Justin & Lindsey Holcomb: Kids and Body Image
Real (…occasionally awkward) conversations about body image vitally protect our kids. Authors Justin & Lindsey Holcomb explain these critical conversations.
About the Guest
Real (…occasionally awkward) conversations about body image vitally protect our kids. Authors Justin & Lindsey Holcomb explain these critical conversations.
Justin & Lindsey Holcomb: Kids and Body Image
Justin: The first audience who would have read Genesis—they would have read this and been blown away/dazzled that this phrase would have been used—that they are a representative of some sort that reflects Yahweh, the “I am who I am”? Like: “That God?—the One who redeemed us?—the One who kicked the butts of the Egyptian gods in the plagues and then took us through the Red Sea?—that God?!”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Ann: So you’ve been coaching boys and young men for years and years.
Dave: One of my joys in life.
Ann: Yes; do you see anything different—
Dave: —because I love football so much.
Ann: Yes; you do, actually. [Laughter]
Dave: No, actually—it isn’t because of football—it’s developing boys into men; that’s what coaching’s all about.
Ann: And you’ve been doing it, ages,—
Ann: —from five years old to eighteen years old.
Dave: Yes; basically, to be with my boys.
Ann: And has it changed in terms of how boys feel about themselves?
Dave: Yes; one of the things that I was shocked at, when I was coaching middle school basketball, was—when I played middle school basketball, if you wanted to have a scrimmage, you just said, “Hey, you guys take your shirts off. You guys are shirts and skins,”—I remember saying that; this is probably 20 years ago—“Hey, let’s go shirts and skins.” And they looked at me, like, “What?!” I’m like, “Just take your shirts off; we don’t have different colored jerseys.” And the boys refused to take off their shirts. I said, “What’s going on here?” I was just naïve. They were like, “We are not taking off our shirts. I do not want another person to see my body without a shirt on.”
Dave: And it hit me, right there in the gym, like: “Oh, my goodness! They don’t feel good about their body, and they’re not going to let anybody…” And I’m not saying we did it back in the day, and it was right or wrong; I just didn’t realize it was that big of a deal, but it is.
As I went home that night, I remember thinking, as a dad with three sons, how we teach/how we talk about body—
Dave: —not just the spiritual part; because we always think, “Oh, it’s only spiritual,”—no; it’s wholistic. It’s really big how we, as parents, guide our kids in understanding their bodies.
We’ve got two experts with us. [Laughter] They’re experts because they’re parents!
Ann: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dave: But they’re also experts because they’ve written a book on this. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are back with us again, back on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back!
Lindsey: Thank you! Thanks for having us.
Justin: It is always good to talk about this, especially with people who are fun!
Dave: Fun?! [Laughter]
Dave: I don’t know about fun!
Anyway, Justin and Lindsey are back. You’ve written a couple of books, but the one we’re going to talk about today is God Made Me in His Image: Helping Children Appreciate Their Bodies.
It’s interesting—your qualifications for this book, really, are being parents—but obviously, Justin, you’re a seminary prof at RTS, right here in Orlando. Am I right?
Justin: That’s right.
Justin: I’ve been teaching there for 21 years.
Dave: Yes, and an Episcopalian priest.
Lindsey, you used to be a first-grade teacher.
Lindsey: I did.
Dave: Do you do that anymore?
Lindsey: I dabbled in that for a little bit. I’ve kind of done a little bit of everything. I forgot about that.
Dave: Yes, when I looked at your bio, it looked like you have 12 jobs; you know? [Laughter]
Dave: Justin, I don’t know about you—
Ann: Both of them! No, he has had a bunch of jobs too!
Lindsey: He does that, too; we like to keep busy.
But yes, I’ve been doing mostly like victim advocacy work for the last 15/20 years. A lot of the stories of pain and suffering have given us great motivation for these books to empower and equip parents to then help their children.
Dave: Yes; well, as I picked up this book—you know, I’ve looked at it—and it’s illustrated so well! You’re like, “Okay, this is a book for children to understand what it means to be made in God’s image.” I want to hear what you have to say about that; but as I read it, I realized: “Oh, this is really a book for parents!” [Laughter] It’s a little of both, but it’s really a book to model, and show, and teach parents: “How do you talk about this with your kids?”
Talk about the title; because it’s like: “God made me in His image.” How do you explain the image of God to a child?
Justin: Yes; the title—God Made Me in His Image—we are going straight from
Genesis 1. We wanted to frame the whole conversation by a doctrine of creation/a doctrine of humanity in the category in the Christian tradition and the Bible: “Humans are made in God’s image”; and that means something! Every day that God created, God said, “It is good.” He used the word, tov—t-o-v—“good.” He got to humans on day six and said, “Humans, they’re good, good,”—tov, tov—very/like, “This is special work, the crown jewel of creation.”
