Whether you find yourself pursuing the beauty standard, body positivity or something in-between, it doesn’t take much convincing as to why we need to set healthy boundaries around our body image. This applies to both women AND men. A strong case could be made that the cultural current is rushing up against us. We are constantly presented with messages every day that negatively influence our body image and in turn, affects our own perception of self-worth. This is critical to understand if we want to improve our mental health and our overall sense of well-being. Think about boundaries like the bumpers on your lane at the bowling alley. They keep you from falling into the gutter. Philosophically speaking, drawing boundaries opens us up to meditate on our true sense of intrinsic worth and avoid comparing ourselves to others as a measure of that worth.  On a practical level, it may require limiting your exposure to certain mediums that tempt you to view yourself in an unhealthy light. It may require you evaluating the spaces you’re putting yourself in. It might be having hard conversations with those who've hurt you, or those who made you feel negatively about yourself due to the way they discussed your appearance. But this is no easy fight. That’s why we’ve created this battleplan. If the cultural current is up against us, we need strong tools to push back against that. Here are some practical ways in which you can walk confidently in who you are without falling victim to exploitative, manipulative forces out to prey on your deepest insecurities.


We’re not on a quest to vilify social media, although the dangers have been clearly articulated from the creators of social media themselves in the 2020 hit documentary The Social Dilemma.   In fact, we’ve personally found in our own outreach that there can be a redemptive purpose to social media, turning it into a helpful and engaging tool.  But more often the case is those who get sucked into following Instagram influencers, who more often than not are influential due to their perceived attractiveness and outward success.  Among the top 16 on the list of Instagram follower-ship are Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and Jennifer Lopez. At one point or another, all have been esteemed for their beauty or sex appeal. Combined, they have a total of 2.8 billion followers. Obviously there is some overlap there, but given there’s 7.9 billion people in the entire world, that’s a lot of influence. Take Kylie Jenner for instance, a staple figure of the Kardashian clan and popular beauty influencer on instagram. Her posts often revolve around the promotion of her skincare and makeup brand, Kylie Cosmetics, which clearly have a certain beauty standard: big lips, high cheekbones, mascaraed eyes, glossy lips, a bodacious body…  Agenda setting is what we would call the repetition of seeing the same thing over and over again. Ben Parr, in his book Captivology, writes:

“Your perceptions of what’s important thus where to place your attention – are being framed. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the media covers a story, the more the public demands the information on the story.”

