As parents, we teach our children not to lie. Perhaps less discussed and more difficult to identify is when your child believes a lie, especially one that consumes their thoughts and actions. In today’s culture, a common lie that many youth buy into concerns body image. They believe they have to be a certain size or body type, or achieve a certain “look” to gain attention and be respected. Pop culture, media, and the beauty industry add to the pressure by endorsing unattainable and arbitrary standards based on what is popular at the moment.
Those who struggle this way feel they are constantly being measured and judged by others. It is as if everywhere they turn there is a mirror in front of them. Worse, the mirror is a carnival mirror, distorting their real appearance. They see elongated arms, shortened ankles, a widened waist, a huge forehead. The image they see is not only distortion of who they actually are, it is a distortion of where their true value lies.
This creates a unique challenge, but also opportunities, for parents to minister to their kids. We are all easily consumed and influenced by the world around us. Yet, this is not how God calls his people to live. Instead of taking our cues and standards from the world, it is our Creator who gives us meaning and identity. God says we are his beloved children, a chosen people, and he delights in us (1 John 3:2; 1 Peter 2:9; Zeph 3:17). These descriptions of our identity are much richer and truer than how the world sees or defines us.
More specific to body image, consider 2 Corinthians 4:7:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
This passage identifies us as jars of clay with a treasure inside. Somehow, this shows to the world “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” In contrast, those who struggle with body image aspire to be like a beautifully painted oriental vase. They want to be attractive and admired and have the world to look at them and say, “Look how successful, beautiful, and smart you are.” However, the Bible paints a very different picture. Instead of being a beautiful vase, we are like plain clay jars with cracks and holes, and yet, somehow, this enables the treasure within us to shine all the more brightly.
This image puts the focus on the Creator, instead of us. When anyone (child or adult) tries to have a perfect body or be the most attractive person, other people cannot see the real power or beauty within them. External adorning gets in the way of the gospel (1 Peter 3:3). Not only that, nobody can sustain the desired image (Eccles 3:11), and any time there is a crack or hole there is a desperate grab for the paint to try to hide weaknesses and shortcomings. But in Christ, we are given freedom from the lie that we need to conform to the standards of the culture. We are free to be broken people, to be imperfect, and to have failings. We have this freedom because we know that in our weakness, Christ is strong.
We can approach our children as fellow strugglers. Though all of us try to hide our cracks and imperfections to some extent, revealing our weaknesses and shortcomings to our children might be what helps them to open up. Start the conversation with your own confession and remember that even your presentation of these truths will not be perfect. As a broken vessel, allow Christ’s light to shine brightly through you as you seek to be your child’s wise counselor.