On Body Image

This past summer, while I was enjoying what is now becoming my annual move-in to Kendra and David's house, the twins developed a particularly adorable interest in "helping" their Auntie Natalie get ready for the day.
Pictured above is Lucas "drying" my hair (completely undeterred by the fact the hairdryer is actually unplugged - this ain't my first rodeo, here, folks).  Not pictured is his sweet little sister, wielding a paddle brush just outside the mirror's reflection, most likely ready to smack the side of my head in her 2-year-old version of "gentle" hair-brushing. (I apologize for the horrible camera quality.)
It is very sweet (and admittedly a little exasperating) to have such enthusiastic assistants during what is normally a rather mundane daily activity.  However, recently our amusing little bonding took a more significant turn as Abbey's interest transitioned from hair-styling to make-up application.

She joined me on multiple occasions during my visit over Christmas as I put on my "face" for the day.*  I recognize this is probably nothing more than genuine, developmentally-appropriate, natural curiosity...but her innocent observations and eagerness to join in suddenly had me second-guessing myself.  Especially when she asked me if she could try some, too.

It reminded me of one morning a few months ago when Cadence joined me for my morning routine here in Vegas.  Her momma is one of those naturally gorgeous women who doesn't wear much makeup (I admit, I'm insanely jealous), so Cadence was understandably curious about all the "stuff" I was putting on my face.  With each new product, she not only asked what it was but also why I was using it.  She was genuinely baffled by the entire process.

And as I attempted to explain each step to her, I found myself rather baffled as well. I fumbled over my words.  I suppose part of that is just a natural reaction to being asked to explain (in kid-friendly language, no less) what has become almost a subconscious process for me.  But there was more to it than that...

I realized, I didn't want Cadence to ever think any of the cosmetics I described to her were at all essential for a woman to be considered beautiful.  

I would never want her to think she had to wear foundation to "even out" a blotchy skin tone.  Or concealer (whose very name alone gives away its insidious function: it conceals things, it presents a less authentic version of yourself)**.  Or blush to highlight her already deliciously rosy cheeks. Or eyeshadow or mascara to make her deep brown eyes "pop."

It was the same with Abbey.  I'm all for letting her try new things, and I didn't hesitate to squeeze a tiny drop of moisturizer on her chubby little finger and let her rub it around her cheeks so she could be "just like her auntie".  But that was pretty much where I drew the line.  Somehow it just didn't seem "right" to let such a young child apply make up.

So when does it become "okay"?

And from there...when does it cross back over to being "not okay"?

When it is appropriate to use make up or hair products to spruce up your God-given assets, and when are you smearing false ideals all over the pristine canvas He created?

I've been thinking a lot about body image lately.  It is a topic I could probably write 179 different blogs on (so far, I've only done one that I can recall) and never even scratch the surface.  It's so rich and so complex.  And for so many of us women, so unhealthy.

I'm definitely not exempt from this issue.  While I've never personally known the horror and trauma of struggling with an eating disorder (like so many countless women I know and love); I do constantly battle with the ability to feel comfortable in my own skin.  Be it my fair-bordering-on-translucent skin tone or my apparently-we-went-back-to-puberty complexion or those suck-it-in-so-these-jeans-will-fit days; I am unequivocally my own worst critic.

I once gave up make-up for lent.  In all my years of practicing this religious season, it was easily the hardest sacrifice I've made.  For 40 days I walked around feeling terribly self-conscious.  I would try and find a way to work my situation into every single conversation so that I could offer an excuse as to why I looked so "horrible."  Customers at work, peers in my classes, people I met at church.  Like any of them really cared that much.  Or probably even noticed...

I remember a time a few years ago when I was in the best shape of my entire life.  This was in part thanks to Shaun T and his lovely crew in the Insanity Program, and part thanks to my ex boyfriend who had just stomped on my heart yet again, thus causing me to kick it into high gear and "show him what he's missing."  I worked my ass off.  Literally.

And I won't lie, I looked good:

But I felt miserable.  Completely empty.  Exhausted.  Defeated.  Broken.  A little bit like this: 
I can't believe I just posted this on the internet...
The thing is: I was in it for all the wrong reasons.  

I wasn't exercising for health at all.  I was only obsessing about my body.  

I've since repeated the Insanity Program a half-dozen times, but never with the same degree of...well..insanity as the first.  I am determined to never let myself get back to that ugly, self-absorbed, self-hating place ever again.

But still, I struggle.

The other night, I was laying in bed talking on the phone and I found myself absent-mindedly rubbing my belly and pinching at my "pudge."  I silently cursed myself for sleeping in that morning and taking a "day off" from my self-inflicted workout regimen.  And then I stopped.  I ended my phone call.  I pulled out my journal.  And I began to write and pray that God would take control of this thought process.  That He would redirect my heart to His truth and my priorities to His passions.

The very next morning, I kid you not, this verse was part of my morning devotional:

"Exercise daily in God - no spiritual flabbiness, please!  Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." 1 Timothy 4:7-8

I have no conclusion for this post.  I don't know how to wrap it up with a pretty little bow.  I simply wanted to share this very real struggle with all of you out there in an effort to be as authentic as possible, and in hopes that perhaps my story might connect with someone else's heart and God's truth revealed to me might bless them as well.

He loves us, guys.

He wants us to be healthy, yes.  He wants us to care for the bodies He created - and, yes, that includes eating right and exercising. Also, I personally don't believe using a flat iron or some lipgloss every once in awhile makes you a sinner or any less grateful for what you've been given.

But I do think there is a problem when our self-appreciation becomes an obsession, or when we try to achieve "perfection." Because the truth is, we were created for so much more than that.

And with all of that said, I think I shall go enjoy a cupcake.

*This makes it sound like I have some elaborate daily beauty routine which involves an assortment of pots and sponges and brushes and magnifying mirrors and whatever other torture instruments so many women use each morning to make themselves "beautiful".  I assure you, my make-up routine is simple.  And old-school.  As in, I've-been-wearing-pretty-much-all-the-same-products-since-I-first-began-wearing-makeup...in middle school.  (I'm essentially a shame to my Mary Kay selling mother.)

**Side note: one of the sweetest and most creative compliments I've ever received in my entire life came in the form of a love letter from my HS boyfriend (who, btw, is now married).  He wrote: "I would prefer it if you never wore make-up.  You are far too beautiful to be partially covered up." (I know, right??) Ummm, Dear Future Husband: I challenge you to please, please, please...TOP THAT!


Vanessa's Dad said…
You are... so beautiful... to me!

Just wait 'til Cadence and Abbey fully understand and appreciate the skill and value that you bring to wardrobe management, so that you always look cool...