It’s already happening. It might have started even earlier this year than any year before. Just when you finally come out of whatever form your winter hibernation takes: it begins. On the covers of women’s magazines, on Pinterest boards across the nation, in conversations with other women, and worst of all, in your own heart. The warnings become more prominent, more frequent, until it feels like you can’t escape.
Summer. Is. Coming. (Cue mixed emotional response!)
When we were kids, summer’s arrival meant all kinds of delightful things. We looked forward to running through sprinklers, the faint jingle of the ice cream man approaching, sand between our toes, and play dates with our friends while school wasn’t in session. As grown women, it has become a whole other thing.
Look, this might not be something you struggle with, but for the sake of the legions of women in your life who do as I and many of my sisters here at The Simply Beloved do, I encourage you to keep reading.
*Side note: This is not going to scratch the surface of a conversation around modesty and what we should or should not wear during summer. We can save that for another day. This is primarily about our feelings of shame around our bodies.
For me and for most of the women in my life, summer has gone from a season to which we look forward, to one in which we often experience dread. I think my summer anxiety started when I was fairly young. I was probably around 8 or 9 when I realized my body didn’t look like some of the skinnier girls around me, and I began to feel ashamed of my shape and size. I’ve wrestled with insecurity about my body for as long as I can remember, and I still face those feelings every time the weather warms up.
I have sat out of so many pool parties and days at the lake, saying that I’d get into the water “later”because my “stomach hurt”or the water was “too cold”while secretly clutching the security of keeping my clothes on with a death grip. I have missed what might add up to years of summer days out of fear that my body was something that nobody wanted to see. In recent years, those feelings have manifested well before beach days even came, with article titles like “Get your summer body now!” and “Swimsuit season is coming!” and “Get those summer abs”, immediately sending a wave of anxiety through me, convincing me that I should start making myself look right just in time for the summer sun.
This is the way of the world, right? There’s not a single woman in my life who would honestly say that no matter what time of year, no matter what shape they’re in, they feel ready to be seen in a swimsuit. Even those who are obsessively fit feel like they need to “tone up”a bit more before summer. It’s normal to feel this way.
However, is it the way God would have us live our lives? Things just got a little tense, right? We’re all comfortable with the language of “self-discipline”getting us physically ready for summer but, I want us to be spiritually ready for summer: able to face it with no dread whatsoever, regardless of what kind of shape we’re in today.
I’m taking a stand and saying that in Christ we should have no fear of summer. In Christ we should have no shame about our bodies. In Christ we can be set free from all of that. I speak as a woman who has been fit, chubby and everywhere in between, who can say with authority that the way to be comfortable in your skin is not by changing your body but by surrendering the way you see yourself and the feelings you have about your body to Jesus. True freedom requires making the decision to trust in His truth over your own and over what the world tells us about beauty and worthiness.
My actual body size has never been the key to loving myself. My husband will be the first to tell you that, at all different sizes, I’ve struggled with the same shameful feelings. Skinny never healed me. We all know plenty of incredibly gorgeous women who are convinced they’re “gross”(or some other terrible thing), and we all think, “How can she possibly feel that way? Look at her!”Girl, that’s all of us. If we could truly see ourselves as the Father does, we would rue the day we felt shame in a swimsuit and want to shout from the rooftops “Don’t listen to those lies anymore! Go get your bathing suit on and cannonball into that water because you are amazing!”. I promise.
My sisters, in an attempt to rally you together and to help us fight the temptation to freak out about swimsuit season, I’ve put together some thoughts that help me when the pressure starts getting to me.
