April 19, 2010

On a Small Scale?...

Further to my last post 'Tipping the Scales', is this very telling piece, published on Melinda Tankard Reist's blog site, concerning the recent push to begin weighing children in our schools. 

Under a plan being considered by the Federal Government, our schools may be called upon to begin providing parents with an annual report on their children's weight and fitness. Our children would then also be ranked against a national benchmark.

The contributers on Melinda’s blog speak openly and honestly about their own difficult, and often humiliating, childhood experiences around the issue of weight, as well as outlining their fears for the potential impact on our children should such a proposal be adopted.

And they are not alone in their concerns, Maggie Hamilton, in her rather confronting book "What's Happening to our Girls?" -quotes a young woman 'Allegra' as she looks back on her own body issues as a child...

"I remember standing in front of the mirror as a small five year old child, thinking that I was far too heavy. I started to diet at 6. I would eat nothing but fruit for several days, and then I would become "weak" and eat. 
My mother was dealing with her own eating issues at the time, and decided that not allowing food with fat to be in the house was the way to go". 

Hamilton goes on to say, that while teen body issues are fuelled in part by anorexic models and skinny celebrities, studies show that girls are also influenced by the way their mothers view their bodies. In one survey conducted by 'Blissmagazine of girls aged between 10-19 with eating disorders, a staggering 90% said their mother had been insecure about her body.

Fathers also play a deeply influential role in how their daughters feel about themselves, Hamilton comments...
"If they're always going on about women's bodies, their girls will pick up on these messages, assuming that their bodies are what people will love and value them for."
The obvious summation here is that constant talk, public examination of, or references to, weight, diets, female physique and body dissatisfaction, rub off on our girls and significantly contribute to their own self-perception in a way that's often negative and harmful.

These articles also soberly remind us that if we're not careful in dealing with our own body concerns with wisdom, then we significantly increase the risk of weighing down our children with a psychological burden they are unable to carry.

Therefore, a good question to ask ourselves, whether we are a parent, friend, babysitter, teacher, Children's minister, Youth minister or Women's minister, is...'what lasting legacy am I leaving?, what legacy should I leave, to the young ones that walk and grow in my shadow'? 

Let us be to our children as the wisdom of Proverbs 1:8-9 instructs...
" Listen, my son, to your father's instruction, 
and do not forsake your mother's teaching. 
They will be a garland to grace your head 
and a chain to adorn your neck".
May we make sure that the words of our lips, and the instruction of our lives, ARE 
indeed that 'garland of grace'...

© Sarie King: please do not use without permission.

April 15, 2010

Tipping the Scales

How often do you hear this- “I'm not eating that, I’m being good today”, “I’ll have to work that off now”, “ I feel bad eating this”, “ you look good, have you lost weight?” or… “I’ve done 3 step classes, 5 spin classes, a triathlon and half marathon this week, and its only Wednesday!”

I am constantly amazed at how much weight, exercise, or body issues come into our everyday conversations (especially with women, and especially around food), and with it language of guilt, self-deprivation, self-hatred and sometimes depression.

Or the flip side, the sense of self-righteousness with having exercised, lost weight, or significantly ‘enhanced’ our outward appearance in some way, especially in comparison to others.

These are really 2 sides of the same coin, a loss of clear identity, & a distorted understanding of the source of our own goodness, or lack there of.

The food we eat, the shape or size of our bodies, the symmetry of our face, the glossiness of our hair, the carefully sculpted athleticism of our physique seem to shape and determine not only our sense of identity, but our very goodness or badness as a person.

In her song This is who I am , Vanessa Amorosi speaks of her life long struggle for self acceptance and the vain hope of acceptance from others, culminating in a resigned sense of confidence in her own goodness.

 “I’ve spent years really hatin’ me

longing to be friends
Now I hope that you can understand,
This is who I am…
I don’t care if I’m fat,
Or if you think my clothes are bad
‘cos I can go to sleep at night
I’m a good person and I’ll get by, I!
… This is who I am…”

Not unlike the words of Job, who declared If only my anguish could be weighed, and all my misery placed on the scales” (6:2) Amorosi clearly feels the weight of her own self-hatred and a drive to at least befriend herself even if no one else will.

