Body Image: Men, Women, and Mutual Responsibility

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” ~Ephesians 2:3-4

I recently saw a post on Instagram where the user was upset about the phrase “Modest is Hottest” because they felt that the phrase teaches girls that they are responsible for other people’s thoughts. While I don’t really have strong feelings either way concerning the specific phrase, it did get me thinking….

First of all, this same user really likes to go after the media for their unrealistic standards of beauty and body image. I have no problem with this, but couldn’t the media just respond to the user by making the exact same point?? Like, “Hey, when it comes to our pictures we are not responsible for your thoughts or how you take them.”
Second, children will learn from us whether we want them to or not, but do any of us just throw our hands up and say, “Hey, I can’t be held responsible for what they think”?? No.
Third, why are we so against the idea of helping each other out when it comes to this topic of modesty??

The fact is that we have some pretty serious issues when it comes to how we perceive health and beauty and body image in our culture and I think we all – men & women alike – share in the blame for this. Just like all the images we’re bombarded with by the media, we’re exposed to our own and other peoples thoughts and words even more so and they do affect u.

body image


I think we have every right to ask for better from the media and from each other. Because, while ultimately we may not be responsible for anyone else’s thoughts, we are all kind of stuck in this together.

Call it common curtesy or compassion or kindness or whatever you want, but why wouldn’t we want to try to help each other out if we can?

We may not be able to change the media, but I do think there are a few ways we can start making a change now to help each other out:

1) Talk kindly to and about yourself

“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me: ‘I love my body.’ Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. Not one woman has ever said: ‘I am so proud of my body.’….. I never heard positive reinforcement about body image from any female in my life. I only heard negatives. That’s very damaging because then you’re programmed as a young woman to immediately scrutinize yourself and how you look.”
~ Kate Winslet

real beauty

I still remember the first time my littlest sister said something really negative about herself. She was only 8 years old maybe and I thought, where did she even get that?!? Well, she grew up hearing her sisters talk negatively about their bodies and her mom and probably every other woman as well.

When I read this quote by Kate Winslet, I realized I’ve never heard a woman say it either. In fact, it makes me a little uncomfortable thinking about saying it about myself. WHY?? Because like it or not, we get taught how to think about certain things.  No matter how detrimental and wrong that is, it’s hard to undo years of a certain way of thinking. It’s going to take us getting serious about how we talk to and about ourselves. It’s gotta start with us.

2) Compliment each other on things other than outer appearance

I love this practice because it forces us to look past the outer layer and go deeper. It also helps the other person by pointing out a great thing about them that has nothing to do with their appearance. I’m not suggesting that we can’t mention when a person looks nice, of course, but getting a compliment on how patient or encouraging or funny you are tends to mean more, doesn’t it? 🙂

body image

**Side note on compliments: I’m not trying to get overly critical; this is just a word of caution. I was trying on dresses with some friends a few months ago, and one of the girls made a comment about how nice it would be if we all had a body like another one of the girls in the group. I know it was meant as a compliment to that specific girl, but it’s kind of a deflating thing for everybody else. It clearly shows that one girl is already comparing herself and can easily lead to everyone doing so. Since becoming more aware of it, I’ve noticed a lot of common compliments are comparative or play into our narrow definition of beauty or put someone down in order to lift another up. It’s just something to think about.

3) Can we all just stop the ogling please?!

I know we are visual creatures. But come on ladies, if you don’t want men to treat you like a piece of meat, then don’t turn around and do it to them. What are we, in second grade?? Ha ha! But seriously….. 😛

Obviously, you can’t help it if you find the guy on the screen attractive. But you know what you can help? Drooling and ogling and commenting on his body in front of your man. Even if your guy acts like it doesn’t bother him, just remember how those comments have affected you. Plus, what benefit is there for anyone involved?

male body image

This goes both ways of course, but in the last 10 years, the media has really begun to target men and define what the “perfect” man looks like…..hairless, six-pack abs, ripped, V-shape, defined jaw. It’s no different than what they’ve been doing to women for years and yet, instead of fighting it, we’re jumping on the bandwagon, saying, “Hey they do it to us!”

I’m not trying to make mountains out of molehills. But, if we want things to change, I just don’t see how giving our men and boys their own body image issues is going to help anything. We have to rise above it and be the change instead.

Practicing these things is mutually beneficial for everyone. If we focused a little less on the outside, I think it could only lead to more satisfied, healthier, and confident people. A satisfaction in things that are not so fleeting and superficial. Health that goes beyond some unrealistic ideal look. A confidence that is not built on what is wasting away, but on our worth as men and women who have been made in the image of God. Whether we are doing it for ourselves, our children, or for others, everybody wins. Someone who radiates love and joy, that is the kind of beauty that draws in, builds up, and sustains us.

So what do you say? Let’s step up and take responsibility. Let’s demand better from ourselves and each other as we work to build each other up. Let’s be the change.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” ~ Ephesians 4:29