It wasn’t until I sent photos of the two choices for my mother-of-the-bride dress that I took a really good look at the pictures. One looked like I was trying to dress like a bridesmaid and the other conjured up images of the deserted bride, Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations.

“What was I thinking?” My swirling train of contemptuous thoughts raced down an all too familiar path. “Do all my clothes look that bad on me? No, it’s just because I have to wear that crazy lymphedema garment so I don’t know how to dress. Really, Shari, you’re going to blame linebacker shoulders on lymphedema? You’re just going to have to lose weight.” As if that idea doesn’t roll around in my head too often. “That’s ridiculous.” I counter back. It’s time to accept an aging body. Besides, my identity is not wrapped up in how I look. Or is it?”

I begin to ask myself the familiar questions on identifying idolatries such as, is this robbing me of my joy? Before too long, however, I realize I’m headed to the same destination. Disgust and disdain. Only this time I’m hiding it behind fashionable gospel lingo. If I’m having a body image moment, I can even misuse solid biblical teaching on idolatry as another way to beat myself up.

“I’m bothered about how I look, so body image must be too important to me. I’ve just made it more important than what God thinks of me. Seriously Shari, you’re going to get your worth from how you look? Have you learned nothing? You identity is totally in Christ, not in how you look. Your appearance doesn’t matter.”

The truth? For those in Christ Jesus, we are clothed in his righteousness. That changes our identity! We are brought into a family. We no longer are orphans having to cobble together an identity hoping others will approve. We are given a name, a place at the table. We are no longer slaves living in fear and duty. Instead we are children without fear of being punished because Jesus already took our punishment for us! Our primary focus no longer has to be on self because someone else has and is taking care of us.

The truth? I still don’t like getting older and flabbier, and finding more wrinkles and graying hair.

In my scrambling attempt to cover my battered identity, I donned a large-brimmed hat (it draws eyes up and away from imperfections) and went outside. I looked at the blue sky, felt the breeze and noticed the deep green leaves. At the time it was all I needed to get my mind out of the body image trap.

Later, I remembered some great truths others have taught me.

  • What we experience today and feel about ourselves in any given moment is not the truest thing about us.
  • Our bodies are not our enemies.
  • Listen for our own self-destructive phrases. Did you catch mine about linebacker shoulders? Listen for yours. Examples if you need them: “You are what you eat” “I can’t believe I’ve let myself go like that.” “I can’t stand the way I look.” “I hate that flabby tummy.” “I hate myself.”
  • Follow the path of contempt. When do self-destructive phrases pop into your head? Only evil rejoices with destruction and death. We join evil when we inwardly agree with condescending and disdainful phrases whether aimed at others or ourselves.
  • Avoid pithy platitudes in attempts to minimize the pain and frustration of living in a fallen world.
  • Listen for God’s voice. It can often be found in scripture. Just remember that Satan is cunning and twists God’s word. So when in doubt, call a gospel friend.

I’ll probably never completely win the battle against body image idolatry, but at least I’ve identified the problem, and given it a name. I have strategies to fight it. I have a gospel-based arsenal to ward off its fiery arrows.

Shari Thomas