She quietly walks into church and slips into the back row, hoping that no one will notice her, yet, at the same time, craving some type of affirmation from the people around her. Makeup is caked on her cheeks in a feeble attempt to cover her blemishes. Her outfit, jewelry, and hairstyle are a clumsy mimicry of others–they do not truly represent who she is. She is sure that everyone is judging her. Once her friends come and sit beside her, she begins to constantly compare herself to them. She’s not nearly as pretty and put together as they are. Suddenly, she hates how she looks. She hates her personality. She hates the family that she comes from, the house she lives in, and the things she can afford. Before she realizes it, the church service is over, but she cannot remember a word that was spoken. She finds her parents and leaves as quickly as possible.
Her friends and family are so supportive. They tell her she should love herself; they tell her she is beautiful; they tell her that she is good enough. But she refuses to believe them. They’re just saying those things to be nice. They can’t really mean them. She needs to work harder to measure up, so she decides to spend more time in front of the mirror. She works tirelessly to perfect her makeup and to lose more weight. She scours the internet to determine what is cool and stylish. She strives with all her might to look and act the right way, but, no matter how much effort she puts in, the same emotions rule her life. She will never be good enough.
So many girls have these same day-to-day struggles. We choose to believe this endless cycle of lies and end up hating ourselves for it. Our parents and mentors tell us that we are beautiful, Christian media tells us that we need to love ourselves because God loves us. But that is exactly the problem. The reality is that we already love ourselves more than we should. We are the ones that we think about the most, take care of first, and obsess over. We are the ones that we are constantly pouring our time, money, and effort into. Like a teacher of mine once said, the girl who walks into a room and is worried about what everyone thinks of her is the most selfish person in the room because her thoughts are consumed with herself. The problem with girls who “hate” themselves is actually that, in a backwards sort of way, they love themselves too much. We are choosing to be controlled by our emotions, to believe lies about ourselves, and to live in a relentless torrent of negativity, selfishness, and misery.
Most Christians do not realize that insecurity is actually a sin. We ignore the fact that we choose to be insecure. At its core, insecurity is ungratefulness, selfishness, and discontentedness with God’s plan for our lives. Bethany Baird and Kristen Clark, authors of the book Girl Defined, put it best:
“One of the biggest reasons we, as women, feel insecure with our physical appearance is because we take our eyes off Christ only to place them on ourselves. We become self-focused instead of Christ-focused. That is the root of all insecurities” (Girl Defined, pg. 122).
The concept of self-love has dangerously crept into the world of Christian literature. The idea that “we can only love others if we love ourselves” has spread like wildfire. People like the idea of putting their own needs and desires above others’. Of course we like the idea that we have to love ourselves first, but this goes against the whole point of the Gospel! We are not worthy to be loved because we are dirty, sinful people who are in desperate need of salvation. Trying to love ourselves more will just leave us unsatisfied because we are inadequate to even fulfill our own needs. Accepting our sinfulness and brokenness as a positive thing is not okay. Thankfully, there is a solution. James Beevers of Desiring God hits the nail on the head:
. . . the temporary relief we might feel by self-love cannot compare to the overwhelming relief of true love and acceptance by God. The “self-acceptance” of the children of God is not an active striving to love ourselves more. Rather, it is coming more and more to see ourselves as God sees us: sinful, guilty, inadequate humans who have been washed clean and declared righteous by faith in Christ (Romans 3:24).
True self-love is acceptance of ourselves as redeemed people. Yes, we are loved and accepted, but it is precisely not because we are worthy in ourselves, but because Christ is worthy. Only when we accept the reality of redemption can we find freedom to look outwards. When our gaze is bent inward on ourselves, we fail to love God and cannot hope to love others.*
What if the desperately insecure girl from the story above spent as much time nurturing her inner beauty as she does her outer beauty? What if she focused on pleasing Jesus more than pleasing others? She may still struggle with the same thoughts and emotions, but, if she chooses to continually shift her focus off of herself and onto Jesus, she will slowly become more and more confident in who she is in Christ. That type of inner confidence eventually reflects in how a person dresses and acts. If you “hate” yourself–that is, if you are consumed with how you look and feel–Christ offers you freedom from the toxic spiral of constant insecurity. Self-love creates a faux confidence–a mask behind which the most insecure girls in the world hide. If you purposely shift your focus from yourself and onto Jesus, you will experience satisfaction, joy, and security beyond all comprehension.