More Than Just a Pretty Face
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Author Maria Furlough used to obsess about her weight and outward appearance. Furlough reminds listeners that “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,” and that the numbers on the scale don’t have to define us.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
Bob: The Bible talks about the need for each one of us to take care of our bodies and also to take care of our spirits. Is one of those two a higher priority? Maria Furlough says, “Absolutely.”
Maria: This is clear: physical training is of some value—it’s not saying that it’s not important; it is important—but our godliness, and our pursuance of righteousness, and God-centered confidence is of way more value. I think this verse gives us permission to have some scales here: “Am I spending more time in my pursuit of physical fitness—of physical health/of dieting choices—than I am over my godliness pursuit and my pursuit of Christ?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 28th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How would you say you’re doing? Is your life in balance when it comes to growing in godliness and taking care of your physical body? We’re going to talk about the importance of both of those things today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know I’ve shared this before, but it’s just because it stuck with me so much when I read it. I read this probably 25 years ago; I think it was in USA Today. They’d done an inventory—a survey/a poll—with women, who were supermodels, and asked them, “Rate your own body on a scale of 1-10” These women, who are paid hundreds of thousands/millions of dollars to appear on the covers of magazines, were giving themselves 7s and 8s and were pointing out all their flaws immediately.
I thought, “How can this be?!—that this is how they see themselves.” I remember talking to Mary Ann about this; and she said: “I think every woman sees her flaws immediately. I don’t think there’s a woman, who looks at herself in the mirror and goes, ‘I’m looking really good’; or if she does, it’s the exception, not the rule.” Am I right about that?
Ann: I have found it to be true of my own life. Even working with the Detroit Lions for 35 years/with their wives: these are some of the most stunning, beautiful, gifted, strong women that I’ve been around—and yet, when we have this topic come up, the amount of insecurity and self-loathing—I would even add—is remarkable of how they hate—they would say that word and use it—“I hate the way I look.”
Dave: I remember, when Ann and I were first married, I would tell her how beautiful she is; and she always said, “No, I’m not; no, I’m not.” I honestly thought, “Whatever; she knows.” Then I started realizing, “She really doesn’t know.” I think it’s universal for many women.
Bob: Women, whom the culture would say, “You’re beautiful,” those women would say, “No, I’m not,” just like you were saying to your husband.
Ann: I think so. Our culture defines what beauty is, and the culture’s shifting all the time; whereas, once it was small lips, and now it’s bigger lips; so it’s shifting all the time. Women are having to live up to these expectations: and it’s monotonous; it’s old; it’s tiresome.
Bob: The reason we’re talking about this is because, as moms—who are still wrestling with their own appearance issues/body-image issues, and then raising daughters—you just need to recognize that what you’re wrestling with, your daughters are picking up on that. They’re taking their cues from how they see you living out either confidence or insecurity in this area.
Maria Furlough is joining us this week to talk about it. Maria, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Maria: Yes, thank you.
Bob: Maria is an author; she’s a speaker; she’s a Bible study leader. She and her husband Dave live in Huntersville, North Carolina. She’s a mom to five kids, and she is a—are you a confident mom?
Maria: I am a confident mom.
Bob: But you weren’t 12 years ago when you had your daughter.
Maria: No, I was not.
Bob: How’d you get from 12 years ago to today? What’s the journey been like for you?
Maria: Lots of prayer and lots of acknowledging something that you said, Ann, that: “Really, the culture is selling us a bag of lies when it comes to our bodies and when it comes to beauty.” We have to be able to acknowledge what the lies are to be able to move past the insecurity—and past the not feeling beautiful and past the not being able to receive a compliment—to be able to address those things and really tackle them head-on.
One of the things that I do believe that God identified to me in my own life is that I had made physical appearance a righteous pursuit. I feel like that is very, very prevalent today.
Bob: Explain what you mean by “a righteous pursuit.”
Maria: Like what is more of a righteous accomplishment/a [praiseworthy] change than when somebody becomes more healthy or when somebody loses weight?
