I was in charge of the Young Women (Church group of ages 12-18 girls) activity this week. I've never been in charge of a church youth activity before. It was scary. I knew I wanted to do something about body image, but I didn't know what. I spent about three months preparing for this activity.
In our culture women are trained to believe that it's socially inappropriate to love their own bodies. We're taught, instead, to bond with each other over our hatred of our bodies. It reads like a script: A friend starts complaining about "feeling fat," we tell her she isn't fat, and then find some part of our own body to complain about.
Similarly, when we're complimented on our looks, we're taught to "be modest" and say "Oh, this old thing?!" or "Oh, no, I really wish I had your..."
This means, as women, we spend a lot of time with other women picking apart our bodies, piece by piece. We may compliment each other, but we don't compliment ourselves. When was the last time you said something positive about your body out loud? When was the last time you thought something positive about your body?
What a problem! Turning to the church, I found answers ! I found three talks, one by Elder Holland, one by Sister Tanner, and the new talk given at Women's conference by Sister Marriot. With that, and inspiration from this blog, I did this:
First, I emailed the mother's of the Young Women, told them we would be having an activity about the body, said gave them this quote: "A mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem." Naomi Wolf
I then asked them this: With that in mind, I'm asking you to do one thing 1) Within hearing of your daughters, say something like "I love my body" or "my body is amazing" or something to that effect.
The girls arrived at a leader's house and sat in a circle in the backyard around an unlit fire-pit. Each girl was given a clipboard that had a blank piece of paper, and an envelope. They were instructed to write their name on the envelop:
They were then told to pass their clipboard to the girl on their right. Now, each girl held someone else's paper. On that paper, they were told to write something they liked about that person's body. (Shrieks, giggles, questions about clarification. This is a CHURCH activity after all). After one minute, they passed the clipboard to their right, and did it again. After four or five passes, they were told that when they finished writing, they were to take the piece of paper, fold it up, put it in the envelope and seal it. Once they turned over the envelope they saw this:
When all the envelopes were sealed, they handed the envelope back to the person whose name was on it. At this point, a leader lit a match and stuck it in the fire-pit, which was ready to burst into a bonfire.
While she was doing that, I said this:
In your hands you hold what others think of your body; Other’s opinion on what is solely yours. Burn them. Throw them into the fire. (and they did!)
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter at all what anyone else thinks about your body. Your body is God’s sacred creation. He made it as a gift for you, not for anyone else. When it comes to your body, there are only two opinions that matter at all: Yours, and God’s. All other opinions should be burned. Burned out of your speech and burned out of your thoughts.
I then gave a short talk. I pulled heavily from Sister Tanner's talk from above.
In the premortal realm we learned that the body was part of God’s great plan of happiness for us. We “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7) to be part of this plan. You, (insert names of a few of the girls) shouted for joy when you learned you would receive that body.
Why were we so excited? We understood eternal truths about our bodies. We knew that our bodies would be in the image of God. We knew that our bodies would house our spirits. Joseph Smith taught: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the Celestial Kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.”
Satan learned these same eternal truths about the body. His punishment is that he does not have one. Therefore he tries to do everything he can to get us to abuse or misuse our precious gift. He has filled the world with lies and deceptions about the body. He seduces women to despise their bodies. He entices the world to regard the body merely as an object.
The attention we give to our outward appearance can become an obsession for some. Sometimes there is a selfish excess of exercising, dieting, makeovers, and spending money on the latest fashions (see Alma 1:27). Susan Tanner says: I am troubled by the practice of extreme makeovers. Happiness comes from accepting the bodies we have been given as divine gifts and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world. The Lord wants us to be made over—but in His image, not in the image of the world, by receiving His image in our countenances (see Alma 5:14, 19).
(1 Cor. 3:16–17). “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? What would happen if we truly treated our bodies as temples? I want you all to think about how the world would be different if we all treated our bodies as the Temples they truly are. Would we make fun of another’s body? Would we starve our bodies? Would we look in the mirror and pick out things we don’t like about our bodies? I don’t think so. I think the result would be a dramatic increase in kindness, both to ourselves and others. There would be a great increase in observing and understanding of the Word of Wisdom, and a similar decrease in the problems of dieting and abuse. \
Now, I want you to take another piece of paper, and once again write your name at the top. I want you to think back to when you shouted for joy in the premortal life. I want you to think about God making a body just for you, a wonderful and unique gift made special just for you. On your piece of paper, I want you to write down five things you like about your own body.
The paper I handed them had a quote from For The Strength Of The Youth on the bottom:"Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way."
I was really worried the girls would struggle with this part. I had decided beforehand to be firm, and insist they could write five things.
I had done this activity with the Young Women leaders a few weeks earlier. They gave a lot of feedback. We decided that after the girls were done writing, every leader would stand up and say one thing they loved about their bodiy and why. This part was amazing! We have some incredible leaders and they really did a good job of showing that it's ok to say good things about your own body! After they were done, I said one thing I loved about my body and why, and then announced that each girl would, in turn, stand up and read her list. She needed to say five things she loves about her body and why.
I was expecting more opposition, but because the leaders had done such a great job showing how to do it, there was very little protest. A lot of the girls had kept writing while the leaders were talking, being reminded of other things they liked about their body, or realizing that they had permission to lie a certain feature, or to write down a certain feature. There were only two girls that struggled, which blew me away. I thought most of them would struggle (probably because I struggled with this so much).
When they were done, I gave them a handout that had this quote:
Placed around the world, temples have their own unique look and design on the outside, but inside they all contain the same eternal light, purpose, and truth. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 we read, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as daughters of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples. This spiritual light is a reflection of the Savior’s light. Others will be attracted to this brightness. - Neil F Marriot