1) Body and beauty standards are a hoax. Cultural standards of attractiveness are entirely subject to change, which to me signifies their total meaninglessness to our true identity or humanity. In a different era, if you had tan skin and a thin body, you’d feel embarrassed and ashamed that you didn’t fit the milky white skin and soft voluptuous curves of ideal in that day. So who comes up with this stuff? It most certainly isn’t God. I believe the enemy of our souls is having himself a good laugh as each generation of women grapples with living up to their own cultures’various standards of beauty. He’s laughing because we’re exhausting ourselves trying to fit into an image, thinking if we just do this or that we’ll be attractive and worthy, with no idea how incredibly loved and wonderfully made we are by the God of the universe. He’s laughing as we chase thin, as we forsake our true callings and identity and as we miss the love of our God spilling over for us exactly as we are. He laughs as we say “No, thank you”to freedom in order to get that “summer body”we see on magazine covers. He’s laughing, ladies. Every time you live in fear, shame, disgust with your appearance he laughs, because it’s a total sham. He knows God deems us worthy, beautiful, amazing creatures and every minute we spend doubting or shaming ourselves, hell has a good laugh about it. I’m here to say ENOUGH. I don’t want to make the enemy laugh, I want to laugh at the enemy and his feeble attempts to make me think I’m fat and ugly. I am a daughter of the King and I’ll be darned if I don’t enjoy that sunshine and that ocean regardless of how my body fits into the bikini standards of today.
2) Remember the purpose of your life. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Remember that we are living works of art, created to know and glorify God, to love him with our whole selves, and to love those around us with His love. I don’t know about you, but working my butt off to look hotter has nothing to do with either of those purposes. I can try to weasel my way into thinking that somehow being thinner will increase my influence for the kingdom, or give the excuse that I’m working on my “temple,”but that’s a load of hogwash. When I get caught up thinking about how I look on beach days, I am not for one second thinking about loving the people around me. I have bitten my husband’s head off numerous times because I was stressed out, frustrated with myself for not working hard enough on my body. I’ve let insecurity get to me as anxiety about a tropical vacation coming up or a wedding where I’d see old friends started to fill my heart, and honestly, I turn into a terrible version of myself when that happens. When I take my eyes off of the truth of God’s love for me and start to freak out about being a certain size, I am blatantly choosing to reject his view of me and choose my own way. Lets remember that our lives are meant to glorify God and we glorify Him most when we are most satisfied in Him. I don’t believe we can truly do that when internally we are saying, “I’ll be satisfied in Him when I lose a few pounds and look fierce in my new bathing suit”. That’s not satisfaction in Jesus, ladies. We don’t earn the approval and love of God; we are called to simply rest in it.
3) Ask yourself, “Would God say this to me?” As daughters of God, we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). When you read those fitness articles or when those thoughts enter your brain that your current physical state is “gross”or not good enough in some way, do you think your loving Creator would ever say those things to you? When you feel badly about your body and when you dread being outside in the sun with your friends, do you think its Jesus telling you you’re fat? Absolutely not! He’s saying, “Get out there, my beautiful girl! Go enjoy the gift of this day with those I surround you with. Go jump in, living into the freedom I have for you.”Lets make sure that what dictates our emotions toward ourselves is not the standard and voice of the world, but that of our Father God.If it’s not from Him and if it’s not something He would say, it’s not true. He made us. He gets to tell us what we’re worth!
4) Remember that being a disciple means following Jesus with our whole selves. This one might sound harsh, but I’m pretty convicted by the way I often miss this. If we want Jesus to be our Lord, that means He is to be Lord over our entire lives. God didn’t design us to live with compartmentalized devotion to Him. We are called to reflect Him to the world in all the aspects of our person. So when God says “Do not worry about your body…”, we can’t simply skip over that part of His word and get into other things which make us more comfortable. We don’t get to decide to give God Sunday morning but not our wallets, or to give God our marriages but not our careers. As disciples, we don’t get to sing, “I surrender all”on Sundays while not giving God the way we feel about ourselves or how we see our bodies. For a lot of us, giving this over to God is scary. We’re afraid of losing control. I get that, and I’m promising you, Beloved, there is a depth of love and freedom waiting for you on the other side of surrender that will swallow up and heal the parts of us that want to control.