And the image of God means that we reflect God in a special way like nothing else in creation. But there’s really something—I wanted the imago Dei: is the theological way of talking about the image of God—is actually a tool for parents on this topic. Because the image of God—if you look at the history: so if Moses writes Genesis, he’s writing Genesis to a bunch of people, who were slaves in Egypt; and in Egypt, they knew that the pharaoh/the king—and this is common in the Ancient Near East—they had such a large domain that they couldn’t be everywhere all the time to show their authority and their force, so they would make a statue.
And so, when Moses is writing, “Humans are created in God’s image,”—inspired by God to write this—you know, all the doctrine in Scripture is all in order. So God inspires Moses to write: “You are made in God’s image.” There’s a little bit of humility—because you’re only an image of God—but there’s a lot of dignity: “You’re an image of God!”
The first audience who would have read Genesis—they would have read this and been blown away/dazzled that this phrase would have been used—that they are a representative of some sort that reflects Yahweh, the “I am who I am”; like, “That God?—the One who redeemed us?—the One who kicked the butts of the Egyptian gods in the plagues and then took us through the Red Sea?—that God?! We’re an image of that God?”
So to be able to take that—we actually have a page where we explain that—and give that as a tool to parents to be like: “Let me tell you who you are. You’re not just a great quarterback on your team,” “You’re not just a great volleyball player,” or “You’re not just beautiful,” “You’re not just…”—whatever accolade we give them—the top identity is: “You reflect God in a way that nothing else in creation can do that.” That’s some dignity; that needs to be repeated.
We wanted to/I think that’s a good tool to give parents and let them explain it—let them unpack that a little bit and apply it how they need to—as they know their kid better than anyone else in the world.
Ann: Lindsey, did you ever struggle with that?
Lindsey: I did; mine wasn’t when I was ten. I know some of the stats are 80 percent of ten-year-olds have started dieting, at least, once in their life. I don’t have a strong memory of that, but mine was in high school. This was before social media was a big thing. I can imagine—back then, if social media had been as prevalent—it would have been earlier, like we’re seeing with youth now.
Mine was in high school. I was dating a guy who was not wonderful, and I think that played into it a lot. I was living in Latin America, where it’s an over-sexualized culture; it was just in your face all the time. I struggled with an eating disorder in high school and a little bit into college.
So now, as we were researching and seeing the statistics that it’s earlier and earlier that girls and boys are starting to have these conversations and questions about their bodies and their size, I think it’s even more shocking; because of all that they’re seeing, whether it’s on video games, on social media, in print. They’re just inundated with it constantly.
Justin and I decided/we were like, “We need to equip parents to have these conversations,”—whether it’s little conversations at dinner or just by reading this book—“How can we give them a foundation to launch from to then have more, hopefully, as things come up?”
Justin: This is across the board for parenting: about sex, about body image, about how to protect your body from sneaky people. Those have to be frequent, well-trod paths of conversations.
Ann: And when should that start, you guys?
Lindsey: Oh, two—one.
Justin: From the beginning!
Lindsey: The beginning.
Ann: Really early! And you talk about: “It’s not just one time”; there are these little pockets, where you’re instilling and asking questions all along the way.
Dave: Yes; you’ve got to talk about that, because so many Christian parents think even the topic of sex with our kids is: “A one and done.”
Dave: You know, the birds and the bees at age 11/12, or whatever.
Ann: —or even predators.
Dave: Yes; so what does it look like to continue that?
Justin: It is all the time! I mean, honestly, when our girls were babies, Lindsey, changing their diaper, would just be talking to them. Actually, just made it normal to talk about proper names for body parts. Of course, she was doing that just to make it normal/to set the tone. But also, she was shaping me; because I thought, “Why are we saying this? This is weird.” [Laughter] She explained why; and I was like, “Oh, that makes a lot of sense! Oh, my goodness; I mean, I would not have thought of this.”
It makes sense that most people just go, “Well…”—about sneaky people/you know, preventing from sexual abuse; body image; and how babies are made—those are not fun conversations, because parents feel awkward. But those are really important conversations. All the more reason to have, not just “the talk,” but have numerous talks. That’s what Lindsey just kind of modeled to me.
So to start the conversation—maybe this is a tool for it—don’t have one conversation about this; this is just sprinkled throughout your conversations. Be aware of this topic and be sensitive to it. Have your eyes open for it; be looking for an opportunity. You might not have an open door for a month or two; you might have one as soon as you even get close to the subject.
