I don’t remember the first time I hated my body, but I remember how much it hurt. I looked in the mirror and realized that my body was not perfect, not flawless, and not like it “should” be. I can remember feeling sick with shame.
Becoming a teenager brings terrific joys, but it also brings many new difficulties. One of the most pervasive and crippling is body shame. We live a precious, precarious time in our childhood when we lack shame for our bodies. We view them as our machines, tools for communication and self-expression, the catalyst for our play, perfectly acceptable to us in their functionality. We are self-aware, but not self-conscious.
Then we get older and something happens (or maybe much happens), and cultural messages start to seep into our minds and pollute our perceptions. And one day we realize that beauty is more important than function, and our body is not beautiful. We’re left asking ourselves, How did I never realize how ugly I am, how fat I am, how awkward I am, how (fill in your word of shame) I am?
“The first thing I remember hating was my eyebrows.”
Every human since fallen Adam and Eve has dealt with some form or degree of body shame, but it feels particularly new, weighty, and pandemic during the teen years — especially at the crossroads of a hyper-connected and hyper-sexualized culture. Teens are trained to obsess over their body and conform to a punishing standard that perpetuates failure and contempt. They constantly hear conflicting messages — first it’s “love your body,” and then it’s “you need a beach body.” Or rather, they hear and see conflicting messages — one that’s taught, but another that’s lived, modeled, and plastered on Instagram.
Following Christ does not exempt teens from body shame. I wish. I desperately wish. But it does equip us with gospel truths to combat the lies, peer pressure, and temptations we face. Here are six I’m clinging to.
1. Our bodies are not the problem.
God created our physical bodies and declared them good (Genesis 1:31). But in the frustration of shame, we’re tempted to hate our bodies (Genesis 3:7). They become the problem and the enemy. We act like teenage Gnostics, believing the body is arbitrarily evil and we need to be released from it. But the problem is not with our bodies; it’s with our perspective — a perspective shot through with sin. We loathe our bodies because we’ve mistaken God’s gift as a curse. We are deceived by self-focus and pride.
2. You are more than your body.
As teenagers, it’s hard not to equate our body with our worth. Attractiveness feels like a currency that buys you special privileges. When we look around, it seems like acceptance, joy, and popularity depend solely on looks. We are nothing more than our bodies. But idolizing the body is just as bad as hating the body.
God does not love us because of how we look. He loves us because of his free grace (Ephesians 2:4–10). He does not value us because of our bodies. He values us because of who we are in Christ (Titus 3:4–7). He made us with thinking minds and feelings hearts, and we have a beauty that is not external (1 Peter 3:3–4).
3. Comparison is toxic.
Your body is unique, fashioned by your Creator to display his glory in the intricacies of your face, arms, stomach, legs. Because of that, comparison is fruitless and fatal. So, where does that leave social media, the place that could rightly be described as a comparison factory? Simply put, you might have to get off of it. For some teens, that’s the answer — the key to healing, contentment, and happiness.
“The intricacies of your body are unique, fashioned by God to display his glory. Comparison is fruitless and fatal.”
But for other teens, the answer is a radical shift in focus. Instead of looking at social media as a place to posture ourselves — to filter and edit our life, to measure our status, to evaluate others — we can use it as a place to authentically celebrate life. We can use it as a place to share, laugh, learn, and be kind. We might have to clean up our follow list, delete posts, or even start fresh, but with the right mind-set, it is possible to use social media to celebrate, not shame.
4. Your body will break down.
It seems depressing, but the reality is that this earthly body will fail you. You will gain and lose weight, wrinkle, weaken, shrink, and bloat. And then you will die, and your body will return to dust. Therefore, fretting and stressing yourself out over your fading body is pointless.
5. You’re called to steward your body.
At the same time, we’re still called to care for our body. It’s a God-given resource, which means we don’t have a license to abuse it (1 Corinthians 10:31). Treat your body kindly. Feed it well. Exercise it. Use it for good works. Steward it for holy, healthy purposes. Because one day your body (this body!) will be gloriously redeemed and used to perfectly serve God forever.
6. Fight insecurity with truth.
Like invisible barbed wire, insecurity has woven itself through my adolescence. The first thing I remember hating was my eyebrows. Then my ears. Then my nose. Then my whole body. And I knew that I shouldn’t. But insecurity seemed to debilitate me, cripple me, and drive me to overwhelming weakness. And the only way I’ve been able to fight it is with truth.
“The goal of my body is not attraction. It’s worship.”
I pick my self-pity up off the bathroom floor and ask, “What do I know to be true?” not “What do I feel to be true?” Again and again, I do this, because again and again, I am insecure.
So, I have to preach truth to my heart:
I am fearfully, wonderfully, and purposefully made (Psalm 139:14).
I am in Christ, and nothing can change that (Colossians 3:1–3).
The goal of my body is not attraction from others, but worship of God (1 Corinthians 6:20).
I am loved completely (1 John 4:9–11).
Wholeness is found when I’m satisfied in God (Psalm 90:14).
It’s not about me. It’s about him (Galatians 2:20).