5) The world doesn’t need more women who are pushing themselves harder to be deemed worthy; it needs more women being set free by Jesus to love themselves unconditionally. I realized how desperate I was for this when I met a mentor of mine about five years ago. Shehas this special calling on her life to teach women how to embrace their beauty and it’s incredibly liberating to be around her. She oozes the love of Jesus, telling the women around her how “gorgeous”they all are and openly feels the same about herself not out of pride, but out of humility, placing God’s view of her above her own. It was almost shocking to meet a woman in her 50s, who doesn’t look like the women on the covers of magazines but who truly celebrates her own beauty, head to toe. I realized within a day of getting to know her that I wanted to be like that. I want to be the kind of woman that, in her own ability to enjoy and accept herself makes the other women around her feel safe and beautiful, who models radical self-love in light of God’s affection for her. When I’m around her, it’s like I forget the voice of the world because the voice of God comes so clearly through her. I believe the women around you are longing desperately for someone to model what it looks like to receive God’s love in a way that translates into the way we feel about or bodies. I think if more of us would have the courage to model this, it would change the world.
6) Anchor yourself in God’s love, or the waves will capsize you. If we don’t start choosing freedom now, it’s going to get harder and harder later on. Our bodies are going to change, girls. Some of us will be mamas, some will encounter illness, some will encounter injury. Even a busy season can throw off our fitness rhythms. If we are not finding our worth and beauty wholly in Jesus, the unforeseen circumstances of life that cause our lifestyle to be rocked will toss us like a ship in a storm. I have experienced this many times, where I’m unable to exercise for whatever reason and it totally affects how I feel about myself. However, since prioritizing the choice to see myself the way God does, I have found an abundance of grace for myself when my rhythm is thwarted.
Hear me when I say that I am not anti-self care. I love exercising and delicious, healthy food, and it glorifies God when we see our bodies as incredible gifts that we should care for. However, there’s a difference between loving your body by caring for it and punishing yourself by looking in the mirror with contempt and wishing you looked different. Those are entirely different postures of the heart. There is a way to care for yourself while not allowing your sense of beauty and worth to be tied to your physical fitness, or lack thereof.
It is my heart to encourage you to not give in to the anxiety that often comes in this time. Don’t let the messages that are fed to women through every outlet the world can come up with during this season replace God’s truth about you. Do not give in to thinking you have to earn the gift of beautiful summer days, only enjoying them if you feel you look good enough or have worked hard enough. Like I said, the world, frankly, has more than enough women who cower in the face of summer days because they’re crippled by their insecurities. Do not create for yourselves a new law (Galatians 5) – a law that says you can’t enjoy life, food, a pool party, whatever it may be, until you have earned it by working your body hard enough. That’s a law that the world created, and my dear sisters, you are NOT under the law. You are under grace (Romans 6:14).
I know it might sound impossible but I am living proof that at any weight, any shape, any size you can, by the power and grace of Christ look in the mirror and smile, finding even your soft parts beautiful. I’ll be the first to tell you that this choosing God’s truth thing ain’t easy. I live in Los Angeles, the land of impossible standards, and it is truly difficult to think differently about this stuff. In this journey you will be a salmon swimming upstream against a violent current in which it would be much easier to just float with. It will require a fight, but you will not fight alone.
How many moments to radiate the love of Christ have we missed because we’re too embarrassed by the rolls on our belly as we sit upright in our swimsuit? What opportunities to love our friends and show them what a woman set free looks like are we missing because we think we’ve failed to start our pre-summer work outs in time? At the end of the day, what are we living for? Who is it that rules our lives? Whose voice will we choose to listen to this summer? Who will we let be the lord of our summers? The lord of our bodies?
Please, join me in saying: Jesus, the great freedom giver.
Let’s be women who are counter-cultural, embracing the freedom Jesus earned for us on the cross by being fearless and set free to fully enjoy life – not because we’ve earned it by a vigorous workout routine but because He earned it for us by shedding His blood for us. Jesus didn’t die and rise again to give us lives full of fear of what people think or fear of what we think of ourselves. The full liberty to get out there no matter what you look like, soak up the delicious rays and feel the cool water against your skin is a gift that the Father wants us to enjoy. Let’s not be slaves to the temptation we face this time of year to begin dreading what is meant to be a gift to us.
Let’s not be afraid to be loved fully as we are, no matter the season.
Amen, you fiercely beautiful mamacitas!