Lindsey: Here’s the thing—if you’re not talking to your kids—two things: somebody else is; and they’re going to hear things at school from their peers; they’re going to hear things from media. So you want to make sure you’re checking in and kind of giving them another perspective—whether you’re watching a show, or you hear something, or it’s at the dinner table—you want to be just another message of truth, of dignity, of honesty; so that, if something happens—I’m talking whether it’s something that’s sexually inappropriate; sexual assault; or if they’re called something at school—“…fat,” “You’re gross,”—whatever the word may be—they will understand, “Hey, this is something my parents talk about and understand. I can go and talk with them.”
Whereas, if you don’t ever have a conversation, they’re not going to talk to you; because they’re going to think, “My parent doesn’t know anything about this; I’m going to freak them out!” “They’re not equipped; they won’t know what to do. So I’m just going to stuff it,” or “…go talk to my girlfriend,”—who won’t know what to say.
I think the more you just kind of weave it throughout, whether it’s talking about predators and sneaky people, or talking about: “Hey, your body is strong and amazing what you just did out there on that athletic field,” or “I see you in this theater class, memorizing those lines. That’s amazing! Tell me, how do you do that?” The more that you kind of make it part of the conversation, it’s not awkward and weird. I didn’t know that parents just did the one-time until we had our girls. A lot of parents would take their daughters away in fifth grade, and go for a weekend away, and have “the talk.” I was like, “What are you doing? That’s so awkward!”
Ann: You’re thinking, “We have the talk every day.”
Justin: —and it’s late!
Lindsey: Well, yes; fifth grade! I’m like, “They already know!”
Justin: The average age of porn exposure is ten; right? You need to be talking about body image, sexual abuse prevention, sexuality by ten; and hopefully, before—because they’re not just hearing about the topic—they’re seeing really graphic images at ten!—ten point one was the last stat that I saw.
When you were talking about the conversations, I remember my dad telling me, “You can talk to me about anything! I love you unconditionally.” I actually heard the word first from him. I didn’t even know what the word meant, and I asked him. He’s like, “All the time, no matter what, you can talk to me about anything.” He said that so much.
Then finally, it was probably a few years later, I remember thinking, “We’ll see if he’s true on this one.” I went to him, and I was like, “Hey, Dad! I’ve got to talk to you about something. You know how you said we could talk about anything?” He said, “Yes.” I was like, “Well, here we go!” It was normal for him. He normalized—like I had shame—and when I talked to him, and the way he responded was like, “Well, let’s talk about it!”
Oh, yes, I remember him saying, “I know what that feels like.” Just, literally, all I needed was for my dad to be like, “I know what that feels like”; and it was like gone, like he carried the burden; took it away. Parents, that’s a really powerful thing that parents can do.
Dave: So what do you say to the parent, who’s not like your dad—who’s afraid; the mom or the dad—that: “Man, it’s just a scary thing; I don’t talk to anybody else about this!”
Ann: And they have their own brokenness.
Dave: Yes; “I’m not going to talk to my kids, because I wouldn’t know how to do it.” Maybe: “I’m just too afraid.” How would you coach them?
Justin: A few things:
The first thing I would say is:
- “You might be hurting,”—I don’t want to assume that they are—“But you might be hurting.
I think: “What would be a wise way to address that?”
- “Do you need to talk to your spouse, or your pastor, a counselor? Maybe there’s pain there that should be addressed.”
If you go in hot, like, “Try not to screw this up with your kid!” [Laughter] That’s a burden that will crush them!
Justin: I mean, most parents already feel like failures in regard to parenting.
Lindsey: I was going to say, “We already feel like that.”
Justin: What I don’t want to do is put a brick in their backpack first; so I want to say:
- “Was there a reason that is happening? Was that modeled to you by your parents, that they didn’t do this?” “How did that work for you? Did you like that, or do you wish they would have been more open?”
Be thoughtful about yourself; be caring. And then, I would say:
- “This is a great opportunity. If you do have pain, you can help steer it in a different direction; you can model it differently to your kids. It doesn’t have to be like this! This can be a moment that God’s going to heal—and give you hope and healing—and then you get to [help your kids].
That’s my parents’ story: my parents were abused as kids, like horrible stuff! They just determined, “We’re going to be different!” It’s staggering when you see what they are like, as parents, and what their childhood was like. That’s what God does! He brings life out of death.
Justin: He can look at your story of suffering, and the effects of you feeling awkward about this—being emotionally shutdown and being shamed—and He can transform that. That’s what He does; He’s in the business of that. He loves doing that kind of stuff!