Bob: “So to be pleasing to God/to be honoring to God, I need to be focused on my body image,”—is that what you’re saying?
Maria: I think, when the world says it: “It is the ultimate goal of a human being if you keep your body healthy.
Maria: “If you eat the right foods and you work out enough in the right ways, then that is one of the greatest achievements that you can have as a person.”
Maria: It sounds a little bit differently when we talk about it in the church: “It’s taking care of the body that God has given us.” And we do need to do that; there is no doubt about that.
But the Bible is clear when it talks about this. It says in 1 Timothy 4:7-10: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior or all people, and especially of those who believe.”
This is clear: physical training is of some value—it’s not saying that it’s not important; it is important—but our godliness, and our pursuance of righteousness, and God-centered confidence is of way more value. I think this verse gives us permission to have some scales here: “Am I spending more time in my pursuit of physical fitness—of physical health/of dieting choices—than I am over my godliness pursuit and my pursuit of Christ?”
For me, in my insecurity in my body image, I could list for you all the rules that I was supposed to be following: “You have to work out this number of times per week; it needs to be for this amount of time. It needs to be a balance of physical fitness training and aerobic activity”; and then all the food rules. I had my life wrapped around these rules so tightly that I did not even realize how much it was taking my focus off of what God wanted me to be spending my time on.
That’s a really real thing for me; and I notice it in women’s ministry, and youth ministry, and in all conversations: that physical health has become lifted up high. I don’t even think we realize it when we’ve scooted God off the throne of our lives and put that up on the throne.
Ann: When that becomes the focus—and my mood is determined [by] how I look or how my pants fit—I think so many women struggle with that. It saps their joy.
I remember—I grew up as a gymnast; so it’s constant evaluation of your performance, but also your body type. After that, I was teaching in clubs and training in fitness clubs for probably 12 years after I was a gymnast. We had to have our body fat tested once a month; and if our body fat was above a certain level, we were put on restriction, and we weren’t allowed to teach. Talk about pressure!
As kind of a motivated person and competitive, I dropped my body fat down to
four percent. I felt great about myself because I was winning, not even realizing—
Dave: I was really hungry all the time. [Laughter] We never ate!
Ann: —not even realizing that this area of my life had become an idol. I had put it in front of Jesus. I knew when my next workout was; but so often, I wouldn’t put Jesus in front of that.
I remember this one time this one woman said to me, “What if you stop your workout for the day until you’ve spent time with the Lord?” I was thinking, “Oh, yes, that’ll be easy.” It was so hard for me; because it had almost become an addiction, because my mood was determined by my looks.
I think this is really big for women—of finding the freedom and the joy that comes from our identity coming from who God says we are—but it takes training, as you said, to have a whole new mindset. That’s not easy.
So for you, with your daughter, here you are—you want her to understand this, and she’s going against the grain with society and culture—what did you talk to her about? What did that look like?—those conversations.
Maria: First, it began with there were some things that I had to cut out of my own life to be able to have these honest conversations with her. One of them, like you said, Ann, was the permission to cut out numbers—jean sizes/numbers on the scale—so that when I’m talking to her about what beauty really is in God’s eyes, I believed it.
I read through Proverbs 31, which we love so much; right? Us women, we love that Proverbs 31.
Ann: We do.
Maria: It’s like our chapter in the Bible.
Ann: It is.
Maria: It is ours.
Maria: No man can take it from us; it is for us. [Laughter]
I love reading through those proverbs. This is what I talk to my daughter about, because I really feel like the Proverbs give us some tangible ways to identify this; because we say it all the time: “You’re beautiful, inside and out.” Okay, what does that mean? [Laughter] What does that actually look like here? What are we talking about? What does it look like to be beautiful on the inside? What do people mean when they say, “That’s not what God sees in you”? Okay, well, what does God see?
When you read through Proverbs 31—I wrote this kind of confident manifesto, based on Proverbs 31—so this is what beauty looks like in God’s eyes: “True beauty is confidence,” “True beauty is putting others above ourselves,” “True beauty is working hard,” “True beauty is providing for others,” “True beauty is learning a craft or a business,” “True beauty is using our bodies as they were meant to be used, for strong work.” I could go on/keep reading—
Bob: Can we put that list on our website?
