My husband, Peter, snuck up behind me and put his arms around my waist. I grimaced.
"What's wrong, honey?" he asked.
"I just don't feel sexy," I snapped. "I just feel fat." Recently I'd packed on a few pounds and his hands around my developing "muffin top" filled me with self-loathing.
He tilted my chin toward him and said with a glint in his eyes, "But you look very sexy to me!" I shoved his arms aside and busied myself setting the table. I was so self-absorbed that I never once considered how my rebuff might have hurt Peter and our marriage.
Research indicates that how a wife feels about her attractiveness influences her marital satisfaction — as well as her husband's. Negative body image can lead to dissatisfying or infrequent sex, and women who don't like their bodies tend to take fewer emotional risks, including sharing intimate thoughts and desires.
Wives who have a positive body image tend to have more fun and feel more secure in their marriage. Yet sadly, most of us don't feel good about our bodies. Why? In addition to the myriad reasons why women individually struggle with body image — weight or height, abuse or neglect, criticisms or expectations — we've bought into the absurd beauty standards promoted by popular culture. And according to the Social Issues Research Centre, the "ideal woman" in terms of weight and size is achievable by less than 5 percent of us!
An honest talk
The following morning, I talked with my husband about how I had reacted to his touch. "Last night I was only thinking about me, not you," I said. "I'm sorry. I rejected you and your words. That was disrespectful. Will you forgive me?"
He answered with a smile and a hug. "Lorraine, you don't see your body like I see it. To me, you're exciting and beautiful. Why won't you believe that?"
Why indeed! I thought. I'm aging. . . . I'll never look like the women in the magazines, so why bother trying?
I shared my frustrations with Peter, and he offered a piercing insight. "I think the real issue is not how you look — it's how you feel about how you look. You're judging your body by the world's marketing standards, not by God's standards."
He was right. When I have body issues, it's because I'm standing in front of the world's distorted hall of mirrors rather than looking into the mirror of God's Word.
Regardless of age or life stage, it's easy for women to stand in front of the wrong mirror and see themselves as inadequate. My body-image struggles have to do with wrinkles and a muffin top; yours may have to do with any other number of perceived "flaws." For the sake of our hearts and our marriages, it's time for a paradigm shift.
Challenge: A 30-day fast
If, like me, you struggle with body image, let me challenge you to a fast — not a fast to change your body, but a fast to change your perspective.
This fast includes avoiding negative influences, so for the next 30 days consider abstaining from the following:
- Self-centered thoughts (discipline your mind). Eliminate obsessive thoughts in which you focus on your body. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Scripture clearly states that your body is not your own; it belongs to God. Write these verses on a note card, and then pray the words back to God each day. Acknowledge that He purchased you with a price, and your body is a temple for His Spirit.
- Negative remarks (discipline your mouth). Refuse to make critical comments about yourself or speak words in which you negatively compare your body with someone else's.
- Media images (discipline your eyes). Abstain from leisure activities in which false media messages and airbrushed images are heavily marketed. Research verifies that looking at fashion magazines intensifies body dissatisfaction. Even time spent on social media can make us feel insecure about our body.
Feast on gratitude
Psalm 139:14 says, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Consider the truth of this verse, and then speak your praises to God, giving thanks for the intricacies of your body — for the complex network of vessels, muscles and skeletal structure, all covered by a soft fabric of skin. Thank Him for creating you with unique passions and a one-of-a-kind smile. Thank Him for giving you a mind to think, eyes to see and ears to hear, expressing gratitude for your health and God-given beauty. In all of eternity there will only be one body that is you.
If how a wife feels about her attractiveness really influences her marital satisfaction, as well as her husband's, then it's time we see ourselves the way God sees us. Let's bring some fun and security back into married life by daring to believe that we really are "wonderfully made."Lorraine Pintus is the author of Jump Off the Hormone Swing and co-author of Intimate Issues.