And that reality is, the better you look, the more compliments and attention you receive.
It took me a long to realize how powerfully motivating this is for teen girls in particular, approaching their physical peak. When adults talk about teen girls today, the conversation often revolves around how vain and beauty-obsessed this generation of selfie-takers has become. And while that’s generally true, the one thing nobody seems to ask is why these girls worship their appearance and why it’s so hard for them to quit chasing physical perfection.
If we really want change to occur, we need to dig below the symptoms and consider the root of the problem. We need to think long and hard about why.
I’ve reflected on this subject a lot in raising my four daughters and working with teen and tween girls. And through all my thinking, remembering myself as a self-absorbed teenager, talking to youth ministry leaders, and reading up on the subject, I’ve concluded that why boils down to this:
The prettier and thinner a girl becomes, the louder people applaud.
And once you hear that applause, you naturally crave more.
We all know that inner beauty matters most, but when a girl’s heart grows more beautiful, there’s no fanfare or enthusiasm. Boys don’t whistle as she passes by. Girls don’t run up to her at parties and gleefully proclaim, “You look fabulous!” Strangers don’t approach her in stores and ask for her secrets. People don’t fawn over her pictures on social media and shower her with comments about how utterly amazing and GOR-GEOUS she is.
The fact is, we live in an image-obsessed world that elevates shiny things onto a pedestal. And while we blame the media for Photoshopping images of models and setting unrealistic beauty standards for women of all ages, there’s just as much pressure (if not more) to be found in a teenage girl’s immediate environment.
Because in her immediate environment is where she meets other girls practicing strict diets that ban all carbs, sugars, fast foods, fried foods, and anything unhealthy. It’s where friends talk about food as an evil and cultivate a common mindset where you eat only enough to survive so you don’t pass out. It’s where girls starve themselves before big events like prom or sorority rush, starting a trend because nobody wants to look big in comparison. It’s where every pound shed and every hour spent at the gym gets praised and celebrated.
It sounds crazy, but I get it. I can look back on my life and notice a difference in how many more emphatic compliments I heard in my skinniest seasons. It was never guys who noticed or made a fuss, but rather girls. Even so, their praise and approval was addictive. And without a proper filter in place, I spent years growing preoccupied with my appearance and treating my body as my best asset, investing an inordinate amount of time and energy into it.
Let me be clear that I believe in healthy habits. I believe in exercise, nutrition, and taking care of the one body we’re given. But what I’ve had to learn in my search for balance and avoiding unhealthy extremes is what every girl must learn for herself: Worshipping your body holds no eternal value. It won’t help you get to heaven. It won’t change anyone else’s life for the better. It won’t leave a legacy that may be remembered and talked about 50 years after you die.
When we die, our bodies die, too. They wither six feet under. Even if we spend a decade sculpting a masterpiece of flesh, that masterpiece is rendered worthless the moment we pass. At our funeral, people won’t be talking how tight our abs once were, or how big our thigh gap was (at least I hope not). No, what people will talk about is the kind of person we were, and the impact we had on them.
For me to see the truth about my body, I had to adapt my mindset. I had to switch from short-term gratification to long-term rewards. I had to understand my body as a tool God uses to accomplish His work in me. If my friend needs a hug, God can’t hug her, but I can. If a man has an inspiring story to tell, God can’t interview him, but I can. Through the Holy Spirit that lives inside all of us, God equips us to build His kingdom on earth.
Focusing on what my body does keeps me from fixating on how it looks. And while I still have days where I struggle with physical flaws and get frustrated, I now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that my body is most beautiful when it’s used to glorify God.
So if I have any message for teen girls stuck in that exhausting pursuit of physical perfection that I know well, it’s this: You have a choice. You don’t have to buy into what the world is selling, because the world has its wrong. The world trusts the eye’s opinion over the heart’s wisdom, adoring what is superficial and shallow. Listening to the world won’t bring peace or salvation. It won’t draw you closer to God and your eternal home. Chasing the world’s opinion may be fun for a while, but ultimately, it’s a race to nowhere.
Because your soul is your ticket to heaven. Your soul is the most important part of you. Your body is important as the temple for your soul here on earth, but beyond that, it has no staying power. Like everything temporal, it will expire.
You want to look beautiful? Then let your soul radiate. Let God’s presence inside you shine. This won’t happen through selfies and posed pictures on the beach of you and your friends in bikinis. As pretty as these shots may be, they all look alike when every girl posts the same thing.
Hand on hip.
Stomach sucked in.
Body angled sideways.
Big grin to hide any feelings of insecurity in a bathing suit.
Honestly, your body looks best in motion. It doesn’t have to be big motion – just something besides striking a pose. The most showstopping pictures I see of girls are on my Facebook feed, posted by moms. You see, moms notice beauty through a broader lens. Moms understand how candid moments capture a deeper essence that’s breathtaking.
When you aren’t even aware of the camera on you…when you’re not trying to be beautiful…when you’re relaxed, happy, and engaged with something you love…that’s when you radiate. While the world says it takes 20 pictures to get 1 perfect image, the photos that really knock the ball out of the park are the once-in-a-lifetime moments you can’t recreate.
Like when you dance with your father, and the love you share is clear to see, your body looks beautiful…
When you nail that flip on your wakeboard after much dedication and practice, your body looks beautiful….
When you jump in the air and slam the volleyball over the net, your body looks beautiful…
When you hug and love on your teammates, working together toward common goals, your body looks beautiful…
When you get your backhand-spring on the beach, and come out of it with a joyful grin, your body looks beautiful…
When you fall in love with special friends on a mission trip, and suddenly gain a burning desire
to spend as much time as possible in their third-world country, your body looks beautiful…
When you have laugh with your siblings and friends, creating unforgettable memories, your body looks beautiful…
When you hold hands and jump alongside your softball peeps before the championship game, your body looks beautiful….
And when your face glows because your eyes and smile are full of hope and wonder, your body looks beautiful.
Now, aren’t these pictures more inspiring than stagnant bikini shots? Isn’t it nice to enjoy beauty that makes you smile and not feel inferior in comparison? Pictures like these reflect God’s idea of beauty. And since God is truth, they tell the truth about what’s beautiful.
It’s tempting to seek the world’s applause. It’s validating to actually hear it. But whether you have a stadium full of people cheering for you or nobody, God loves you the same. Even on your worst hair day, you’re His masterpiece. No change in you can change that.
All this to say, you don’t have to be a slave to your body, your makeup, your mirror. There’s freedom from those chains. Because the beauty of knowing God is that He will reveal the beauty of being of you. Uniquely, wonderfully you.
Applause is nice, but peace is better. And the peace that comes from feeling good in your skin because you’ve set your soul in motion is a gift from the spiritual realm that reminds you of what your body was made to do and fills a deeper craving to create a meaningful life made of love, security, and hope for the future.
Thank you for reading this article today. If you found the message helpful or compelling, please share it through the social media below.
Also, my newest book, Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For? and is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Christianbook.com, and everywhere books are sold. It’s getting a fantastic response as a unique and timely resource for girls of the digital age!
My bestselling first book, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, has been used widely across the U.S. for small group/church youth group studies. It’s also available everywhere books are sold, including Amazon. To learn more, check out Kirkus Reviews or see what readers are saying on Amazon.
Have a great day!