Maria: Yes, absolutely.
Bob: I think listeners are hearing that, and they’re going, “I need to meditate on that; I need to reprogram my own thinking around this.”
Ann: Yes; “I need to talk to my daughter about this.”
Bob: Exactly, right?
Maria: Yes. It’s a really great conversation piece with your girl, because then you’re grabbing onto something tangible. “Okay, Mom, you’re telling me that I’m beautiful just the way that I am; and I don’t need to be constantly on this improving-the-way-that-I-look plan. Okay, so then what do I do?—because I have all this energy”; right?
God created us—I mean, He created you to achieve. That piece of you that was fighting for that physical fitness—He created that in you—but there’s a way to use that for Him instead of this constant pursuit of bettering our bodies. This gave me something to do with that energy that God had put in me. Being able to identify beauty in myself—as when I do something for another person—that makes me beautiful.
Proverbs 31 ends, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” This gave me something long-lasting to tag my beauty to—something that no person could take away from me, no scale could take away from me, no jean size could take away from me—this was beauty that God put in me. You know what?—I can work with this.
Maria: So these are the kind of conversations that I love to have with my daughter about what beauty is. I am very specific: there’s certain language that I have tried, since my kids were young, to cut out of my home—and ever tying beauty to physical appearance is a really big slash-out in our home—that’s never an association.
Dave: Do you say to your daughter, or you never say to your daughter, “You look beautiful”?
Maria: Oh, absolutely I say that.
Dave: What do I mean by it?
Maria: What do I mean when I say, “You look beautiful”?
Dave: Yes, what does she hear?
Maria: That “God has created you beautifully, just the way that you are.”
I should elaborate to say that—yes, we talked about this before; there is/I mean, look at Esther—she did the year-long beauty routines, right? We can’t deny the fact that God has made women beautiful. But that physical appearance is only a tiny asterisk of beauty: it’s not the full definition of what it is; it’s something on the list.
Bob: This all sounds right and good, and I’m agreeing. I’m just wondering, when you go to the store next time to buy a pair of jeans, and you don’t fit into the one you were in before, do you go, “That’s okay”?
Bob: Is that how you think?
Maria: Well, let’s talk about that.
Dave: Let’s talk about it.
Maria: Let’s talk about clothes shopping—[Laughter]—
Ann: —and bathing suit shopping. [Laughter]
Maria: Let’s talk about that.
Dave: Didn’t you also say you don’t use numbers? So how do you go get your jeans?
Maria: Okay; I don’t let the numbers define me.
Dave: Oh, okay.
Ann: Do you have a scale at your house?
Maria: No, we do not.
Ann: That’s a good point.
Maria: Ditch the scales; we can talk about that in a minute. We’ll talk about the shopping first.
Bob: Yes, right.
Maria: Okay. This is one of those things—the Bible talks about taking your thoughts captive—we can use this in lots of different ways. There is a process that we, as moms, have to become self-aware and intentional. I had to learn about myself that it was a trigger for me when I put on tight jeans; the number on the jeans is a trigger for me. Now, that is something that I have chosen not to let rule me: by prayer and acknowledging it with the Lord; confessing to Him when I do it, and then asking Him to help me. This isn’t like a confidence light switch—and then it’s on for life and you never have to do anything about it—it is a constant/it is a constant fight with God.
I realized a couple of things. One is it’s okay for me to stay away from certain stores. I will not fit into jeans at all stores; they are not created for me. [Laughter] You know what? I think I need to be okay with and just stop going to those stores. I would keep going into those stores and be like, “Maybe this is the day. [Laughter]
Ann: Or, have you ever done this—
Maria: “I have done enough that they will fit.”
Ann: —I would save a pair of pants, when I was at my lowest weight, to almost torture myself.
Maria: Yes, those torture jeans.
Maria: Those are called torture jeans.
Ann: Yes; I didn’t know the name, but now I do.
