Will you ever write about boys and body image?
Moms ask me this question often, and I am the perfect mom/writer to ask. Because I have many boys. And, to be honest, all of them are already asking questions about their bodies. When it comes to looking at themselves in the mirror, they do what girls do — compare their bodies with others, inquire about how to lose weight and how to gain muscle, and (for some ridiculous reason) pinch the skin around their mid-sections and make critical comments.
I am befuddled. I do not understand the male brain.
But I do understand some of my boys’ body image concerns. For now, I am doing three things to stand alongside them as they grow and form their identity.
- I am listening.
- I am encouraging (when I can speak encouraging truth).
- I am watching movies with them.
Why I am doing the first two things is fairly obvious. It’s all the adult-talk these days. Listening and encouraging is part of loving. But the third?
The third helps me see what my boys are comparing themselves against. And more than anything, watching this movie convinced me I am exactly on the right track.
Tom Holland nails his role as the teenage protagonist, Peter Parker, in Spiderman: Far From Home. Occasionally awkward, easily embarrassed, and intelligent in that endearing and slightly geeky way, Holland reminds us that Spiderman is both a superhero with unlimited potential and a teen boy just trying to be normal.
But what I loved about this movie was what it helped me realize after the credits (and two post-credit scenes) finished scrolling the movie screen.
The obstacles my teenager faces are very similar to those that Peter Parker encounters throughout his maturing role as Spiderman. And though the obstacles might not seem body image related, it seems there is a common thread that runs through obstacles that most teenagers face.
Identity is on the line. And our identity is essentially this; it is how we see ourselves. In the mirror. Through the eyes of others. On a good day, our identity is based on how Our Father sees us — unique, beautifully crafted, and redeemed.
Similarity #1: The Villain Is Far More Complicated Than He Appears
As you might guess, Far From Home has one heck of a nasty villain. He is unpredictable, evil to the core, and manipulative, which makes him exactly the kind of bad guy we enjoy cheering against.
He is very similar to the real villain my son faces every day.
Just to give you context, most of our summer mornings have played out like this. I’m putting up dishes, and my oldest lumbers into the kitchen, mutters that he hasn’t had enough sleep (after waking up at 8 am), and complains about what I don’t have in the fridge for breakfast. He sighs as he begrudgingly grabs a yogurt and asks me a laundry list of questions about what I’m planning for the day, meanwhile expressing exhaustion at what I have planned.
I find myself confused and defensive. How can he already be so disappointed? He just woke up!
But when I take a step back and choose to see what is really happening, I realize that my son is not the enemy. He is, however, suffering bombardment from Satan who wants to steal his joy from the moment his feet hit the floor.
Much like the best of villains, Satan is unpredictable, evil to the core, and manipulative. And, unfortunately, he wants my son’s attention.
When I choose to recognize Satan’s attempt to get a foothold here, I am quick to draw near to the Spirit to help me see my son how the Lord sees him.
With the Spirit’s help, I have the power to give my son a hug when he is looking at me, slumped over and grumpy. And on a really good morning, I can offer my son grace as I offer the same options I always do for breakfast without letting it steal my joy as I savor my last few sips of warm coffee.
Similarity #2: Peter Parker, The Hero (in training) Has to Learn How to Navigate Relationships
Relationships are hard. And between Peter Parker trying to make his affections known to MJ and working diligently to protect his friends from harm, our friendly neighborhood Spiderman also has to figure out who he can really trust.
Sometimes, villains make themselves known from the get-go, but sometimes the bad guys make you believe they care. Sometimes, the bad guys are tricky and deceiving.
My teenager reminds me of Peter Parker. He is trying to figure out how to navigate relationships with girls. He is learning who he can trust amongst peers who call themselves his friends. And he’s learning there are people who do not want his good. Some of them sit behind him in worship at church. Some of them are teachers and adults, who do not understand grace and trust. Some of them are a part of his very own peer group, smiling at him as they convince him to do the bulk of the science project.
With the Spirit’s guidance, I can gently ask questions and make myself available to listen. If my son asks for help, I can step in and help him acquire some of the tools he’ll need to navigate future relationships. I can pray Scripture, without preaching Scripture, so as to remind him of how the Lord sees him.
And when he gets in way over his head, I’m praying the Lord will give me a word to step in and help him prepare for battle. After all, even Aunt May knows when to pack Peter’s Spider-Man suit (even when he’s pretty much 100% sure he won’t need it!)
Similarity #3: The Final Battle is Always Hard Won
As Far From Home concludes, the villain speaks.
“People need to believe, and nowadays they will believe anything.”
These words sent chills down my arms when I heard them in the movie theatre. And they have been haunting me for the last few days.
My teenager is up against a whole host of challenges that I didn’t face when I was his age. He has to figure out how to process photos on the gram, a barrage of text messages, over-sexualized gossip, and, well, image-based everything.
But as he processes the world he lives in, I will not stand by his side and let him lose hope. I will not let him go along thinking that his best option for believing is to settle and “believe anything.”
He will be photographed and posted to Instagram and told he is weak. He will be bumped up against on the basketball court and told he’s a loser. Somebody will see him changing clothes in the locker room and will, invariably, make a nasty comment that he’ll remember for years to come.
And I will be there to tell him the truth. We will have hard and transparent and say-whatever-you-need-to-say conversations around this question: How does the Lord see him?
“Redeemed from all lawlessness and purified for [Jesus], for his own possession, who is zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
As those who “once were dead in our trespasses (but) were made alive together with Christ, by grace” (Ephesians 2:5-6).
“In Christ, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
After all, this boy of mine. He is my modern-day teenage superhero, and my hope is that he will battle with his shield and sword: his Faith and His Spirit. I will cheer him on and stand by his side as he fights the most elusive and evil villains. I will cheer him on and help him see the truth.
Until the very end. Until the hard-fought battle is won.