While it's not wrong for Kylie to have a skincare brand, one has to consider the influence this has on the 375 million people who follow her, many of whom are younger women already attempting to navigate their own insecurities. What message is this sending? That in order to be beautiful you have to manicure yourself with the most expensive products, and to try to mold your body image into that of the Kardashian clan? To be clear – this isn't to pick on Kylie personally. She’s not the problem. The system encourages us to leverage social media in this way to build our brands.  In particular, Instagram encourages us to build our identities around an idealized appearance. Choosing to follow these types of accounts is ultimately your choice, but consider what kind of influence they have on your personal narrative.  It's important to note that many loyal Kylie followers don't even see her as touting some kind of idealized appearance, but instead "being herself," or "raw," or "real." This, despite the fact that Kylie has opened up in the past about feeling the need to change in order to fill comparisons to her sex-symbol sisters -- the exact opposite of being yourself.  Her desire to completely change her body was rooted in hurt, insecurity, and self-doubt around a certain aspect of her appearance: her lips.  "I had an insecurity because this guy said something to me one time. I got an obsession with makeup because I would overline my lips and it would just make me feel confident," she said in a recent interview We live in a culture that is obsessed with being authentic, yet when you take a peek under the hood, "authenticity" is often influenced by other people in the end.  As Harvard Medical School psychologist Neha Chaudhary, MD put it in a recent Insider article: "People end up creating unrealistic ideals for themselves based on what they see and feel distressed when they aren't able to meet those ideas or self-expectations." These expectations are also rooted in a distortion of reality.  More often than not, people are curating the "best" photos of themselves, and filters, editing, and photoshop has made it easier than ever to fabricate one's outer appearance. This means you are literally comparing yourself to a fake appearance or attribute.  FaceTune, a "face-perfecting" app for editing selfies, has been downloaded over 150 million times, and a 2021 study by City University London found that 90% of women reported filtering or editing their photos before posting them.  If you acknowledge that social media can be toxic and breed comparison but don't know what to do about it, consider adding a screen time restriction.  Say you typically spend an hour on social media -- consider capping it at 15 minutes and giving your screen time password to a trusted friend. This isn't about adding more rules to your life, but rather intentionally choosing what you fill your brain with.  James Clear, author of the popular self-help book Atomic Habits, says that whenever possible, he leaves his phone in the other room.  The simple act of doing so makes him more productive, as he now has an added step to do if he really wants to check his phone. The same premise applies here. The less Instagram is an unlimited fountain of content, the more intentionally it can be used.  HOW TO DO IT: If you have an iPhone, go to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits and select the apps you want to restrict. As mentioned before, you can set a password and give it to a friend or family member. Just make sure they don't forget it.  Ultimately, a good litmus test for seeing how social media is affecting you is to ask yourself a series a questions after using it:  Do I feel worse about myself after? Am I looking up more clothing, products, or comparing myself to the status of others? If any part of you feels like your self-esteem is taking a huge blow every time you finally close out of the app, it may be time to rethink your boundaries around social media.


You've probably heard the classic saying: "show me your friends and I'll show you your future."  While that quote often gets taken out of context, there is some truth to it. The people you surround yourself with can have a profound effect on your perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and learned behavior. This is especially true when it comes to body image "Research suggests that children and adolescents learn from their families and friends that they should be thin and that being overweight is unappealing," says a 2014 peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence Perhaps consciously or unconsciously, your peers may put pressure on you to conform to your friends' standards of beauty, or perhaps you put the pressure on yourself to look like them.  To be clear, there's nothing wrong with having friends who are confident in what they look like. The takeaway is to be mindful of the amount of influence you let friends with unhealthy and toxic beauty standards have on your life. Or consider having an honest conversation about how you discuss your appearance with each other. Are you building one another up to be the most authentic versions of yourselves, or is there an air of judgment that makes comments like "I can't believe you're so tiny, bro," or "she looks a little big for those jeans."  This might sound like something straight out of Mean Girls, but it can happen even among the closest friends. More on this in our next section, in which we unpack the way we talk about ourselves and others can impact our self-worth and body image.


"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it all," still rings in our ears from first grade.  Yet something about that statement still rings true in adult life. There's a reason we remember it. We've been talking about being careful of negative influences from other people, but what about ourselves? We can often be our own worst enemies when it comes to how we view our bodies. Psychologically, there's often a disconnect between perception in reality. It's why those who are fit, healthy, and normal weight by standard metrics can look in a mirror and declare "I'm fat." Why is this?  In severe cases, some people have what's known as Body Dysmorphia, which according to John Hopkins Medical Center, is a condition in which "you may be so upset about the appearance of your body that it gets in the way of your ability to live normally."  But for those who don't necessarily have Body Dysmorphia, there may still be a general distaste and frustration with your body. As a result, it may cause you to start criticizing yourself unnecessarily. "I'm so ugly. I'm so gross. I hate my big hips." While it may seem like speaking words might not have a big impact, science proves otherwise. The reality is that our brains often write stories in our heads that are exaggerated or sometimes untrue. For instance, we're hard on ourselves after stuttering during a big presentation despite hardly anyone in the audience noticing or caring. In a recent NPR article, UPenn Cognitive Neuroscientist Dr. Branch Coslett explained how our brain overemphasizes these thoughts. "Their internal representation — their brain perspective on their body — is that the body is much, much bigger than, in fact, it is." So if our brains can convince us that our bodies are repulsive, can't they also on the flip side guide us to having a positive view of ourselves?  In the same NPR article, University of Pennsylvania psychologist David Sarver explained how changing the language from extreme to more constructive can root our brains in the reality of what we really look like. "Instead of saying, 'My abdomen is disgusting and grotesque', Sarwer explains, he'll prompt a patient to say, "My abdomen is round, my abdomen is big; it's bigger than I'd like it to be." This reality-based approach is balanced in that it's not enabling people to live an unhealthy, reckless lifestyle, but it's also showing people how to be kinder to themselves and take a more constructive approach.  Though this isn't a magic trick, try this on yourself when you look in the mirror. If you want bigger muscles, don't say: "I'm a twig," say, "I have a desire to get stronger." You can move forward towards the goal of what you want without destroying your self-esteem in the process. Nonetheless, this still doesn't answer the question of why we may feel so desperate to change our bodies. Perhaps it comes from the images we're comparing ourselves to in the media?


