daily reminder. I want to replace the thought patterns of the world with God’s word. In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages us to think on things that are lovely and are of a good report. Negative thoughts keep me in a place of condemnation, whereas God’s word can lift me up and reinforce my confidence in the Lord.
3. Finally, I am going to offer some grace to myself in areas that can’t be fixed by weight loss alone. The consequences of a life-long battle with obesity are real. Despite this fact, I can celebrate what I have accomplished. I can be grateful for the things I have learned about myself on this journey.
I am excited about my new mirror. Hopefully, I will no longer walk outside of my room with my clothes inside out. Prayerfully, I will look in the mirror and see the reflection that God sees and let the distorted, negative self-image fade.