Each fall, we have our family portraits taken by a professional photographer. It's a nice way to document the growth of my young boys, and this year, we took pictures only eight weeks after I gave birth. I was so excited to show off the new addition to our family, and I thought I was cool with taking pictures a few pounds heavier than normal.

Then, I got the pictures back. I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of negative emotions I felt looking at my body in those photos. All I saw were flaws, from my stomach, to my thighs, to the meat in my face. It brought up years of unresolved body image issues. The photos captured a happy time in my family's life, but I felt miserable.

Women, the world lies to us about our bodies. From the time we're little girls, we see images in magazines, television shows and movies that send a distorted message about our bodies. We're told to feel liberated and independent as modern women while we're aggressively marketed for diet plans and exercise regimes. We're supposed to look beautiful for our own gratification, but women are continuously objectified in the media. I know it influences how I view myself.

It's so hard to look beyond the lies. However, I'm starting to see my body as a powerful tool for good.

Our bodies are powerful

A wise friend pointed out to me that, instead of hating on my postpartum body, I should rejoice in the ability to bear children. Every single stretch mark and pound is a testament to my body's ability to bring life into this world. Why are we ashamed of that? It's a beautiful thing.

Even those who don't bear children should feel amazed at the body's capacity for good. With it, we are able to walk, eat, sleep, laugh, live and love each day. Even the most broken bodies provide a home for our spirits to live and grow. Our bodies are simply astounding, and yet we spend so much of our time disparaging the very things that allow us to live.

A real woman

All that hating comes from our flawed understanding of what a real woman is and what she looks like. We were never meant to stay looking like 15-year-old girls, despite pressure from society. Our bodies, just like our lives, go through phases, and there is beauty in every season. I liked having a teenage body when I was a teenager, but I wouldn't trade it for being a woman today.

As women, we also recognize that it's healthy for us to come in all shapes and sizes. We range from naturally thin to beautifully voluptuous and every size in-between. There is beauty in every body, yours included. The next time you doubt yourself, remember that God made you just the way He wanted, and God doesn't make mistakes.

Standing for the next generation

We have a duty to train the next generation of women to have a healthy body image. We have to stop putting ourselves down, obsessing over food and comparing ourselves to others, especially in front of our daughters. It's not fair to them.

We can model healthy habits without passing on a legacy of body hatred. There's an important difference between acceptance and complacency. You can accept your body while still striving to live a healthier lifestyle. That is what we need to teach the women of tomorrow.

You are beautiful. I may not know you personally, but I still guarantee it's true. We're all beautiful, and unique, and powerful. Don't get so caught up in wishing you were different that you forget you are perfect right now, as is. I'm working hard to address my body image issues. I can't undo decades of unhealthy habits instantly, but I see progress and it gives me hope. Join me in undoing this negative thinking. You and me, it's time we stop hating our bodies.

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