I’m about to make a shocking statement. Are you ready?
Women are so hard on themselves.
We know this already, right? We’re expected to be a size 2 but cook like Paula Deen. We’re expected to keep the house clean, tend to the children, keep a steady stream of income, and meet all of society’s (unrealistic) ideals of feminine perfection. We have social media feeds to keep fresh, friends to impress, and a whole slew of fellow women we need to prove our adequacy to. (Side note: Friends you have to impress aren’t true friends.)
The demands are real. And true to our nature, we often internalize most of the pressure. We take it upon ourselves to police our own actions and make constant corrections to ensure we meet or exceed all the standards set before us.
And can we be honest? It is utterly, completely, almost beyond description exhausting. Lest you think this is just the ranting of a bitter woman, let me assure you it isn’t. I love being a woman. In fact, being a wife, a daughter, and a mother are among the gifts that I cherish the most. But those aren’t the areas of my life that get me down; it’s the areas in which that old message—I am not enough—gets reinforced.
We’re often reminded that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Yet over and over again green, green grass is dangled in front of our faces. Companies have mastered the messaging that catches our attention and reveals a need we didn’t know we even had. Just think of the magnificent magazine promises that taunt us as we check out in the grocery store:
“Be a size 2 by summer!”
“141 ways to tone up those problem areas”
“Eat better, stress less, and drop 10 pounds with this simple trick!”
“Tear your fat, ugly face off and put it in the trash because you’ll never be anything unless you drop 25 pounds”
Okay, so I’m exaggerating on the last one, but you’re familiar with the rhetoric that drives us to look in the mirror and quickly turn our heads away in disgust. We’re subconsciously conditioned to believe at our core that who we are at our core is never actually enough. We’re told that with some small change, act, or purchase, we can get one step closer to perfection—a perfection that is temporal, fleeting, and (spoiler alert) can never actually be attained. But the problem here is that the image we’re striving for isn’t presented as “perfection.” It’s presented as “normal,” and it is dangerous territory when we come to understand perfect as normal.
Burdened by Our Body Image
With so many resounding messages about our supposed shortcomings centered around numbers, it’s no surprise that we tend to reduce ourselves down to one thing: the number on the scale. We let our weight, jean size, or the millimeters of thigh gap we wish we had become the most important thing to us—the thing that defines who we are and what we’re worth.
Some astounding numbers also undergird the bait and switch of the self-improvement industry. According to McKinsey & Company, the global beauty industry generates $500 billion in sales a year.¹ Yes, billion. Each year. That’s larger than the economies of many industrialized countries in the world. And most of that profit comes because of the subtle reminders that are sent our way that something isn’t quite right with us.
It’s no wonder, then, that we become discontent with ourselves, feeling like we’re never enough. Because the very thing we’re reaching for is forever just beyond our grasp—always available with the next product, with the next diet, or at the next size down. We’re always looking at the grass on the other side of our circumstances, forgetting the simple truth that the greenest grass is the grass that gets watered.
We’re always looking at the grass on the other side of our circumstances, forgetting the simple truth that the greenest grass is the grass that gets watered.
Love Who You Are While Taking Care of Yourself
So, let’s water our grass, shall we? It might be easy to think that my argument here is that we should run far away from industry standards of beauty—grow our hair out, stop shaving, and let the acne pile up on our faces after eating so much we’ve got the meat sweats (unless that’s your thing—in which case, you do you, girl). No. This is about finding balance and loving who we are while also working on who we are.
Nothing in life is ever invented and perfected at the same time. We think nothing of buying the latest and greatest Apple product, only to receive an update a few short months later to “fix” the errors that came with the device when we bought it. We’re used to buying flawed products, yet we’ve somehow fallen into the trap of believing that when it comes to us, it’s an all or nothing game—perfect or bust.
What if we could learn to love ourselves and improve ourselves at the same time? What if we took back control of the narrative and, instead of letting a multibillion-dollar industry or the voices of our past tell us who we should be, we penned our own stories? What if we saw ourselves as more than a number and learned to see our bodies as good?
The resounding messages in our heads can scream loud enough to knock us off track. So before that happens, let’s get a few things straight. You do not have to travel down the road of feeling less than. Of loathing what you see in the mirror. Of allowing the numbers to jumble up your day and send you into a cycle of crash dieting. With careful planning, the right map, and some intentionality, you can turn away from Self-Defeat Lane and onto Self-Love Boulevard.
Reprogram How You Think About Yourself
This is about reprogramming our GPS so that no matter where the roads of life take us, we can find our way back to the people we were meant to be. We’re “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139:14 tells us. That second half—wonderfully made—is easy to cite but unfortunately quite easy to forget. What about the first half? What does it mean to be “fearfully” made?
The Hebrew word scholars translate as fearfully is yare, which means “to stand in awe of” or to “be afraid.”² To me, that says there’s something just a little scary about our design. There’s something in us that should be feared. We are full, multidimensional beings with unique personalities, quirks, likes, and dislikes. When we reduce ourselves to a number, we erase so much of ourselves.
Maybe that’s the true starting point in any health journey. How different would our approach be if it came from a place of realizing our value and wanting to change the way we think about and treat our bodies to reflect that truth? If we knew how to tap into the magnificent power and potential given to us by design, we’d approach the world with such a confidence and drive that people would say, “Watch out! She is fierce. And here she comes!”
It’s time to reprogram your GPS, so get ready to stare victory in the face with the confidence that comes from learning to love yourself as is.
Adapted from “Your Good Body: Embracing a Body-Positive Mindset in a Perfection-Focused World” by Jennifer Wagner, releasing in January 2022 from Tyndale House Publishers.
Don’t ever doubt that you are enough. Don’t miss this podcast episode, with honest, powerful words of encouragement: Do You Ever Feel Like You’re Not Enough? with Jodi Shultz 172