So that question is: “That’s what God does!” Go to Him and ask: “Transform me. Teach me; lead me,”—you know—“Take away the voice of condemnation. Remind me who I am.” Just all the gospel promises that are there; just bathe in it.
Ann: That’s what I was going to say, Justin. I think, to even evaluate your self-talk/what you’re saying to yourself continually. I know, when I was in my 30s—I can’t remember the book that I was reading—but it had us write down the things that you’re saying to yourself. I remember looking at this list, and they were all negative:—
Ann: —“You’re not enough,” “You’re failing,” “You’re ugly,” “You’re not a good mom”; you know? And I was like, “Wait!! This is the self-talk that’s going in my head all day!” It is opposite of what God would say.
Ann: I didn’t even know that, actually; because I didn’t know God well enough to know that He’s a God who speaks life. We are image-bearers, and He delights in us. I think to even talk about that with other people is so healthy and good.
I’m also thinking—I remember when I was eight—and I was dealing with my own sexual abuse. I remember feeling so alone; no one to talk to—feeling so bad about myself: unworthy/full of shame—and I had nowhere to go! I think, as parents, if we can just open those doors—a little crack of just what you said, Justin: “I know what that feels like!” or “How are you doing? I remember being eight, and that was a hard time for me,”—just open the doors to our kids’ lives, letting them walk in; or really, we walk to them. I think those are just great first steps.
Everything you guys talk about is relationship: building that relationship with our kids, where the door is open; we’re in constant communication.
Dave: And I’m sitting here, wondering, “What it’s like right now at the Holcomb dinner table?” You’ve got two daughters; at 11 and 13 years old, they’re walking right into a pivotal time in their life. So coach: “I mean, what’s it like at your dinner table?” Part of me thinks Lindsey brings this stuff up every night; you know? [Laughter]
Lindsey: They’re like: “It’s a war zone out there, Mom! [Laughter] I was in middle school…” We watch Survivor with them, and so they’ll quote some things of Survivor.
But just going back to one thing we said; and then, we can talk about the dinner table. Encouraging parents—you know, we do swim safety with our kids; we have them: “Everybody buckle up properly”; we talk about driving safety and crossing the road safety—“This is just another piece of that, whether it’s talking about body safety or, like you said, checking in with them and just asking questions.”
I think that removes the burden of: “I’ve got to have this huge speech,” or “I’ve got to have this big conversation.” Ask questions! Ask questions about who they’re sitting with at lunch. You’ll get insight into how they’re doing. Just be ready to listen, but treat it like this is just as important as is teaching them to swim and teaching them those things.
At the dinner table, we—
Justin: Let’s be honest! [Laughter] No; don’t be super honest, because I’ll look bad. [Laughter] There’s a lot of laughing.
Lindsey: —a lot of laughing, but there is crying too. I mean, it just depends on the day.
Justin: Not a lot.
Lindsey: It depends—like yesterday, there was crying from our seventh grader in middle school; she’s just feeling lonely—and I was able to say to her, “I get it! I’ve had some women, you know, in our 40s, who just turn on you quickly; there’s no rhyme or reason.” She’s experiencing some of that; so I was able to say, “I understand; I get it. Do you want to brainstorm? Or do you want me to just hug you, and let’s just cry it out?”
Ann: —which is a great question.
Lindsey: “Where are you at?”; you know. And we kind of usually give them a good 12/24 hours, like, “You can cry and be bummed! And then we’re going to move from there. We’re not going to just stay there, but we’re going to make a plan and move from there.” But she wasn’t ready; she needed just to cry.
We do kind of the “brownie, frownie” of the day; and that gives us insight into how everybody’s doing.
Justin: That’s huge!!
Ann: Wait; talk about what that is.
Dave: The “brownie, frownie?”
Ann: Because we did that, but we didn’t call it that.
Lindsey: “What’s your high or low?”—brownie/frownie—somebody came up with this year; I think that was the younger one.
Justin: Let me jump in—because the reason I said, “Let’s be honest,”—because, if we write books like this, most people listening think we sit around talking about, you know: “What are your proper names to your private parts?” [Laughter] “Do you know you’re an image of God?”
We do those conversations, but what’s most powerful about our dinner time is that there’s real honesty. We tell stories about our day. Sometimes, they’re good; sometimes, they’re not good. I’ll talk about, you know, things that happen. Sometimes, I’m thrilled; sometimes, I’m not. Honesty is the key.
When Lindsey started doing the “brownie/frownie” thing: like that’s an easy way! Suddenly, if someone/they need to talk, they’ll let you know. The vibe at the table of honesty, laughter, and crying is the best; I mean, I am home for dinner!
