I have read with great interest the article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23276432 about a photographer who is ‘on a mission to redefine the idea of a beautiful woman’s body.’

Jade Beall took a series of photographs of her post-pregnancy body, five weeks after her baby was born, and posted the photographs on her blog. In response, hundreds of women wanted their photographs taken too, and Beall is publishing a book in January featuring photographs of more than 70 mothers.

What’s your reaction to this? Do you find it shocking?

As a woman and a mother, my reaction is one of admiration for these women. I have to confess that I wouldn’t have the courage to put my own body on display like that.

But why? Stretch marks are a testimony to the fact that a woman has borne children. Children are a beautiful gift, so why do we go to such lengths to hide the effects that carrying them has on our bodies?

Fear. Fear of people’s reactions. Fear that people will think we are ugly. Fear that people will think that we are less than perfect. Many actresses, models and pop stars appear to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy shape very quickly. How many of us ‘ordinary folk’ can say that we were able to do the same? The media bombards us with images of the perfect body, and if we don’t feel that we are up to scratch – which, let’s face it, none of us are – we are left feeling inadequate, not good enough.

I spent many years of my life feeling distinctly less than adequate, not good enough, trying to conform in order to fit in – and not only physically. Yet it didn’t work – no matter what I did, I still didn’t feel that I was good enough. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, for many reasons.

It took me a long time to realise that I have been created to be unique, to be an individual, and that there is no one else who looks like me, who has my personality, my abilities, my ways of doing things, on the face of the earth. I tried for too many years to be like other people instead of embracing who I had been created to be, to be what I thought people wanted me to be instead of allowing myself to be me. I was unhappy, and very lonely. Because I didn’t accept myself for who I was, I couldn’t allow other people to accept me either, and I ended up pushing them away.

Fortunately that is not the end of my story. Over a long time, I gradually came to understand and embrace my uniqueness. Bit by bit I started to trust people, to let them in, to allow them to get to know the real me, and to my surprise, they actually liked me! This gave me more confidence to be myself with others, and very slowly, I began to climb out of the cage that my low self-esteem had trapped me in for so long.

I believe many women – and men – suffer from pressure to conform, pressure to be ‘acceptable’, to be the same as everyone else, or to be what they think others want or expect them to be. This pressure may come from others, but ultimately we choose whether or not to bow to this pressure. The media may suggest what it thinks is perfection, but we have a choice whether or not to accept it!

Every single person has been created to be beautiful, no matter what size or shape they are. Part of the beauty of creation is our uniqueness, our individuality. We all have different abilities, strengths, talents and skills. And our abilities and strengths have been designed to complement the abilities and strengths of others. It is no accident that some are good with numbers, some are artistic, some are sporty, some are practical, some are great cooks, some are really good at encouraging others, and so on. The list is endless.

Some may say they don’t know what they are good at. I believe everyone is gifted in some way; everyone is good at something. Think about what you enjoy doing. The chances are you enjoy doing it because you are good at it. If you really struggle to think of something, ask someone who is close to you to tell you what they think you are good at. Their answers might surprise you.

Let’s not allow others’ opinions to dictate who we think we should be. Let’s embrace who we are, warts and all, and shake off the chains that hold us down. I am beautiful. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Nicki Copeland is a wife, mother, freelance editor and part-time Theology student. She is also the author of Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self. It is the story of how she was set free from low self-esteem and crippingly low confidence.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27)

How many of us truly believe that we are made in the image of God? How many of us really accept that we are part of God’s beautiful creation, that He is pleased with what he has made in us? When we consider ourselves as individuals, do we, in reality, feel that God looks upon us with pleasure?

For a long time, although I believed in my head that I was made in the image of God, I struggled to really accept it in my heart. I could only really take it on board as a generic statement – that human beings generally are made in the image of God, and that as a race we have the potential to be all that God created us to be. When it came to me personally, that was a very different story. I couldn’t see the potential that God had placed within me, and I certainly didn’t view myself as a beautiful part of God’s creation.

For many years I struggled to form real relationships of any depth, as I didn’t think that anyone would consider me worth being friends with. I felt unlovable and unloved. I was unable to accept myself for who I was, and because of this I couldn’t allow other people to accept me either. So I pushed people away, but I didn’t realise what I was doing.

It was like living in a vicious circle. In an attempt to save myself the pain of being rejected by people once they discovered who I really was, I kept them at a distance to make sure they never got close enough to find out. This meant I felt isolated and alone, which in turn reinforced my belief that I was unlovable. My self-esteem and self-confidence were at rock bottom.

And it seems that I was not alone. Research suggests that 78% of teachers think that girls suffer low self-esteem, and 51% think boys have low confidence in their body image.[1] What impact is this likely to have in the future? Based on research among women, the Future Foundation has predicted that Britain could lose around 320,000 businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 female MPs, by the year 2050, unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities.[2]

Many people struggle with poor self-image, low self-esteem and low self-confidence. There is tremendous pressure on us to act, dress and behave in certain ways, and if we don’t fit the mould, we feel like a failure. We find ourselves trying to conform to what we think our peers want us to be, to what magazines, television programmes, social media and billboards tell us we should look like, how we should dress, how we should do our hair, what we should do, even how we should speak.

But beauty is not about what we look like, and being acceptable is not about our appearance. The person who matters, the seat of our true beauty, lies in who we are inside. ‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). As people, we need to hear these words and be affirmed for who we are. From there, confidence will grow.

Fortunately, my story was one of confidence reborn. By the grace of God and through the patience of a number of people I am now blessed to be able to call close friends, I began to break this dreadful cycle and build meaningful relationships. It has been a long process; indeed, it’s an ongoing one, but I can now honestly say that I am comfortable with who I am. I enjoy being me!

I felt called to write about my journey in the hope that my story would encourage and inspire other people who are struggling with the issues I wrestled with for far too many years. I hope and pray that it will enable many other people to realise that they, too, can be freed from the trap of low self-esteem and to begin to believe in themselves and in what God says about them.

Remember – Genesis 1:31 tells us that ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ That means me, and it means you! God saw you when he made you, and you are very good! He is very pleased with what He has made! Can you dare to believe him?

 

Less than ordinary? is available in paperback or on Kindle at http://tinyurl.com/br5yntf.

Image


[2] Research carried out by The Future Foundation. Published in the Mail Online April 2012.