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I've been taking a women's Bible study on marriage.
After class one day, a few of us women were talking about body image -- and what it does to a wife's confidence (or more often, lack thereof) when she has sex with her husband.
It reminded me of this amazing video that is so good, you need to go watch it and then please come back.
We women are generally the ones waging the body image war. Sure, men have some struggles in this area, but overwhelmingly, the relentless pursuit of "ideal beauty" is a gal's game. Not exactly a revolutionary comment on my part. I know.
Advertising, pornography, Hollywood, our own unrealistic expectations and possibly even hurtful comments from our husbands have merged into the perfect storm. An unfathomable amount of damage has been left in that storm's wake.
Some efforts have been made to expose the truth, like this Dove video that has received more than 3,400,000 hits on YouTube.
(And husbands and wives would both be wise to read Paul Byerly's incredibly insightful post. LOTS of aha moments in this one).
But the war rages on.
It is no wonder that so many wives (maybe yourself included) are not overly thrilled about getting naked with the man they married.
I hear from numerous women who refuse to ever make love with the lights on or the covers off, because their engrained sense of shame about their bodies is unbearably raw.
I don't know about you, but my breasts just don't look like they did when I was 20. I've given birth (and have the stretch marks, widened hips and saggy breasts to prove it). And even if I hadn't given birth, the natural progression of time undeniably has transformed my body.
When I make love to my husband, I am not privy to a make-up artist, props manager and lighting director. Go figure. When put that way, it seems almost ludicrous that we consciously or subconsciously expect sexual intimacy to look like it does in the latest romantic movie.
So what is the secret to stopping the body image war?
As thrilling as it would be if Hollywood, the media, advertisers and the porn industry would all at once get a wake up call, I don't think we really should sit back and wait for that to happen. We need a Plan B.
The secret to stopping the body image war? Here are three ideas that have the potential for momentum:
Step One: Wars are Won by People Who Work with the Best and Most Accurate Information.
There's the crux of it all -- If you are wrestling with body image, it could be because you are basing your actions on lies rather than truth. I say that not to condemn you, but to free you. If you are like most women, you have been told (either directly or indirectly) that your worth is rooted in your appearance.
That is a lie.
It's not that God does not value beauty -- it's that His definition of beauty does not bind our identity with our physical attributes. And it's not that pretty and girly things are bad (like make-up, attractive appropriate clothing and a stylish haircut)... it's that those pretty things are not who we are.
That sounds all noble, right -- like I just read it off a greeting card.
But if you want to arrive at peace in this war, you absolutely must start with agreeing with what God says about you and disagreeing with what Satan says. Author and speaker Margot Starbuck brilliantly pointed this out when she guest posted for me about the toll of body image.
God's truth is that you are beautiful, treasured and valued because your true identity is in Christ. Your value is not in your breasts, hips, hair, lips, eye color, skin tone or stomach muscles.
Step Two: Wars are Won Collectively by Individuals Who do Their Part.
While the efforts highlighted in the videos I shared earlier in this post are admirable and needed, I can't help but think those efforts really are more about inspiring individual accountability.
In other words, as a wife and as a woman, what can you do in your own walk to embrace your own beauty?
What can you do to strengthen your own confidence?
What can you do to educate your husband by shedding light on media-perpetuated lies?
What can you do to enlighten your children about authentic beauty, authentic sexual intimacy and God's plan for marriage? (I have a dear friend who was walking with her sons in the mall once and actually stopped in front of the Victoria Secret's window display to engage her sons in a conversation about authentic beauty -- and the inaccurate messages advertising sends).
What can you do to strive toward realistic standards of healthiness? It's not that taking care of our bodies is wrong. It's all about motive. Do you want to be healthy because you want to enjoy life and be around to spend time with people you love? Or are you hung up on squeezing yourself into jeans that are a completely unrealistic expectation?
What can you do?
I'm just asking.
Step Three: Wars are Won One Battle at a Time.
If you are allowing body image to sabotage your sexual intimacy, you will likely find greater success in conquering it personally if you start on a small scale.
If you've been making love with the lights off for your entire marriage, I don't exactly think you're going to be sporting a sheer negligee with the lights on tonight.
Study after study would show, though, that the vast majority of husbands desire their wives -- and they want wives who want to fully participate in sex and embrace it for the gift it is.
The hang up about body appearance is more about our own insecurities than it is about their expectations.
There are exceptions to this, of course. If you are a wife whose husband has been hurtful -- even going so far as to say he isn't attracted to your body -- then try to educate him that his expectations are based on unrealistic media-based standards. If that doesn't work, rest in the assurance that he will ultimately have to give account to God on how he has been careless with his marriage covenant.
Nurturing sexual intimacy to its fullest in your marriage has so much to do with embracing the beauty and femininity of who you are. And you are beautiful.
The secret to stopping the body image war?
Well, we need to look at the person in the mirror. I guess it's kind of ironic when put that way.
Copyright 2011, Julie Sibert, Intimacy in Marriage blog.