We discussed earlier that the Jenner sisters and the Kardashians have a profound effect on how young women view themselves or try to measure up, but the issue of low self-esteem or negative body image isn't exclusive to women. Men also battle comparison and ideas of what society deems "masculine" -- especially in media depictions Many men, upon watching the latest Marvel flick or streaming series, feel insecure that their torso and arms don't look like Chris Hemsworth's when they take their shirt off. Because almost every Marvel male lead has massive biceps, a rock solid core, and a bulging chest, some men may question why their daily tips to the gym haven't yielded them the "ultimate male body." All the while, these stars have access to the top trainers, an abundant food supply, plenty of time, and millions of dollars as a reward.  This brings up an important point: what kind of bodies are being glorified in the media we consume? While there's always outliers, such as Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill, who leveraged their "bigger" body types to their advantage, the prevailing theme seems to be that the ideal man is ripped out of his mind, and the ideal woman is toned, lean, and endowed in all the "right" areas. While choosing what kinds of movies or shows you partake in is up to your control, the reality is that we're often bombarded with images of what we should look like whether we like it or not.  And to say bombarded is almost putting it lightly. In a 2015 talk at Harvard University, activist Jean Kilbourne offered some astounding statistics about the influence and impact of advertising on body image, particularly with women: "The average American encounters 3,000 advertisements every day, and spends a total of two years watching TV commercials in their lifetime," Kilbourne said. "At the center of many of these ads is an image of idealized female beauty. Models are tall, slim, and light skinned, and digitally altered to ever-more unrealistic proportions. Women and girls compare themselves to these images every day. And failure to live up to them is inevitable because they are based on a flawlessness that doesn’t exist.” So yes, you may not be seeking out Kylie Cosmetics on Instagram, but you could be watching your favorite show when all of a sudden an ad featuring a "flawless" celebrity touting the next great skincare product comes on. Or say you take a stroll through Times Square next time you're in New York. You'd be hard pressed not to be inundated with some billboards that breed comparison. These types of images are almost endemic in American society, whether you seek them or not, so what do you do? Just stop watching TV altogether? Never leave the house? While the world doesn't have a "Screen Time" restriction, simply being aware of the media you ingest is a huge step forward. We often watch things mindlessly without realizing how much they actually affect us. And while you can't 100% guarantee you won't encounter some kind of ad that makes you feel ashamed or insecure, you can do little things like watching your favorite content on an ad-free streaming service, turning off the TV during commercials, or getting up and doing something else.  As jokingly mentioned before, the solution isn't to hide or never watch media or become a control freak when it comes to hitting the mute button and dodging commercials. Being aware of the tactics used in the exaggerated, unrealistic, and fantastical aspects of advertisements, movies, and shows can help you be a more informed viewer and create some boundaries in your life.  But boundaries are ultimately just guardrails and means to an end of discovering that you have a deeper worth than what society might say. And as helpful as having intentional choices can be, white knuckling it and avoiding negative content isn’t necessarily going to build you back up and give you worth either.  So, what possibly could?

