Next weekend at the Refuge, we’re diving into a conversation about body image, disordered eating, and what it means to live, not just as a brain in a jar, but as a living, breathing, body.
Feeling comfortable in your own skin and bones as a teenager is hard. Teenagers everywhere, in every time and culture, have wondered why they aren’t as thin as her, or as tall as him. Adolescence, a time of deep self-consciousness and comparison, plus intense social pressure to fit in, and the sensation of puberty making you feel like you’re walking around in a stranger’s body, makes teenagers feel like their bodies are enemies to be starved and conquered, objects to be made bigger or smaller as socialization tells them, traitors of their own intentions.
Even in a culture more focused on body positivity than ever, the rise of social media has led to a constant barrage of pressures to look a certain way, and is connected by some to an ever-increasing prevalence of eating disorders. Dr. Carolyn Parcells, FUMCFW member and pediatrician focusing on adolescent health including, in particular, eating disorders, says that you can track the noticeable spike in eating disorders among adolescent girls, particularly younger adolescents (10 – 14), with the rise of Instagram.
Which, in a lot of ways, make sense. When I was a middle schooler, looking at a magazine on the rack in Kroger, and wondering why I didn’t look like the woman on the cover, I at least had the distance of knowing that this was an adult with a whole crew of people making them look professionally beautiful, not to mention photoshop, and perhaps more importantly, I put the magazine back down when I left the store.
I didn’t carry a whole endless library of those photos around with me in my pocket.
I am by no means an expert in disordered eating, and I will admit, I have more than once in my career here at FUMCFW felt lost on how to respond to teenagers as I watched them starve themselves, binge, and hate the skin they live in. No amount of platitudes about being beautiful just the way you are could ever drown out the voice in a 15-year-old’s head telling them they are worthless because of the way they look.
Next weekend, on September 22nd during the Refuge, I will be inviting Dr. Parcells to talk to our teenagers about disordered eating and how to take care of themselves, and I am so unbelievably grateful for her professional help.
Alongside her, I will be reminding our teenagers of the holy and mysterious truth: that God didn’t make us brains in jars, God chose to breathe us into living beings, and even chose to become one alongside us in Jesus. That these bodies we are given are a gift we are to steward, and care for, and love, in the same way we’re called to care for every living thing. That we are also a living thing. That infinite God has chosen to take up residence in these finite bodies, and that when the hairs on our arms stand on end, when tears well up in our eyes, when we catch our breath in delight, that God is reaching us and teaching us through these bodies.
I’ll be asking our teenagers to have grace for the skin and bones that they have been given, to forgive them for not being perfect, and to remember the beauty of the reality that they are alive. This is the only body we will ever have, we may as well take care of it.
Director of Youth Ministries