Maria: Yes, now we have a name. Do you want to know what I do with torture jeans now, Ann?
Ann: I hope you don’t keep them.
Maria: We have to get rid of them.
Ann: I don’t keep them anymore, either.
Maria: Torture jeans need to go. [Laughter]
This is something important, too, for me to acknowledge for my daughter—to have fun helping her find her store—right?—and that being okay; and not like a pass-fail, like, “Oh, I’ll never go there,”—but, “Hey, let’s find out how God has created you and what clothes that are available that will make you comfortable and fit well.”
That’s one—not going into those stores—and really just trying to accept the fact, number one, that I probably won’t be in the same jean size till I die. I mean, I’m guessing probably the answer’s going to be, “No”; so “When is going to be the day in my head that I accept that?—that I wake up and I’m okay with that.” And then, also, depending on the year or season of life, they might look different.
Detaching myself from the number on the jeans was an intentional pursuit that I prayed for; and I think that that is something that, when we ask God for, He’s going to honor that. But you have to want that for your life, and you have to want that for the girls in your life, and you have to ask Him to help you; because I do believe that it’s so deep-seated in us that it is something that we can remove only with His help.
Dave: And yet, there’s the other side. Of course, here I am—a guy over here, talking; so maybe I know nothing—but there’s the other side of the number of the—let’s take the size of the jeans: that as it goes up each year, there’s a motivation like that’s unhealthy.
Dave: It isn’t an identity thing; it’s just like, “Wow, if I just keep doing this every year, I’m probably not eating in a healthy way.” I should use that as a good motivation, not a negative; is there a balance there?
Maria: Yes, absolutely. There has to be the balance. It’s a heart check; it’s, “Why am I pursuing this?”
I love going to my gym classes. They are one of the most sanity-building 30 minutes of my week, right? So that needs to be okay. Remember, the verse says, “For physical training is of some value.”
Dave: —“some value”; right.
Maria: We don’t eliminate it from our life; but it’s put in the right perspective, underneath God. When we are talking about this, though, I feel like it’s important to acknowledge: “These are our adult choices.”
When our girls are 11 to 18 years old, their emotional part of their brain develops before the logical part. As much as want to tell them, “Listen, Mommy is doing this because I’m old and you’re not; and this is just something that I…”—as much as we tell them that—we just have to be aware and cautious that that might not be how their brains translate it; so we, as moms, have to be protective over the fact that our aging body issues not become our daughter’s issues.
I watched it happen in youth group: moms on this workout plan, which it’s fine for them to be on; but their daughters were translating it that that’s what they needed to do too. We just have to be aware that that is a possibility.
Ann: You talked about how you got rid of numbers and scales.
Ann: What about language? What are things that we shouldn’t say in front of our kids that might go down the wrong path?
Maria: Fat is a cuss word in my house. It’s become a little bit of a joke now that the boys are older. [Laughter]
Dave: They like to cuss?
María: No, no, no. [Laughter] They like to tease Mommy about the word, “fat”: “Can I call a blade of grass fat?” “No, find a different word. [Laughter] A different word is possible for that scenario.”
But when they were young, I just wanted to be specific that that—I mean, there’s just no positive connotation about that word: “There are descriptive words that will mean the same thing, but not that one; so that’s gone.”
I am very aware—and this is one that came with practice and the training about how I talk about myself in front of my girl—but I have safe places to talk about that with my husband.
Ann: Give an example of that.
Dave: Yes, what’s that look like? I want my wife to hear this. [Laughter]
Maria: Okay; I’m having a bad day, or I don’t feel beautiful in that dress—and it’s go behind a closed door and say [in a sorrowful tone]: “Honey, this is how I feel…” and “Do you know when I’m beautiful?” and “I don’t know what you think,” and “How am I so lovely to you?”—like: “Waa, waa, waa, waa!”
Then my husband, whom God has given to me, “Yes, Maria…” I hear all those things, and then I open up the door; and I’m ready again.
Ann: You’re confident!
Dave: No, no; wait. You jumped over a very important part. [Laughter] What’s your husband say? What should a husband say?