A Countercultural View of Self

Earlier, we brought up the idea of how self-worth and body image would change if there is a divine creator, or in other words -- if God is real.  Why? Well, scripture says that God created us with the highest degree of intentionality. As one Psalmist puts it: "oh yes, You shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made!"  However, what if you don't feel marvelously made? Knowing something and actually internalizing it are often two different things. For instance, you can be told that you are smart, intelligent, and kind, but if you don't feel that or don't believe that within yourself, the compliments just ricochet right off of you.  It's a similar idea with body image Simply being told in an Instagram comment that "you look great!" doesn't always sink in. Moreover, society's prioritization of self has inundated us to the point where we can easily lose sight of the bigger picture and where our worth really comes from. However, there's a compelling case to be made that having an anchor in something greater than ourselves can take the pressure and burden of living up to those standards That was essentially the message of Jesus: you can't do it all by yourself, and you will never be perfect, so let me help you. Scripture asserts that when God sees us, he doesn't see us as the world does or by our mistakes, but instead he sees Jesus making us righteous.  If that sounds confusing, think of it this way: Jesus substituted himself as the antidote to our mistakes and failures. In turn, anyone who has Jesus in their hearts is no longer defined by their weakness, failures, or shame. As the Apostle Paul puts it: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  You may not feel like a "new" creation, but this verse is a really big deal. In some aspects of society, you aren't always given a second chance.  If you commit a crime, you'll probably go to jail. If you have a big scandal or affair, society is often slow to forgive that offense. But on the flip side, it's quite a radical idea that you could be forgiven in an instant, regardless of how guilty or ashamed you feel.  Okay, but what does this have to do with body image? The idea that God created you, loves you, and offered a path to complete and total forgiveness is a stark contrast with society's "what have you done for me lately?" mindset.  Society is quick to heap praise on something and then ditch it once it gets old. And that applies to looks too. Even if you're deemed the most beautiful person in the world, those looks will someday change and fade, or as Proverbs, scripture's ancient book of wisdom, puts it: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting."  For instance, every year People Magazine releases the annual title of "Sexiest Man Alive." They've even pushed the category to include "Cutest Baby Alive." While this seems like a clear and obvious gimmick to sell magazines, it actually has a deep impact on our psyche. But one has to wonder what the qualifications for being the sexiest person alive really is. What metric or marker makes someone objectively "sexy"?  This isn't to say that beauty holds no worth in God's eyes, because you're forever beautiful in his. It's more to say that outward appearance, as defined by other people, isn't the be-all, end-all. Jesus implores us to live a countercultural lifestyle that doesn't revolve around the self, but rather one that involves trading temporary worries for a deep security and trust.  Jesus has many encounters in which he challenges the idea that you need the greatest, trendiest things to make you happy. For instance, in Matthew 6 he exhorts his followers not to "fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body" (Matthew 6:25). This verse has been misinterpreted many times, and if you take it out of context or to the extreme you might think Jesus is suggesting you parade around in a burlap sack and never shower. Make no mistake: taking care of your body and being obsessed with your body are two different things.  But in practice, how do we live out a countercultural lifestyle?

Imago Dei

Scripture says that we're made in the Imago Dei, or in other words, the "image of God." (So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27).  To be made in God's image means that regardless of race, gender, social status, stature, and beyond, we all have intrinsic worth. Therefore it stands that no human being can objectively be considered more important or more "worthy" than another.  Yet this kind of comparison game happens all the time, where factors like popularity and approval create standards for what a person should be, or steps they can take to "fit in" or be approved by society.  The first step is internalizing that you are created in God's image. Before the world began, God had you in mind and created you for a reason and purpose. And no matter how you look or what you do or how many followers you have, none of those aspects raise or lower God's love for you and the inherent worth inside of you.

