“I’ve been told I’m fat and ugly more times than I can count.”
Because she had heard the same message over and over, the student believed it was true. She hated herself, and covered up with makeup.
One day, she had to go to a doctor’s appointment without any cosmetics. As she rushed into the office, hoping to avoid being seen, it hit her. Why was she terrified someone would actually see her face? In that moment, God spoke to her and affirmed her innate value. It was a turning point. That student can now say with boldness her identity is found in Christ – nothing anyone says can change that.
Recently, a student came into our office and handed us each a sheet of paper. “Here,” she said with no further explanation. We looked down and found 1 Peter 3:3–4 neatly written out. “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (NLT). We shared a few words about the importance of this verse, and we saw a longing in her to really understand what inner beauty is.
Identity in Christ
Our girls won’t understand true beauty unless we set an example for them. As parents and role models, we must confront the world’s lies, which say value is based on money, beauty, success, and fame. We want our girls to know – with all their minds, hearts, and souls – that true value and beauty come from being God’s creation.
Teens are incredibly perceptive and hold authenticity in high regard. They know when adults don’t fully grasp their own identity in Christ.
When I, Naomi, was growing up, my mother affirmed my worth in Christ, rather than drawing attention to my outward appearance. I wanted to believe what my mother taught me, but was afraid it wasn’t true. I saw how my mom struggled and questioned her worth, which made me question mine.
In order to root my identity and value in Christ, I couldn’t just believe it with my head. I needed to know it with my heart, and to rest in the assurance of God’s love. It wasn’t until I learned to depend fully on Christ for my value – rather than what my mom or anyone else said – that I accepted my God-given identity.
Tips for helping girls develop a healthy identity
♦ Hug your girls and tell them they’re beautiful, strong, courageous, capable women, so they don’t look somewhere else for the affirmation they crave. Girls with a secure and positive understanding of themselves enjoy healthier friendships and dating relationships. They won’t be concerned about what they can get out of relationships, but rather what they can offer.
♦ Give girls space to be honest about their struggles. Often, when fears and insecurities aren’t voiced, they escape through symptoms such as anger, rebellion, insecurity, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. These may develop into physical behaviours such as cutting, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, drug or alcohol abuse, and more. But even when teens make wrong choices, they need to hear they have value. Affirm their strengths. Remember, many behaviours and issues are symptoms of confusion about where to base identity.
♦ Don’t default to “teacher mode.” Girls want to know we really understand what they’re going through on a heart level. Don’t assume their experiences are the same as ours or need the same answers; patiently explore struggles with them. Learning happens as we journey together.
♦ Show that God is the ultimate provider by allowing him to empower us to live by faith, even when we face our own challenges. If we live out of fear, we inadvertently teach our children that God isn’t trustworthy.
♦ Model hospitality. My parents would often invite visitors or newcomers to join us for lunch after Sunday service, and my mom encouraged me, Meghan, to meet new girls who came to church. I grew up understanding that hospitality was a normal extension of loving Jesus, and simply assumed others deserved the same love and acceptance I enjoyed. Now, I automatically look for outsiders to draw them in. When we know our own worth, it will naturally spill over into how we see others.
♦ Pray against the schemes of Satan who wants to tear down our teens and erode their sense of true identity. Pray for patience, discernment, and spiritual sensitivity.
Most of us will struggle with identity at one time or another. Our girls will struggle with it, too. Let’s journey together, as we seek to know deep in our hearts who we are in Christ. We are beloved children of the King! When we grasp this truth, we can face anything that comes our way.
——Naomi Reimer and Meghan Thomson work together in the spiritual life department at Eden High School in St. Catharines, Ont. They meet with students for one-on-one mentoring, as well as Bible teaching through daily chapels and weekly Bible studies.