Maria: Oh, yes; “What should a husband say?”—just nod and smile—really, no, I’m just kidding. He always tells me, all the time—he was a big part of my prayer—that he is just always so encouraging and right with me on all of this. He tells me that I am going to be beautiful to him till the day that we die. I believe him, and I accept that; and I thank him for saying that, and I want him to keep saying that; so “Yes, keep saying that.”
Ann: That’s good.
Maria: We do need to hear it. But then, when I’m in front of the children—or even if I don’t know if they’re around—right?—this is a very intentional behind-closed-doors conversation that I still need to vent out; because even if they’re not around, they are paying attention. Those kids are smart.
I’m just really intentional to, when I speak about myself—and it’s hard and awkward at first—because you’re right; there is a leaning toward confidence can be arrogance; and that is not my heart. Because I know that that’s not my heart, I’m bold with saying, “I do believe that the body that God has given me is beautiful, and I love the way that I look, and I love clothes shopping now,” and not saying things like, “I hate clothes shopping; I can never find anything,” or “I can’t eat that; it goes straight to my hips.” All of these things that really were on the tip of my tongue for many years—training myself not to say them anymore—because our tongue has power.
Bob: So, if somebody’s listening, and nine months ago they gave birth, they have a nine-month-old, and they are twenty pounds heavier than they were when they got pregnant, should they just relax?—or should they say, “I need to do something about this,” or what’s the right way to approach that?
Maria: Yes; I think that that is something that I first—and I recommend first for them—having conversations with God about it and wrestling with Him—to say: “Lord, these
20 pounds are making me feel unhealthy; they are making me feel slow and tired. I really feel like I want to be able to do something about it, but I want to be able to do something about it with You—and in a way that is healthy for me/in a way that’s not going to take my attention off of You—but that is going to keep my attention on You, because I need Your help to do it.”
Bring Him along in this journey. I just feel like, too often, we leave Him out of this; and it’s either a physical thing or a spiritual thing. Also, realize that a lot of these conversations that I’m talking about are leaning towards people, who have an insecurity wiring to them; so that’s a battle, to be intentional about fighting with God.
Bob: That’s where—I was thinking this back when we were starting this conversation—the issue is: “Do you see your value and your worth, as a human being, in your appearance?”
Bob: Even in those moments when you’re 20 pounds past where you’d like to be, where you were before you got pregnant, do you look and say: “I am less worthy as a person; I have less value in God’s eyes than I did back when I was 20 pounds slimmer”? If you think that, you need to tell yourself the truth: “That’s not how God sees you.” The culture may say, “No, there’s value and worth here”; but God says, “No, your value and worth is in that list of things you were reading from Proverbs 31, where true beauty comes.” Realign your thinking.
You may say, “I still want to take off 20 pounds.” Okay, that’s fine, but let’s not wrap your identity in your body image. Let’s understand that your value, as a human being, is outside of that. This is where I think your book is a great help for moms and, then ultimately, for their daughters. I’m hoping our listeners will get a copy of the book, Confident Moms, Confident Daughters, by our guest today, Maria Furlough.
In fact, we want to make this book available to you, as a thank-you gift, when you make a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We think this is a book that’s going to be very helpful for a lot of moms and, ultimately, for the next generation. You can make a donation to support the work of FamilyLife Today when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY.
I just want to acknowledge—I know, for many of us, this spring has been a time of some anxiety and some tension; and things have had to tighten up for many of us, financially. If that’s where you are, and things are challenging at the moment, we get that.
I want to talk to those of you, who are in a position, where you can continue to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We depend on donations from listeners, like you, to be able to have these kinds of conversations for our website, for our events and our resources. You make all of that possible; and we want to ask you if, right now, you can be as generous as possible and help support the ongoing work of this ministry. Donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, we’d love to send you a copy of Maria Furlough’s book, Confident Moms, Confident Daughters, as our way of saying, “Thank you for your support.” Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how dangerous and even destructive it can be to be regularly complimenting someone for their physical appearance. Maria Furlough joins us again tomorrow. We hope you can be here with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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