Ann: We did that as well. We would have—because we had sons—we had them put a feeling word with it.
Lindsey: Oh, I like that!
Ann: When they get married, I want them to be able to tell their wives what they feel.
Ann: That was difficult as little boys. You know, like, “I was angry!” or “How was your day?”—“Fine”; you know? So getting them to express: “What did you feel about your day?”—and put a feeling word with it. Those are my favorite parenting moments; because you really get to know your kids, and their fears, and their joys.
This is what you do in all of your books: is you bring Jesus/you bring God into it. Because it's the image: “You’re made in the image of God”; so bringing God into it. I remember our kids saying, “Mom! I know you love me, and I know God loves me! But you know, sometimes, I feel like nobody else loves me!”
Ann: The honesty of that is brilliant to me.
Justin: I haven’t thought about this before, but one of my pastor friends has talked to me about, when he’s preaching, he does story-emotion-desire; like: “What are the facts?” “How do you feel about it?” and “What do you want God to do about it?”—you know, your desire.
Justin: He said, “When I’m listening to my kids”—and I’m just passing this on; and this is what happens naturally, mostly because of Lindsey; but I’m aware of it, too, at our dinner table:
- Sometimes, you’ll hear a story and the emotion. The question I have is: “Okay, what’s the prayer out of that?”
- Or sometimes, you hear the desire and the story; but like, “What’s the emotion?” That’s the question you ask: “Give me a feeling word.”
- Or they’ll be communicating what they want with emotion, “But what’s the story that happened behind it?”
I think having parents listening to their children through: “What’s the story?” “What’s the emotion?” “What’s the desire?” and seeing what piece might be missing; because that gives you a question. As soon as you said, “What’s the feeling?” I thought, “That sounds familiar! It sounds like my pastor buddy.” There’s a power in that.
Justin: And when you were talking about identity—about the negative self-talk—I just want to go back to that. Because the words in the Bible that are used for us—I mean, “image of God” is really impressive, and that’s for everyone—that’s men, women, Christians, non-Christians; every human is an image of God.
But if you’re in Christ, the words that are used if you’re in Christ are berserk! They’re crazy! They’re mind-blowing!
Ann: Go through it, Justin. Remind all of us.
Justin: “Righteous”: “You’re the righteousness of God.” “Pure”?!—like that’s not a word I’m picking for myself—like, “Okay; I’m smart. I’m a pretty good husband and dad. I’m a good teacher.” I’ll come up with some really neat compliments.
“Pure, perfect, holy, righteous, without spot blemish or wrinkle”: I’m not going to make those up about myself; but that’s what the Apostle Paul/he says, “If you’re in Christ, [you’re] pure, perfect, and righteous.” That’s what people need to hear. I mean, regardless of their story—whether they’ve sinned or been sinned against—those are the words people need.
So that negative self-talk—I mean, talk about that—I mean, “If you don’t have that/if you don’t have the gospel, the best you can come up with is to counter the negative self-talk that you have. You’re going to come up with something that’s an equal, like, ‘I’m damaged goods,’ —‘No, you’re not.’ ‘[I’m] stupid,’ —‘No, you’re smart,’ ‘[I’m] ugly,’—‘No, you’re beautiful.’”
But then, when you can realize it’s way better—pure, perfect, righteous, and holy in Christ—and it’s not coming from you, but it’s coming from the Creator and Redeemer, then it has authority behind it. That has some staying power right there.
Dave: And if there’s anything I’ve learned from you—and I’ve learned a lot in these two programs—one of them is huge. It’s what you just said: that “Whatever we, as parents, are saying, and dealing with, and believing is passed on. If I’m obsessed with my body every single day, I shouldn’t be shocked when my daughter or son starts saying the same kind of things. But if I’m understanding my imago Dei”—the image of God: I am literally righteous; I’m pure in Christ—“and that’s how I live, that will be passed [on].” I’ve got to be very careful what I’m inputting, and watching what I output; because it will pass on to my kids.
Ann: So parents, you’re going to want to pick this book up for your kids but, also, for yourself.
Ann: God Made Me in His Image. Thanks, you guys!
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Justin and Lindsey Holcomb on FamilyLife Today. We’d love to send you a copy of their children’s book, God Made Me in His Image, when you make a donation of any amount this week at
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Now, tomorrow, we’ll hear from musician and author, Andrew Peterson, on what the resurrection of Christ means for us as we go through both good times and bad. Of course, that’s applicable since Easter is coming up this Sunday. We hope you can join us!
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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