I have always thought pregnant women were beautiful. Pregnancy and birth are such an incredible miracle, and the pregnant female body is a marvelous symbol of that miracle. The glow, the fullness of life — I couldn’t wait to experience all of it!
And then I got pregnant.
For some reason, the bodily changes that accompany pregnancy have not made me feel as beautiful as I perceived other pregnant women to be. Perhaps it was the sickness of the first trimester that gave me a constant, vaguely nauseous appearance. Perhaps it was the escalating numbers on the scale. Or perhaps it was the simple hardship of change itself — my body was doing things it had never done before. Weird and unexpected things. All of those factors, and probably more, contributed to me feeling unattractive and, at times, just plain gross.
Why couldn’t I appreciate my changing body the way I appreciated others’? Why was I so unable to marvel in the beauty of what God was doing in and through my body?
I am currently 6 months pregnant, and I have been reflecting on those questions for the last 6 months. During that time I have come to a few conclusions. The first is that much of my struggle is a matter of control. Women are taught to control our bodies all our lives — our weight, our appearance, our modesty — when suddenly we are confronted with a season in life when we cannot control our bodies. Not really, anyway.
That loss of control is good. It is God-ordained, in fact. God is using our bodies as precious vessels to bear new life, and that new function is wonderful. But it is not ours to control.
As a woman who likes control, this has been hard for me.
Fortunately, God has used this time to teach me something else as well. As someone who has not struggled much with body image until now, God has taught me two important ways to appreciate the image of God in my female form:
First, healthy body image is a community effort. This may seem like a strange conclusion given that self-esteem issues are often tied to an over-reliance on the opinions of others. However, I am referring to the witness of the Christian community. What does the church teach about beauty and human life? What do Christians say about the true source of female beauty?
The answers to these questions are important because we women live in a culture that attacks our body image. The female body is devalued and objectified every day and in every possible way. When that is the witness of the culture, the church needs to provide a different kind of witness.
For me, I have been most edified by my husband and my Christian friends. Not only does my husband go out of his way to tell me I am beautiful each day, but many of my friends have been intentional about affirming the beauty of pregnancy. This affirmation goes beyond the superficial compliments about how I am carrying (although I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them!), but instead highlights the life-giving aspects of my changing body.
Again, community affirmation is about more than merely stroking my ego or propping up my self-esteem. Instead, I count on my Christian community to remind me of who God created me to be, and what that means amidst the changes in my body. They remind me of the truth about God and the truth about myself.
The second lesson I have learned is that body image is connected to my relationship with God. By this I do not mean that women who struggle with body image have a bad relationship with God. What I do mean is that we can talk to God about our struggles and He can help us. For me personally, I began to ask God to change my heart about my body. I asked Him to correct my thinking so that I could see my body the way He does. I asked Him to help me love my body and the ways that He is working through it.
God has been faithful to answer that prayer. Although having a healthy body image has also required the discipline of reining in my thought life, God has changed my heart, ever so slowly, to help me love my growing belly and all the changes that accompany it.
Body image is a complex issue that I do not mean to oversimplify. However being a Christian means that we are never without hope. God wants us to worship Him with our bodies, and He can help us toward that end.
As a final thought, I have been blessed to realize that through the bodily sacrifices of pregnancy, women are given a special glimpse into the bodily sacrifices of Christ. In both pregnancy and the cross, the body is laid down to bring about new life. Although Jesus’ sacrifice is infinitely greater than any we could ever offer, there are few images on earth that reflect this aspect of the cross so closely. Blessedly, God allows some of us a unique glimpse into the work of Christ. If for no other reason than that, the physical sacrifice of pregnancy is a gift.
I am sure that my bodily changes will continue to shock and scare me as I enter into the final stretch of my pregnancy. My belly is only going to get bigger, and my ankles will only get more swollen! Thankfully, I serve a God whose definition of beauty is ever so different from the world’s. By laying my body down in order to bring about new life, I walk a similar path once walked by my Savior. He is my standard of beauty, and that is a liberating truth for all women, pregnant or not.