"Denying" Yourself?

Theologian Eugene Peterson's modern translation of the Bible, The Message, describes a powerful encounter with Jesus and his disciples, in which Jesus exhorts them to "deny" themselves if they want to find true life. Here's what Jesus says:  "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?" This may sound confusing to our twenty-first century ears, as in the midst of a pandemic, a struggling economy, and a rapidly changing world, our inclination is to switch gears into survival mode and look out for ourselves. Everything is marketed with you in mind, and many people espouse a "you do you" mindset.  While intentionally caring for oneself is important, Jesus is offering a way to take the pressure entirely off of our shoulders. As he says, self sacrifice is the way to true life. Anyone who lays down their life finds it. Again, it sounds strange. How does inconveniencing yourself, or worse, suffering, lead to life?  The idea of self denial and sacrifice is a deep, complex topic that could probably have its own blog. However, the point we're trying to make here is that ego, pride, and self-inflation will never feel like enough. At a certain point, even those featured as the sexiest person in People Magazine will crack under the pressure of trying to look good or the fleeting validation that they feel.  Jesus was so big on letting go of making life about you in order that you may have freedom from having to willpower yourself to worthiness. He emphasized a metaphorical (and sometimes literal) laying down of one's life in order to find a deeper, more fulfilling life untethered from attaining a 100% human approval rating.

Boundaries According to Jesus & Scripture

Seeing the words Jesus and boundaries in the same sentence might look odd at first. Isn't Jesus the guy who loves everyone and is super go-with-the-flow?  While Jesus made himself accessible and available, he also had a lot to say about living life intentionally. He spoke on matters of staying disciplined, being honest, and understanding what truly matters in life. And Jesus didn't conform to what the crowds wanted him to do, but rather let his overall mission inform his actions. Jesus didn't have boundaries to push people away, but rather to love them better and honor the purpose and path he came to fulfill.  For example, Jesus didn't make himself a 24/7 ATM of kindness, healing and encouragement. He sought out the lost and healed them, but when he had accomplished what he needed to, scripture says that "he would withdraw to desolate places and pray." (Luke 5:16) This is an encouraging reminder that having boundaries doesn't mean intense restrictions or not living life to the fullest. Jesus himself modeled this and encouraged others to get the heart of why they act the way they do. Scripture affirms this in Proverbs 4:23, saying "above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."  Before any self-help book or business school mantra, scripture made the point thousands of years ago that your reasoning, actions, and motivations are often first generated in your heart.  The above may have felt like a huge detour, but we're going to bring it home and tie back into how you think about your own body image. As you meditate on and contemplate on the way you view yourself, consider whether it flows freely from a sense of immovable, deep security, or from a place of trying to please, conform, or fit in.  Jesus didn't leave the crowds because he was angry or burnt out or annoyed with people. He left because he knew he needed rest, and that it would enable him to be the strongest, healthiest version of himself. We challenge you to take a closer look at the way you view yourself and your ambitions and get to the core of what drives you. More often than not, the desire to please people and be certifiably worthy in our society sneaks in and robs you of being your genuine self.  And if you're sitting there scratching your head thinking: "genuine self? What does that even look like?," start by boiling it down and examining who you are without any kind of social pressure or comparison attached. Though affirmation from others has its value, who are you if no one ever complimented you, or liked your post, or gushed over your beauty. Do you believe you have an inherent worth, as mentioned before, that cannot be taken from you? Without using other people or beauty standards as a reference point, what is it that makes you beautiful and "wonderfully" made, as scripture puts it? Those answers are for you to process and decide, and will vary from person to person. Our job is simply to present this idea for your consideration:  You are worthy because you are a created being, and were created with infinite and immeasurable intentionality, purpose, and value. As you consider and internalize that, think about the way that viewing yourself through that changes the whole picture.


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