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January 22, 2008

Battling a Negative Self-Image

When I read through our new download for this week, I thought: Great, my first week contributing to Gifted For Leadership and we're discussing one of my nemesis: Self-image. Of course, I suppose I also could have thought: Wow! This must be a God-thing?I've learned a lot about this issue over the past year. Yes, that probably would have been the better way to approach it. So, here we go?

It started last year about this time when I was challenged at a conference to fast from something for forty days. I wasn't taking the whole thing very seriously, until God decided I needed to. And it really was one of those moments when his voice was crystal clear and completely undeniable. Make-up. Yup, it settled like a dead-weight on my chest. I was going to fast from make-up for forty days: no foundation, no blush, no mascara. Nothing.

So I started the very next day, and I chose not to tell anyone about it (like it wasn't obvious). Which meant that a lot of people said I looked tired for over a month. But I didn't want to be a martyr, or have an excuse, or be ashamed of the way I looked without make-up. That was the point - God wanted me to do this not because I'm too wrapped up in my physical appearance, or because make-up is this horrible thing, but because I had a false self-image. And the make-up was a tangible symbol of that.

See, I have a thing for misplacing my identity. For believing that I am my job, or I am what I look like to others, or I am the experiences I've had. And this has led to a lot of discontentment in my life. Because my job isn't always glamorous, and I don't always look just right, and most of the time my experiences don't resemble a movie - they're just ordinary and everyday.

I'm back to wearing make-up again (though I'll skip it more often than I used to), but God taught me a lot through those forty days and in the months following. Mostly, I learned the discipline of gratitude: to love what God has given me. And it's still a struggle; a really good book or movie can put me in a tailspin, making me wish I were leading a different life. But I have to come back to this: God made me this way for this time and this place. I'm a critical character in his story. And my identity is in him, as his child and his creation.

No doubt you've struggled with self-image in some way - and so do the women you serve. In this week's download, Battling a Negative Self-Image, author Verla Gillmor points out that low self-esteem has become the number-one issue plaguing Christian women.

So how do you battle a negative self-image?
How do you avoid putting your identity in the wrong place?
And how do you help other women when they're struggling with this issue?


Thanks for that reminder! This is one of those things that it seems we have to learn over and over...and over!
One way I've found really helps me to battle my own negative self image is to focus on the beauty of women around me--especially those who don't fulfill the socially accepted norms (or ministry norms!) of beauty. If I have a generous, rather than critical, attitude toward the incredible women around me, my attitude naturally bleeds into my view of myself. Being kind to others flows into being kind to myself...and I'm thinking a lot less about myself anyway!

I was impressed with your article about makeup and the image we have of ourselves without it. I too have had a false image of myself for many years. It is with the make-up that I can feel I'm like others but in reality I'm just prettier to look at. What really matters is how I show I am a child of God, by listening, loving, caring and truly showing who I am inside not covering up the outside. Thanks, Roxanne

Roxy's article reveals the deeper challenge that all women face--re-capturing our true selves at the expense of our bodies. For most of my life, I have, like many others, navigated the all-consuming obsession that is my weight. Even at my thinnest, I recall staring at my body in the mirror, disappointed, ashamed, and embarrassed. However, as I have matured in life and in Christ, I find that what has saved me from that life of obsession is a shift in focus, from my thighs to my spirit. I am funny, I am athletic, I am tall, and I am Saved. And I find that when I focus on these things, mirrors become less important.

Wow! How timely this post is. For the last month, I’ve had my right arm in a sling. God has used this time to show me how much of my identity is wrapped up in my own productivity and self-sufficiency. (We won’t even talk about the hair and make-up struggles.) To my dismay, I’ve had to use daily these four simple words, “Will you help me?” To my delight, God daily meets my needs through the helping hands of others, teaching me of the beauty of interdependence. God often uses the difficult times to root out those unhealthy aspects of my self-image. On the other side of the pain, He reminds me I am his prized possession and I can rest in Him.

Thanks, Roxy! This was very timely, as I'd been challenging the girls in my Bible study to think through the issue of identity, and who they were- really. A couple of the girls wanted to try to go without make-up (for a week, not 40 days!). I'm going to email them all daily, though, to remind them to "love what God has given me". An attitude of gratitude! I found the following from your article a great way to synthesize what you said and what I'd been trying to say: "God made me this way for this time and this place. I’m a critical character in his story. And my identity is in him, as his child and his creation."

Hey Roxy!
Congrats on the move and the new means for expressing who you are in Christ and what you're given to give away! (Notice I didn't say "job"!) This is a good spot for you! I get the whole identity struggle thing. I left my job in the fall, seeking more satisfying expression. It's taking a while to let go of the "suit" I used to wear and walk in this new vulnerability.

Thanks for reminding me I'm not alone!


Thanks for tackling such an important issue. I have been researching the same thing for the last few years, even writing the bulk of my master's thesis on the same topic. There is a book by Dr. Alice Mathews that I have found very helpful and eye-opening regarding issues surrounding women, and more specifically their self-esteem in a church setting. It is titled "Preaching that Speaks to Women" and is much more than merely a "preaching" book. It has been one of the most valuable books I have ever read.

In Him,
Jaime G

God is so good and right on all the time. I started making up at 15 and I just turned 59. Just lately, I've been challenged to go shopping and do chores outside of the house without makeup. I actually got a compliment and then realized I was au naturelle... The
hardest thing is with my Christian friends. I wonder why that is?

What a wonderful article! Thank you for sharing your story - and for being willing to be so open about a topic like this. I have to say, I really needed this! I've battled with a negative self-image my entire life, and especially right now need to be reminded that above all - I am His. Thank you again...Sharon

How about self-image issues for overweight, unattractive men? It's easy to go without just make-up when you are a beautiful woman, like the author. It's a much harder thing to fight against the face and body that God gave you.

Wow this gave me some great new insights on how to boos self esteem.

I struggle with low self esteem from morning to night. It even has gotten to the point where i resent God for making me ugly. Its such an unexplainable feeling, being consumed with a negative self image. It defenitely has stripped me from living my life abundantly. Its very tormenting- Does anyone suggest any books?????

a wonderful piece, we often fight battles we ought to just give to God by a simple act of obedience.

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