But is she really convinced?

The search for a true sense of self, a right sense of self, despite externals, is not primarily a psychological one, but Biblically speaking, a spiritual one.

Tipping the psychological scales:

Psychologically speaking we all struggle. Because of our fallen state not one of us is without a distorted sense of self. Both men and women equally, have had their image warped, tainted and corrupted by original sin (Gen 3:16-24, Rom 1:21-25).

The impact of this tragic spiritual truth has been all encompassing, leaving deep psychological, relational & spiritual scars on men & women alike (Rom 3:9-18, 8:5-8). It’s dark tentacles pervading our thinking, our drives, our perceptions, our emotional and psychological beliefs, and therefore the behaviors that consequently follow.

Without properly addressing this important spiritual issue, all of us are vulnerable to loss of right perspective of ourselves, and others, and are therefore at risk of addressing our self-image problems in inappropriate ways.

If left unchecked, our uncertainties and insecurities can subtly shift to pre-occupation, obsession, and potentially more serious psychological problems.

CEED (Centre for Excellence in Eating Disorders) notes, that apart from it’s spiritual source, it’s also possible to pinpoint significant life stages, personality types or past personal histories, that can contribute to tipping the psychological balance beyond the normal struggle for self acceptance into an unhealthy mental state e.g.
-The period of adolescence and young womanhood
-Those of perfectionist, rigid or risk-avoiding personality traits
-Individuals who diet
-Personal or family history of obesity,eating disorders,substance abuse or depression
-History of physical or sexual abuse
-History of teasing or bullying
-Elite sportspeople where weight or shape are a factor
-Professions placing emphasis on weight or shape (e.g. dancing, modeling)

Therefore we need to regularly ask ourselves- ‘am I keeping the right emotional/psychological balance in these matters’?

Tipping the spiritual scales:

Like Amorosi, pop psychology would have us believe that the cure to lost self-image lies in learning to love and accept ourselves the way we are. By casting off gnawing doubts and pointless introspection, by adopting the mantra “I'm worth it. I’m a lovable, valuable, forgivable person, I AM good, …so take me or leave me, I don’t care!"

But the Bible speaks a very different language…
* Not the empty mantra of whom we love (be it ourselves or others) 
   but who loved us (Jn 3:16).
* And answers, found not in our own goodness- but HIS (Ps 14:1, Mt 19:17).
* A worth, not emanating from ourselves, but generously and lovingly bestowed
   on us.
* A renewed image, not brought about by humanist thinking, but bought back by the precious blood of Christ (Acts 20:28, Mk 10:45).

Rather than promoting self-love as the basis for loving ourselves, the Bible teaches that God's love is the ONE true source. A solid grounding in God's acceptance of the Christian in Christ is the only ground for a realistic self-perception.

Weighing our wisdom:

1. As Christian women do we find ourselves…

* Constantly talking about, obsessing over, or focussing on food?
* Driven by, or talking about how much exercise we do, feeling guilty if we don’t, superior when we do?
* Pre-occupied with weight gain, weight loss?
* Using value loaded language like- “I’m being   good”, “It’s bad eating this”?
Assessing others with a critical eye of comparison, feeling envious, discontent, judgemental or depressed about ourselves?
* Desperately wanting others to notice when we lose weight?
* Struggling with low self esteem, self-hatred or depressed self-image?
  ....What thinking here might we need to re-address? Scale back?

2. As women who lead women…
What do others see of us? What we do? What we talk about? How we deal with weight concerns? Exercise? Beauty issues? Attitudes to our bodies? Self-image hang-ups?
...What example might we set, teach, live?

Proverbs reminds us that, “a man’s ways can seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart”(21:2). Therefore, spiritual wisdom would tell us we need to be regularly praying, and regularly asking ourselves ‘am I keeping a right emotional/psychological and spiritual balance here’ or
                                    ….am I in danger of ‘tipping the scales’...?

  © Sarie King: please do not use without permission.